When 49% of Nigerian Muslims hold positive views of Al Qaeda, 59% of Egyptians say adulterers should be stoned to death, and in Pakistan 72% percent couldn’t bring themselves to express an unfavorable view of ISIS, it is very hard to say that only a small number of Muslims are extremists.
Studies show that 10% to 15% of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide support militant Islam. That is 180 -270 million people, more than the combined populations of France, Germany, and UK, who could be recruited and drawn into Islam-motivated violence.(1)(2)
Between Boko Haram, the Al-Nusra front, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Yemeni militias, Libyan militias, and many others, the number of active jihadists numbers in the hundreds of thousands; some estimates indicate that 100,000 are fighting in Syria alone.(3)
It is simply false to declare that jihadists represent the “tiny few extremists” who sully the reputation of an otherwise peace-loving and tolerant Muslim faith. In reality, the truth is far more troubling — that jihadists represent the natural and inevitable outgrowth of a faith that is given over to hate on a massive scale, with hundreds of millions of believers holding views that Americans would rightly find revolting.
To understand the Muslim edifice of hate, imagine it as a pyramid — with broadly-shared bigotry at the bottom, followed by stair steps of escalating radicalism — culminating in jihadist armies that in some instances represent a greater share of their respective populations than does the active-duty military in the United States.
DAVID FRENCH, “Dispelling the ‘Few Extremists’ Myth – the Muslim World Is Overcome with Hate”, National Review, December 7, 2015
Extensive polling by a wide variety of organizations has consistently shown a large number of extremists among Muslims. Among the most recent and comprehensive is the Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey report, “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society“:(4)
- In countries across South Asia, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East-North Africa region most favor making sharia their country’s official legal code.
- In South Asia, high percentages in all the countries surveyed support making sharia the official law, including nearly universal support among Muslims in Afghanistan (99%). More than eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (84%) and Bangladesh (82%) also hold this view. The percentage of Muslims who say they favor making Islamic law the official law in their country is nearly as high across the Southeast Asian countries surveyed (86% in Malaysia, 77% in Thailand and 72% in Indonesia).
- In sub-Saharan Africa, at least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they favor making sharia the official law of the land, including more than seven-in-ten in Niger (86%), Djibouti (82%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (74%) and Nigeria (71%).
- Support for sharia as the official law of the land also is widespread among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region – especially in Iraq (91%) and the Palestinian territories (89%). Only in Lebanon does opinion lean in the opposite direction: 29% of Lebanese Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land, while 66% oppose it.
Among those Muslims who support making sharia the official law in their country, a large percentage support the most severe version of sharia:
- Among those who want sharia to be the law of the land, in 10 of 20 countries where there are adequate samples for analysis at least half say they support penalties such as whippings or cutting off the hands of thieves and robbers.
- In South Asia, Pakistani and Afghan Muslims clearly support hudud punishments. In both countries, more than eight-in-ten Muslims who favor making sharia the official law of the land also back these types of penalties for theft and robbery (88% in Pakistan and 81% in Afghanistan). By contrast, only half of Bangladeshis who favor sharia as the law of the land share this view.
- In the Middle East and North Africa, many Muslims who support making sharia the official law also favor punishments like cutting off the hands of thieves. This includes at least seven-in-ten in the Palestinian territories (76%) and Egypt (70%), and at least half in Jordan (57%), Iraq (56%) and Lebanon (50%). Only in Tunisia do fewer than half (44%) of those who want Islamic law as the law of the land also back these types of criminal penalties.
- In Southeast Asia, about two-thirds (66%) of Malaysian Muslims who want sharia as the law of the land also favor punishments like cutting off the hands of thieves or robbers, but fewer than half say the same in Thailand (46%) and Indonesia (45%).
- In 10 of 20 countries where there are adequate samples for analysis, at least half of Muslims who favor making sharia the law of the land also favor stoning unfaithful spouses.
- In Pakistan (89%) and Afghanistan (85%), more than eight-in-ten Muslims who want Islamic law as their country’s official law say adulterers should be stoned, while nearly as many say the same in the Palestinian territories (84%) and Egypt (81%). A majority also support stoning as a penalty for the unfaithful in Jordan (67%) and Iraq (58%).
- In Southeast Asia, six-in-ten Muslims in Malaysia consider stoning an appropriate penalty for adultery. About half hold this view in Thailand (51%) and Indonesia (48%).
- In Tajikistan about half (51%) support this form of punishment.
Death Penalty for Apostasy
- 88% of Muslims in Egypt and 62% of Muslims in Pakistan favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion (apostasy). This is also the majority view among Muslims in Malaysia, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
- In six of the 20 countries where there are adequate samples for analysis, at least half of those who favor making Islamic law the official law also support executing apostates. Taking the life of those who abandon Islam is most widely supported in Egypt (86%) and Jordan (82%). Roughly two-thirds who want sharia to be the law of the land also back this penalty in the Palestinian territories (66%).
- In the South Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, strong majorities of those who favor making Islamic law the official law of the land also approve of executing apostates (79% and 76%, respectively). A majority of Malaysian Muslims (62%) who want to see sharia as their country’s official law also support taking the lives of those who convert to other faiths.
- The survey asked Muslims whether honor killings are ever justified as punishment for pre- or extra-marital sex. In 9 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, less than half say honor killings are never justified when a woman stands accused. Similarly, less than half in 8 of 23 countries say honor killings of accused men are never justified.
- In Afghanistan (60%) and Iraq (60%) – majorities say honor killings of women are often or sometimes justified, while in Afghanistan a majority (59%) say the same about executing men who have allegedly engaged in pre- or extra-marital sex.
- Muslims in South Asia are less likely to say honor killings of both women and men are never justified. In Pakistan, 45% of Muslims say executing accused women is never justified, and 48% say the same about accused men. In Bangladesh, fewer than four-in-ten Muslims reject honor killings for women (34%) and men (38%), while in Afghanistan only a quarter say executing a woman (24%) or a man (24%) is never justified.
- Few Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa reject honor killings of accused women: Jordan (34%), Iraq (22%), Egypt (31%), Lebanon (45%), and Palestinian territories (44%).
- At least half view polygamy as morally acceptable in 11 of the 37 countries where the question was asked. Acceptance is most widespread in sub-Saharan Africa; at least six-in-ten in Niger (87%), Senegal (86%), Mali (74%), Cameroon (67%), Tanzania (63%) and Nigeria (63%) describe polygamy as morally acceptable.
- in 14 of 37 countries at least one-in-five say it is not a moral issue or it depends on the circumstances. These views are especially widespread in Thailand (66%), Jordan (52%), Egypt (51%), Afghanistan (44%), Malaysia (39%) and Tajikistan (38%).
Wearing the Veil
- Fewer than half in Egypt (46%), Jordan (45%), Iraq (45%) and Afghanistan (30%) say say women should have the right to choose whether they wear a veil Sub-Saharan In Africa the only country in the region where a majority supports a woman’s right to decide is Senegal (58%); by contrast, fewer than a third support giving women this right in Nigeria (30%) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (29%).
The significant amount of Muslim extremism is also indicated by the number of Muslim majority countries with laws banning apostasy and blasphemy. In fact, the only remaining nations in the world with laws against apostasy are Muslim-majority:
- According to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a pressure group, Saudi Arabia is one of only 19 countries in the world that criminalizes apostasy, the turning away from one religion to another one, or to none; it is one of 12 countries where it is punishable by death. All but two of the latter group are in the Middle East and Africa. In practice, the death sentences are rarely carried out; more commonly, apostates are merely thrown in jail and tortured.(5)
- Even countries with civil laws that do not expressly outlaw apostasy still find creative ways to crack down on religious deviation. In Oman, Kuwait and Jordan Islamic courts can annul the marriages of apostates or prevent them from inheriting property. In Pakistan couples who convert from Islam risk having their children taken away.(5)
- Where laws against apostasy do not exist, blasphemy laws are often applied instead. In Egypt, a 21-year-old student, Karim Ashraf Muhammad al-Banna, was sentenced to three years in prison last year after he broadcast his atheism on Facebook. Blasphemy laws were famously applied in Pakistan too, when, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, was sentenced to death in 2010 after a confrontation with a group of Muslim women in which she supposedly defamed the Prophet Muhammad. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who defended Ms Bibi and railed against the blasphemy laws, was murdered by his own bodyguard in 2011.(5)
- In Pakistan, blasphemy laws are enforced so strictly that in 2010 a doctor was arrested for tossing out the business card of a man who shared the name of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad.(17)
There are numerous radical Islamist movements which each have millions of adherents and related terrorist organizations:
- Worlwide there are 63 million Hanbalis (Salafi purists), 9 million Wahabbis (Salafi activists) and 50 million Qutbis (Salafi Jihadis). Followers of these groups believe in strict adherence to the alleged ways of the Prophet, often applying medieval concepts to modern scenarios.(6) Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS are among the many Salafi terrorist organizations.(7)
- The Hanbalis are classified as Purist Salafis who practice strict adherence to Salafi Ideology but do not enforce it.(6)
- The Wahabbists on the other hand are considered to be active Salafis often using Salafi ideology as a political tool to implement Shariah (Quranic law) and in some cases enforcing it.(6)
- The most extreme form of Salafi ideology are the followers of Qutbism who consider Salafi ideology as a basis for waging Jihad (Holy War) against all non- believers.(6)
- There are 183 million Ja-fari Muslims worldwide – this is the fundamentalist interpretation of Shia Islam followed by the ayatollah’s of Iran, for example.(6)
- There are over 200 million Barlevis in southeast Asia alone (8) – a follower of this movement On 4 January 2011, the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by a member of a Barelvi group because Taseer had called for leniency for a Christian mother sentenced to death under the Pakistani blasphemy ban. Over five hundred scholars of the Barelvi movement voiced support for the crime and urged a boycott of Taseer’s funeral.(9)(10)(11)(12)
- The Taliban organization based on the Deobandi school of Islam. Militant Deobandis tend to occur in the Pakistani/Afghanistan region, with occasional spillovers in India and possibly Bangladesh.(13)
Support for Islamic terrorist organizations is remarkably high:
- The latest polling data show that while a majority of Muslims reject ISIS, extrapolating from the populations of polled countries alone shows that roughly 50 million people express sympathy for a terrorist army that burns prisoners alive, throws gay men from buildings, and beheads political opponents. In Pakistan a horrifying 72 percent couldn’t bring themselves to express an unfavorable view of ISIS.(14)
In Jordan, 15% had a positive opinion of al Qaeda, while about one-in-five in Indonesia (22%) and Egypt (21%) shared this view. Palestinian Muslims offered somewhat more positive opinions (28% favorable), but about two-thirds (68%) viewed bin Laden’s organization unfavorably. Nigerian Muslims typically offer more positive views of al Qaeda than any other Muslim public surveyed – in this case 49%.(15)
- After the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Gilani Foundation did a poll of Pakistanis and found that 51% of them grieved for the terrorist mastermind, with 44% of them stating that he was a martyr.(16)
- Between 7% and 10% of the Islamic world does believe in suicide bombings, does support the Islamic State’s violence, does support al Qaeda. (2)