Beliefs Culture Opinion

New Survey Illuminates Differences Among the World’s Muslims

A new survey of Muslims from across the world shows that American Muslims are much more likely than Muslims in other countries to have non-Muslim friends, and to believe that many religions (not just Islam) can lead to eternal life in heaven. The survey, which involved 38,000 face-to-face interviews in more than 80 languages with Muslims across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and was conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, shows that American Muslims feel more at ease in contemporary Western pluralistic societies than their co-religionists in other parts of the world.

Overall, most Muslims across the six regions surveyed agree that there is no inherent tension between modern society and leading a religiously devout life. However, although many Muslims outside North and South America, especially Muslims living in Southern and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, say they enjoy Western pop culture and entertainment on a personal level, a clear majority also say that Western entertainment harms morality in their country.

Meanwhile, more than 6-in-10 (63%) American Muslims say there is no tension between religious devotion and life in a modern society, compared to a median of 54% of Muslims worldwide. The report also notes that American Muslims are substantially more likely than Muslims in other parts of the world to believe that many religions can lead to eternal salvation (56% of American Muslims vs. global median of 18%). And while high numbers of Muslims worldwide (global median of 95%) say that most or all of their close friends are Muslim, less than half (48%) of American Muslims say this is true of them.

According to a survey conducted by PRRI in 2011, a sizeable minority (30%) of Americans report that they have a conversation with someone who is Muslim at least occasionally. A majority (54%) of Americans also agree that American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the U.S. There is also generational evidence that Muslims will continue to be accepted in the U.S. at even higher rates: young adults (18-29) are substantially more likely than seniors to say that American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the U.S. (62% vs. 44%). Young adults (34%) are also more than twice as likely as seniors (16%) to say they interact at least occasionally with Muslims.

It’s true that Americans are also nearly evenly divided on whether the values of Islam are at odds with American values, with young adults more likely to disagree than seniors. But the generational divisions on attitudes toward Muslims and frequency of interaction with Muslims point to greater acceptance of Muslims as part of the American religious community in the future. Living in a country with high religious pluralism may help explain some of the differences between American Muslims and Muslims from other parts of the world, most of whom live in countries where Muslims comprise the vast majority of the population.