Gallup Poll Finds Islam, Democracy Not Incompatible


By Stephanie Ho, Washington
23 January 2007

The Gallup polling organization has found that, while Muslims say they admire democratic values, they also believe Islamic laws and democracy can exist side-by-side. Basing its findings on a survey of 10 mostly Muslim countries, Gallup said world leaders should support democracy in those countries despite the peoples’ strong feeling about religion. VOA’s Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

The Gallup Poll of the Muslim World has sampled the opinions of more than 80percent of the world’s Muslim population in 10 countries.

The head of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Dalia Mogahed, said her organization has found that many respondents in the Muslim world value aspects of what she called a “liberal democracy.”

“There is a support for, in principle, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion,” she said. “There is also an admiration of liberty and freedom of expression in the West. So, in principle there is support for these concepts and these values.”

At the same time, Gallup found that in countries, such as Egypt, Pakistan,Jordan and Bangladesh, a majority of the people asked said sharia, or Muslim law, should be the only source of legislation. In four other countries, a majority said sharia must be a source of law, although not the only source.

Mogahed said the religious feeling of voters is important.

“So, the debate as to whether or not this is a temporary phenomenon, or if votes for the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas, for example, were simply protest votes because people did not have a secular alternative – our data would suggest that the answer is no, that people were not just voting against the government or Fatah, that they were in fact voting for the religious parties because they represent their political values,” she said.

Mogahed added that the Gallup findings “lend the weight of empirical data” to support recent Council on Foreign Relations recommendations…

” … that world leaders should support genuine democracy in the Arab-Muslim world, despite the risks of people coming into power that disagree, vehemently even, with U.S. policies,” she said. “And secondly, that governments should support the political participation of any group or party committed to abiding by the rules and norms of the democratic process.”

One Gallup poll finding is that there is a popular perception in the Arab world that the United States does not support genuine Muslim autonomy. This issue was addressed by editor-in-chief Frank Newport, who says the survey shows that people in the Muslim world have mixed feelings about the United States.

“People in these predominantly Muslim countries do respect the U.S.focus on liberty, freedom and democracy, and yet overall, there’s a negative attitude toward the U.S. at this point in time, so there is a contradiction,” he said.

He indicated that resolving this contradiction would not be easy and is, in his words, “the focus of many great minds in the U.S. government and elsewhere.”