By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
October 30, 2013
In 2001, The Gallup Organization began the most extensive public opinion poll ever taken of the Muslim world. Gallup, Inc., is a research-based company which conducts surveys in 160 countries and its site says “and is committed to doing so for the entire century.”1
In 2001, this global performance-management consulting company decided to go on a journey in which they would go door to door and ask the Muslims what they think about issues like polygamy, gender justice, 9/11, Israel-Palestine and a range of other issues.
Muslims come from every country of the world and they speak every language of the world. Only about 15% of Muslims are Arabs and obviously all Arabs are not Muslims. The largest percentage of Muslims actually lives in Asia, especially in South Asia. And a considerable Muslim minority thrives in the West. That is the reason the survey was mostly carried out in Muslim majority countries.
John L Esposito, Professor of Religion and International Affairs or Georgetown University, says that the poll found that what Muslims actually think is against the conventional reality that is presented in the media and the stereotypes prevalent in the Muslim as well as non-Muslim world.
The Clash of Civilization theory is based on some assumptions. The first one, probably the most important is the idea that Muslims around the world do not share democratic values; they don’t understand or value freedom of speech, they don’t value gender justice, they look at representative government and think that it leads to chaos and corruption.
A lot of Americans are afraid of the Muslim world. They don’t understand it. All their knowledge is derived from the media, which is mostly negative. According to Kenneth Pollack, of Brookings Institution, most Americans think that Muslims hate them. They kill the Americans just because they are Americans. They want to destroy America and its society and culture, because of what it is. All these things in general, continues Mr Pollack, who is also the author of ‘A Path Out of the Desert’, lead to enormous feelings of fear, anger and animosity towards the Muslims.
Ironically it takes an event of the magnitude of 9/11 to try to focus to the part of the world that most Americans typically didn’t have any contact with. Before the September Attacks, the Muslim world hardly existed in the knowledge of the Americans and many Western countries, but after 9/11 they “know” the Muslims. 2
Dalia Mogahed, the Executive Director and Senior Analyst of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, recollects her memories of that dramatic and terrible day: “I was in complete shock. I could not even talk to my husband. We had no idea what to think, what to expect. And I remember the only thing that I said “please God let this not be Muslims””. She continues, “I was afraid of being associated with the people who had done that horrific act. People were obviously horrified and angry, we were, however scared”.
According to Jihad Fakhreddine, Regional Research Director, Gallup World Poll, the act which led to the crumbling of the Twin Towers did not just mean an attack on the US, it was act that led to a complete separation between the Arab world (read Muslim world) and the West.
The Process of the Poll
Mostly Muslim majority countries were targeted for the survey, not just the Middle East but South Asia, South East Asia, North Africa- all these regions were primarily targeted, which hold 90% of the global Muslim population, making this the most comprehensive and complete poll of Muslim opinion ever done.
The Questionnaire basically dealt with what is important to these people, what values do they have; what things they think are most important to teach their children; what is it that they respect about their own society and what they think is still lacking in their own development; what do they think about the West, the US specifically.
The brave members of the Gallup Organization actually went to people’s homes. Telephones or the internet were not used. They knocked on people’s doors, spent an hour or so with the family members. They tried to understand them; talked to them about what was really important to them. The Questionnaire was in the local language or wherever possible, local dialects.
A mix of male and female interviewers was there. In some countries females were used for interviewing with females, Saudi Arabia is the perfect example of this and the same process was applied in the less advanced or more conservative areas of some countries, where gender mixing is still considered a sin, taking the local norms in mind.
Interview was done on young and old, educated and illiterate, men and women. The major reason why these interviewers went to people’s houses is because in many parts of the Muslim world, speaking openly to stranger is still a hard nut to crack, so trust had to be built so that they could freely, without any hitch, speak up their mind.
Note- Most of the materials I have taken from that survey, though I have added or edited things wherever required. I have followed in many cases the same linear structure. The survey is not about ‘why’ Muslims think that way but ‘what’ they think.