Muslims see no conflict between Islamic law and democracy: poll

Muslims worldwide believe Islamic law is compatible with democracy and most admire values championed by the US but doubt Washington is serious about implementing them overseas, according to a poll.

The Gallup poll, conducted in the Palestinian territories as well as nine predominantly Muslim countries representing more than 80 percent of the global Muslim population, showed that majorities believe Sharia law and democracy can co-exist in a government and that Islamic law should be at least a source of legislation.

In Egypt, for example, 66 percent of those polled said Sharia must be the only source of legislation while in Pakistan 60 percent felt that way, in Iran 17 percent and in Turkey nine percent.

Interestingly, Gallup posed the same question to Americans, 55 percent of whom felt that the Bible must play a role in legislation.

Dalia Mogahed, a senior analyst at Gallup and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, said she was surprised at the findings which send a message to the US administration that it should rethink its policies when dealing with the Muslim world.

“This poll tells the United States that the rise of Islamic parties and their wins in elections are something that is not going to go away and that continuing to work on creating a secular alternative might not necessarily result in the kinds of electoral wins that they expect,” Mogahed told AFP.

She added that the votes cast for Islamic parties should also not be viewed by Washington as simply protest votes as they reflect people’s political values which cannot be ignored.

“If democracy is a stabilizing force that the US hopes to foster in the Middle East, that will mean engaging those people that the public is saying they want,” Mogahed said. “There will have to be a greater openness to religiously oriented parties as long as they stay within the political process and don’t resort to violence.”

The poll found that though religion plays an important part in the daily lives of most of those questioned, they did not believe religious leaders should directly be in charge of drafting legislation.

Overwhelming majorities — 94 percent in Egypt and 92 percent in Iran — also believe a constitution should include guarantees for free speech.

As to US foreign policy, the majority in several countries, including Iran and Pakistan, said they doubt Washington will allow people in the region to fashion their own political future without direct US influence.

They also don’t believe the US is serious about supporting the establishment of democracy in Muslim countries.

The Gallup poll was conducted in Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey and the Palestinian territories.

It involved about 1,000 adults who were interviewed in person in each country and was carried out between August and October of last year.

They survey in the Palestinian territories was conducted between December 2005 and January 2006.