The Telegraph opinion column, April 12, 2016 – screen shot.When will the pollsters
ever learn? The results of the recent ICM poll of Muslims in the UK
(published earlier this month and broadcast on Channel 4, April 13) are
not as groundbreaking as their promoters would like us to think and moreover
display major flaws.
First, you do not draw
a Muslim sampling without comparing to other religious groups. This is a flaw
of most surveys conducted in Europe which compare a Muslim sampling to “non
Muslims”. In these conditions, it is impossible to draw definitive conclusions
since the Muslim/non Muslim divide is ideological not scientific.
Second, there is no
revelation in this poll. Since at least the 2007 Gallup poll, we know that
Muslims across Europe display conservative values on family life, sexuality and
women, while at the same time expressing high levels of loyalties to the
country of Europe to which they belong. Having conservative family views does
not mean lack of integration. In the US, Christian fundamentalists display the
same values but nobody would say that they are not socially integrated!
The issue in Europe is
that Muslims are the only religious group that seems to hold on to these moral
values in contrast to most Europeans who have less, if no identification to
their religion and the moral prescriptions attached to it. In other words, the
gap is not between ‘religious’ Muslims and ‘secular’ British but rather between
the European and American contexts in which Muslims are living.
countries, the level of self-declared religiosity in the general population is
systematically much lower than among Muslim groups while, in the United States,
this is not the case. The general context of religiosity and social
legitimacy of religions in each country is the real discriminatory factor that
must be understood to grasp the situation of Islam and Muslims in any country.
Third, this ICM poll revealed that
more than half of Muslims rejected homosexuality. This is no
revelation either. The World Value Survey has been showing this result across
Muslim majority and minorities for more than a decade. The question then is:
why are Muslims across the board more intolerant vis-a-vis homosexuality than
other monotheistic groups? It is a very different angle to think that British
Muslims are unique in their reprobation of gay rights.
The same nuanced
approach has to be applied to any data on intolerance vis a vis women rights.
It is misleading to think that the majority of Muslims in the UK or elsewhere
want to confine women to the stifling status of Saudi women. Those
are the minority. The majority across Muslim countries like in the UK are not
opposed to women’s right to education, work, political participation. It is
after all what the Islamic tradition prescribes. But women’s rights can be
diminished in family life through their marriage and especially in a minority
context, the divorce procedure, that remains a prerogative of the husband.
Again, is this specific to Muslim men? Certainly not. After all, Jewish women
in Europe and the US face the same ordeal and sometimes, rabbinical court can
be less accommodating than Sharia courts in this domain.
comparison with other religious traditions would also clarify the misunderstanding
about Sharia. When Muslims claim access to it in Europe, this is not about
making it the law of the state. It is about asserting their right to marry
and divorce according to their religious prescriptions, which is a principle
recognized in civil secular law, even if it is a challenge when it comes to
preserving gender equality in all religions.
In sum, in order to
effectively assess the religious situation of Muslims in the UK it is crucial
to make sure that we do not blow out of proportion so called specificities that
are actually shared across religious groups, especially when it comes to
family and gender issues.
It is also important to
not surrender to fear by seeing all manifestations of Islam, including the
conservative ones as an indicator of terrorism. In the long term such a
suspicion affects religious freedom for all religions.