Attitudes towards blasphemy in Muslim countries and Australia

So far, I have focused on the impact of modernity on religious institutions and on the concept of blasphemy in Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. I have briefly examined the nature and position of blasphemy laws in the Anglo-American world and used Pakistan as a case study to highlight the situation in Pakistan and other Muslim countries where blasphemy laws may also exist. In this section I would like to report findings from a survey on the attitudes of respondents towards blasphemy in Australia and seven Muslim countries.

Between 1996 and 2002 I carried out surveys of Muslim religiosity in seven Muslim countries namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Turkey. In these surveys over 6300 Muslim respondents were interviewed about their religiosity and social attitudes.[15] In 1999–2000, I also carried out a survey of Muslim and Christian religiosity in Australia.[16] These surveys included a question about attitudes towards blasphemy. More specifically, the respondents were asked:

Suppose a person publicly admitted that he/she did not believe in Allah/God, would you agree or disagree that the following actions should be taken.

  1. A book he/ she wrote should be removed from the library;
  2. He/she should be fired from a job in government;
  3. He/she should not be allowed to teach in a university/school;
  4. He/she should be tried for heresy;
  5. He/she should not be allowed to preach his beliefs;
  6. He/ she should not be allowed to hold public office.

The survey findings are reported in Table 1.

Table 11.1. Suppose a person publicly admitted that he/she did not believe in Allah, would you agree or disagree that the following actions should be taken against him/her (per cent agreeing with the statement)

 

Turkey

(n=527)

Iran

(n=536)

Malaysia

(n=801)

Egypt

(n=573)

Pakistan

(n=1185)

Indonesia

(n=1472)

Kazakhstan

(n=978)

Australian

Muslims

(n=82)

Australian Christians

(n=88)

A book he/she wrote should be removed from the library

37

53

85

91

69

64

19

56

4

He/she should be fired from a job in the government

31

43

60

69

50

67

17

44

-

He/she should not be allowed to teach in a university/school

40

51

73

90

67

79

21

49

6

He/she should be tried for heresy

23

54

84

78

65

50

22

41

1

He/she should not be allowed to preach his beliefs to others

51

45

91

94

79

88

24

54

20

He/she should not be allowed to hold public office

43

45

79

85

63

58

18

50

30

Source: Unpublished Survey Data

The empirical evidence shows that there were significant variations in attitudes towards blasphemy among Muslims in different countries. In general, attitudes towards blasphemy were weakest in Kazakhstan, followed by Turkey. The attitudes were strongest in Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysia. The Australian Muslims displayed moderate attitudes but the Australian Christians have very weak attitudes towards blasphemy. These attitudes were classified into three categories using the following methodology. For each item if more than 60 per cent of respondents in a country agreed with the statement that country was classified as ‘high’; if the agreement rate was between 40 and 60 per cent, the country was classified as ‘medium’ and if the agreement rate was below 40 per cent the country was classified as ‘low’. This classification was applied to Australian Muslims and Christians as well. A further procedure was performed to classify countries as having ‘strong’, ‘moderate’ and ‘weak’ attitudes towards blasphemy. If four to six statements had been classified as ‘high’ in a country it was regarded as having ‘strong’ blasphemous attitudes, if a country had scored ‘medium’ for four to six statements it was classified as ‘moderate’ and if the score for four to six statements was low the country was classified as having ‘weak’ blasphemous attitudes. The result obtained from the application of this procedure showed that Turkey and Kazakhstan had ‘weak’, Iran had ‘moderate’ and Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia had ‘strong’ blasphemous attitudes. The Australian Muslims had ‘moderate’ and the Australian Christians had ‘weak’ attitudes towards blasphemy.