WASHINGTON - A HUGE survey of Muslims conducted over six years and three continents that was presented here on Tuesday threatens to turn preconceived Western notions equating Islam with radicalism and violence on their heads.
'What we discovered is that Muslims don't hate Western freedoms and democracy,' said Dr John Esposito, co-author of the book 'Who Speaks for Islam', which arose from the study and will be published next month.
The Gallup polling agency launched the study shortly after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, after which US President George W. Bush asked in a speech: 'Why do they hate us?' 'They hate ... a democratically elected government,' President Bush offered as a reason.
'They hate our freedoms - our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.'
Contrary to that speech, the poll, which was conducted over a sample representing 90 per cent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, showed that most Muslims, including a small minority of radicals, in fact admire the West for its democracy, freedoms and technological prowess.
'Muslims want self-determination'
What they do not want is to have Western ways forced on them.
'Muslims want self-determination, but not an American-imposed and -defined democracy. They don't want secularism or theocracy. What the majority wants is democracy with religious values,' said Dr Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University in Washington.
About 93 per cent of the world's Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, which rattles many of the stereotypes held by Westerners of radical Muslims.
It shows radicals to be neither more religious than their mainstream, moderate counterparts, nor products of poverty or refugee camps.
'The politicised radicals are better educated, have better jobs, and are more hopeful with regard to the future than mainstream Muslims,' Dr Esposito said.
'Ironically they believe in democracy even more than many of the mainstream moderates do, but they're more cynical about whether they'll ever get it.'
Interviews conducted in 40 countries
The ground-breaking study interviewed Muslims in rural and urban areas in 40 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
'A billion Muslims should be the ones that we look to, to understand what they believe, rather than a vocal minority,' Dalia Mogahed, co-author of the book and director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies.
The poll is part of the Gallup World Poll, which aims to survey 95 per cent of the world's population. -- AFP