Courtesy: Pew Forum

The Pew Research Center this week revealed another extensive and newsworthy piece of research: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society. The results of the survey, which consisted of more than 38,000 interviews of Muslims in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia in approximately 80 languages, reveals many things on many topics. Some revelations are interesting, others curious, and a few even downright alarming. As an American Muslim, though, I was mostly interested in the appendices, which discuss the attitudes of U.S. Muslims and compared them to similar themes among Muslims of other countries. Here’s my take:

First and foremost I was happy to read that American Muslims are some of the most moderate and peace loving in the world. For instance, 81% American Muslims say suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets are never justified. That’s not to say Muslims of other countries overwhelmingly agree with violence, in fact most Muslims worldwide also reject this type of violence, but have a lower rate of rejection than Americans. Interestingly, it seems that America Muslims also are more moderate in cultural and societal aspects of their lives. 63% say there is no inherent tension between being devout and living in a modern society; nearly identical proportion of American Christians (64%) agree. On the other hand, fewer worldwide Muslims share the view that modern life and religious devotion are not at odds (global median of 54%).To me, that’s a telling comparison, because modern culture is often cited as pulling people of all faiths away from religious practices. That Muslims in the United States are able to balance their American experience with their religious traditions says much about their resilience, flexibility and open minds.

For those curious about the reasons for these differences between Muslims here and abroad, I think the survey itself points out to a critical one: interaction with other faiths. The surveys reports that although almost half of U.S. Muslims say that all (7%) or most (41%) of their close friends are other Muslims, another half say that some (36%) or hardly any (14%) of their close friends are Muslim. I believe that we as American Muslims receive a huge benefit from befriending and ultimately learning from other religious groups. Whether you talk about religion or not, having a friend, neighbor or acquaintance who believes differently from you will factor enormously in your world view. People who have multicultural friendships also have fewer stereotypes and fewer negative feelings about other religious groups. By contrast, the surveys showed that Muslims in other countries nearly universally report that all or most of their close friends are Muslim (global median of 95%). Even Muslims who are religious minorities in their countries are less likely than U.S. Muslims to have friendships with non-Muslims. For example, 78% of Russian Muslims and 96% of Thai Muslims say most or all of their close friends are Muslim.

It’s no surprise to interfaith activists such as me that interfaith dialogue and relationship building between groups can pave the way towards peace and prosperity. Americans of all faiths would do well to remember this important fact: ignorance breeds hate, and who wants to be ignorant? Look outside your own social circle, make a new friend, one who looks and prays differently. Join or start an interfaith discussion group, such as a book club or a student’s study group. Read a book about another faith, ask questions, understand and celebrate each other’s differences. In the long run, we will all be better off with an open mind and an inclusive attitude.

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