Religious Tolerance and Belief in Central and South Asia

by Sekundar on 8/15/2012 · 6 comments

Recently the Pew Reseach Center conducted a poll addressing religious tolerance in the Muslim world (h/t Dawn), titled The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity. Of note to Registan readers, they interviewed about 1500 subjects from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and about 1000 from Uzbekistan. I wish they’d been able to do some sampling in Turkmenistan, or on the periphery of Central Asia in China, India, and Iran, but that’s just sour grapes. The results are fascinating.

As Dawn pointed out, today only half of Pakistan would even grant that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the nation and a Shia, was a Muslim. I, for one, never realized how superstitious some Turks could be (63% believe in jinns, 69% believe in the evil eye, and 49% believe in witchcraft – higher than Afghanistan). And I wasn’t aware how few Sunnis in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan recognize Shias as Muslims (15% and 14%, respectively), making them arguably the least tolerant of the survey.

Anyway, it’s worth a read, and स्वतंत्रता दिवस मुबारक to our Indian readers.

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– author of 24 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Sekundar works in national security, and has worked and studied in Central and South Asia.

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brent August 16, 2012 at 7:13 am

Thanks for sharing this. However, your manner of reporting the results for Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistani attitudes toward Shiism ignores the general lack of knowledge of Shia Islam across the region. 79% of Uzbekistani and 60% of Kyrgyzstani respondents in this survey stated that either they had never heard of Shias or didn’t know how to answer the question. If we (problematically) drop this category, 66% of Uzbekistani respondents and 37.5% of Kyrgyzstani respondents who were familiar with Shia Islam agreed that Shias were Muslim. These numbers are much more in line with the numbers reported in the other states included in the survey.

Sekundar August 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Good point. I should’ve emphasized the size of their ‘never heard of/don’t know’ percentages. Even with that, though, Kyrgyzstan is still near the bottom, above only Indonesia and Morocco, in their percentage of having heard of Shias and still not believing them to be Muslim. I’m also skeptical of the ‘don’t know’ group. The pdf linked to above has a much better breakout.

tnerb August 16, 2012 at 11:31 am

I agree with Brent that people in Soviet Central Asia do not know what Shia or Sunni is. They know they are Muslims but do not know the difference between Shia and Sunni. This is due to an atheist past of the region and and general frowning upon on any religion, especially Islam in modern Central Asia. A very minute portion of the population follows Islam and yes you can see headscarf covered women mostly in Tashkent and the urban areas of the Ferghana Valley. The rest of the country and that is at least 70-80% of population doesn’t really care about Islam, Shia, Sunni and you don’t see women covered the way they are covered in Andijan or Tashkent. People in rural areas are hardly making ends meet trying to feed their families. Islam, Shia, Sunni and other man-made problems are at the bottom of their totem pole. They have better things to worry about than thinking about Shia vs Sunni problems of the world. This tells me that the intolerance index reported in the article is very misleading and does not reflect the reality on the ground.

Syed Rizvi August 27, 2012 at 8:58 am

Right On !!

tnerb August 16, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Religion, schmeligion…
My favorite Jim Gaffigan routine goes like this: “I wonder what the reaction of the first person was when Moses told him that God spoke to him through a burning bush. I bet that person’s answer was “God spoke to you out of a burning bush? Moses, I think YOU have been burning some bush!”

SHAIKH RAHMATULLAH August 17, 2012 at 3:32 am

Very informative and with great details. I think, instead of using the word GOD and Mohammed, you should have used ALLAH for Islam. God is also referred with God Father, God Child, God men and god etc. ALLAH is unique and strictly explains the Islamic faith.

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