Most Turks acknowledge Alevis as fellow Muslims, Pew survey reveals

Most Turks acknowledge Alevis as fellow Muslims, Pew survey reveals

Hundreds of Muslims out in the Mecidiye Strret of Samsun city for eid shopping. (Photo: AA)

August 09, 2012, Thursday/ 12:38:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

A majority of Turks said they acknowledge Alevis, who are part of the Shia tradition, as fellow Muslims, according to findings in a newly released Pew opinion poll.

According to the poll, 69 percent of Muslims in Turkey said they acknowledge Alevis as fellow Muslims. Alevis are a religious minority in Turkey and are believed to have somewhere between 6-12 million adherents in the country. By comparison, in Lebanon 57 percent of respondents said local minority Alawites are Muslims.

This is among the key findings of Pew's “The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity” poll released Aug. 9. It is based on more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews conducted in over 80 languages in 39 countries and territories that collectively are home to roughly two-thirds of all Muslims in the world.

The survey asked respondents about the imminence of two events that, according to Islamic tradition, will presage the Day of Judgment: the arrival of the Mahdi, the redeemer of Islam who will initiate the final period before the day of resurrection and judgment, and the return of Jesus.

In nine of the 23 nations where the question was asked, half or more of Muslim adults said they believe the arrival of the Mahdi will occur in their lifetime, including at least two-thirds expressing this view in Afghanistan (83 percent), Iraq (72 percent), Turkey (68 percent) and Tunisia (67 percent). The conviction that Jesus will return in their lifetime is most widespread among Muslims in Tunisia (67 percent), Turkey (65 percent) and Iraq (64 percent).

Pew also questioned participants about their religious practices such as fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and almsgiving to assist people in need. In more than half of the countries surveyed, at least nine in 10 Muslims said they fast during Ramadan, which began in most countries on the evening of July 19 and is expected to end with the sighting of the crescent moon on Aug. 18.

The annual giving of aid to the poor is almost as widely observed as fasting. The proportion of Muslims who say they give alms annually ranges from 98 percent in Indonesia to 36 percent in Kazakhstan.

Daily prayers less common among Turks

According to the survey, Muslims in Central Asia and across Southern and Eastern Europe report lower levels of religious practice than Muslims in other regions. For instance, only in Azerbaijan does a majority (70 percent) pray more than once a day. Elsewhere in these two regions, the number of Muslims who say they pray several times a day ranges from slightly more than four in 10 in Kosovo (43 percent), Turkey (43 percent) and Tajikistan (42 percent) to fewer than one in 10 in Albania (7 percent) and Kazakhstan (4 percent).

In other regions included in the study, daily prayer is much more common among Muslims. In Southeast Asia, for example, at least three-quarters pray more than once a day, while in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, majorities in most countries report the same.

A quarter of the Muslims surveyed by Pew identify themselves as neither Sunni nor Shia but rather as “just a Muslim.” This nonsectarian identity is most common in Central Asia, Russia and the Balkans. By contrast, Muslims in South Asia and in the Middle East and North Africa tend to be most keenly aware of the distinction between the two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia.

Muslim men are more likely than women to attend mosque in most of the 39 countries surveyed. This is especially true in Central Asia and South Asia, where the majority of women in most countries surveyed say they never attend mosque. According to Pew, this disparity appears to result from cultural norms that constrain women, rather than from differences in the importance that women and men place on religion. There are no consistent differences between Muslim men and women when it comes to frequency of prayer or participation in alms giving and fasting during Ramadan.

The Pew survey also found that participants have widely differing views about many other aspects of their faith, including how important religion is in their lives, who counts as a Muslim and what practices are acceptable in Islam.

The survey asked Muslims whether Sufis -- members of a religious order that emphasizes the mystical dimensions of Islam -- belong to the Islamic faith. Muslims in South Asia widely see Sufis as Muslims, though Muslims in other regions tend not to accept Sufis as part of the Islamic faith. In Turkey, a majority of Muslims believe that devotional dancing, as performed by Mevlevis or "whirling dervishes" in the Sufi order, is an acceptable form of worship.

According to Pew, the vast majority of participants were raised as Muslims. Nearly all of adult Muslims surveyed in South Asia and across the Middle East and North Africa said they were raised in the Islamic faith. Conversion to Islam is more common in Central Asia and across Southern and Eastern Europe. Ten percent of adult Muslims in Kazakhstan, 7 percent in Russia, 6 percent in Uzbekistan and 5 percent in Albania said they were not raised in the faith.

Both the Quran and hadith (accounts of the words or practices of the Prophet Muhammad) make reference to witchcraft and the evil eye, as well as to supernatural beings known in Arabic as jinn (the origin of the English word genie). In a majority of the countries surveyed, roughly half or more Muslims affirm that jinn exist and that the evil eye is real. Belief in sorcery is somewhat less common: Half or more Muslims in nine of the countries included in the survey say they believe in witchcraft. At the same time, however, an overwhelming majority of Muslims agree that Islam forbids appealing to jinn or using sorcery.

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