Recently, all members of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion received a copy of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed (2007), which is based on Gallup’s World Poll — specifically on polls conducted between 2001-2007 which included tens of thousand of face to face interviews. The authors identify nine counterintuitive discourses that emerged from the poll:
1. Muslim rejection of the notion of the West as monolithic. Criticisms are based on politics, not culture or religion.
2. Muslim dreams for the future focus on better jobs not Jihad.
3. Muslims are just as likely as American to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustified.
4. Those that condone terrorists are a minority and no more religious that those who reject terrorism.
5. Muslims around the world admire the West for its technology and its democracy – same as Americans.
6. Muslims least admire the moral decay and break down of traditional values – same as Americans.
7. Muslim women want equal rights and religion in their societies.
8. The one best thing the West can do to improve relations is to moderate their views toward Muslims and to show respect towards Islam.
9. The majority of those surveyed was religious leaders to have no direct role in crafting constitutions but favor religious law as a source of legislation.

To those who study Muslims, none of these are a surprise or really counterintuitive, or even much of a discovery. However, it is nice to have the weight of a Gallup poll to support what Anthropologist such as myself knew from direct observation.

That said, I think this book would be an important addition to a course reading list. Te real strength of the book is that it goes through the dominant Western perspectives on Islam and Muslim one by one and by using the Gallup poll data debunks them. It intersperses that data with evidence from other sources. A real weakness of the book is that the extent of the statistical analysis is vague descriptive statements; the most we ever get is a simple statement of percentage.

In a very personal sense, its publication is fortuitous. I will be doing sabbatical research in Indonesia starting in September and this book provides an important tool. In addition to research, I will be teaching at an Islamic University and want to use it as a textbook and see how students respond to the claims made in the book.