EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01 A.M. MAY 3
Washington, DC—The portrayal in the West of Islamic traditionalists or
fundamentalists often emphasizes their relegation of women to lower status in
the home and family, restrictions on sexual expression and reproductive rights,
and harsh punishments for crimes, but a new study by Indiana University and
DePauw University sociologists found that Islamic orthodoxy has an "egalitarian
In research based on survey data from seven predominantly Muslim nations,
the authors found that Islamic orthodoxy—identified as the desire to implement
Islamic law (shari'a) as the sole legal foundation of their nation—is
associated in every country with support for such progressive economic reforms
as increasing the responsibility of government for the poor, reducing income
inequality, and increasing government ownership of businesses and industries.
Their findings appear in the American Sociological Review,
flagship journal of the American Sociological Association. The article, "The
Egalitarian Face of Islamic Orthodoxy
: Support for Islamic Law and Economic
Justice in Seven Muslim-Majority Nations," is the lead article in the April
"While it is common to associate traditional religious beliefs with
conservative political stances on a wide range of issues, this is only partly
true," said Robert V. Robinson, Chancellor's Professor and chair of Indiana
University's Department of Sociology. "The Islamic orthodox are more
conservative on issues having to do with gender, sexuality and the family, but
more liberal or left on economic issues."
Robinson and Nancy J. Davis, professor and chair of DePauw University's
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, attribute the economic progressivism
of the Islamic orthodox to the "communitarianism" that they have found among the
orthodox of all the Abrahamic faith traditions. Orthodox Christians, Jews and
Muslims, they argue, are theologically "communitarian" because they see
themselves as part of a larger community of believers and as such subject to the
timeless laws and greater plan of God.
"The theological communitarianism of orthodoxy entails watching over
community members, which involves both a controlling side and a caring one, and
inclines its adherents toward cultural authoritarianism and economic
egalitarianism," Davis said. "The orthodox tend to feel that everyone in the
community should be subject to what they see as eternal divine laws on the
position of women, sexuality and the family. But they also tend to believe that
the community and society should look out for its members' economic well-being."
Davis and Robinson's finding that religious traditionalists or orthodox in
Islam are more supportive than modernists of progressive economic reforms
follows up on their earlier studies of the United States, a number of European
countries and Israel, which found that orthodox Christians (Protestants,
Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) and Jews tend to be more economically
egalitarian than modernists in these faith traditions, belying the notion in
many countries that the orthodox constitute a "Religious Right."
The data for their latest study came from national surveys in Algeria,
Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where
altogether just under half of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims live. The surveys
were conducted from 2000 to 2003 as part of the fourth wave of the World Values
Survey, conducted by the University of Michigan and a consortium of
investigators in over 80 countries. Some other key findings include:
- Fully 88 percent of Saudi respondents considered establishing Islamic law as
the sole basis of the state to be "important" or "very important," as did 82
percent of Egyptians, 80 percent of Jordanians, 72 percent of Algerians, 62
percent of Pakistanis and 53 percent of Indonesians. Only in Bangladesh did less
than a majority (45 percent) support establishing shari'a as the sole
law of the land.
- In the poorer Muslim countries, Davis and Robinson found that orthodoxy is
more strongly linked to a desire for progressive economic reforms than in the
countries with medium or high standards of living. Also, within all of these
countries, the poor and less educated are more supportive of economic reforms
than the rich and well educated.
- The research found further evidence of the economic progressivism of the
Islamic orthodox in the welfare networks that they have established throughout
the Muslim world. Building on the mosque-centered model established by the
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the 1930s, other Islamist groups, such as the
Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria, Laksar Jihad
(Holy War Brigade) in Indonesia, Jamaat-i-Islami (Party of Islam) in
Pakistan, and Hamas in Palestine, have created in their countries safety
nets of welfare agencies, clinics and hospitals, factories paying good wages,
day care centers, youth clubs and unemployment agencies.
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The American Sociological Review, edited by Jerry A.
Jacobs (University of Pennsylvania), is the flagship journal of the American