What Do Muslims Say?

When Gallup Polls asked Americans in 2005 what they most admire about Muslim societies, the most frequent response was “nothing.” The second most frequent response was, “I don’t know.” Combined, these two answers represented 57% of Americans.

Many of us tend to conflate the mainstream Muslim majority with the beliefs and actions of extremist minorities who tend to get most of the media attention. Nevertheless, we are curious about many things:

  • Why is the Muslim world so anti-American?
  • Who are the extremists?
  • Is democracy something Muslims really want?
  • What do Muslim women say?
  • What do Muslims think about the West, or about democracy, or about extremism?

Over the course of six years, the Gallup Organization conducted tens of thousands of hour-long, face-to-face interviews with residents of more than 35 predominantly Muslim nations – urban and rural, young and old, men and women, educated and illiterate.

Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think is a book based on those interviews representing 1.3 billion Muslims – more than 90% of the world's Muslim community, making this poll the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.

What the data reveal and the authors illuminate may surprise you:

  • Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustifiable.
  • Large majorities of Muslims would guarantee free speech if it were up to them to write a new constitution and they say religious leaders should have no direct role in drafting that constitution.
  • Muslims around the world say that what they least admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values – the same answers that Americans themselves give when asked this question.

Vine Street Christian Church invites members, friends, and neighbors to a five-week study group based on the book, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.

We will meet on Wednesday evenings, 7pm – 8pm, starting on September 29 (October 6, 13, 20, and 27). We will read about 30 pages per week and get together to talk about what we discovered and what questions remain for us.

If this is something you would like to do, get a copy of the book from your favorite book merchant and complete the form below to let usknow you are coming. I will serve as convener of the group, and I will be glad to answer any additional questions you might have about this study opportunity.

In 2008, Charlie Rose did an interview with the authors of the study, John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed; watching it may help you decide if you want to read their book with us. Esposito is Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and a prolific scholar and author. Mogahed is the Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.


I finally read Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews by Kevin J. Madigan and Jon D. Levenson, Yale 2008. The authors teach at Harvard; Madigan is Professor of the History of Christianity, and Levenson is the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies. I had learned a lot from Levenson's The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son and Creation and the Persistence of Evil, and I was curious about this cooperative project.

The resurrection of the body is a great theme to explore the development of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism from Second Temple Judaism. The book is very readable, and it would make a great resource for a church study group, or, better yet, a study group of Christians and Jews.

Summer Reading

This summer I read and enjoyed books old and new:

Great fun, if you like knowing how ideas develop and change over centuries.

A quick read that'll help you understand what philosophical background has shaped your ideas and images of eternity.

I enjoyed this one very much. Well written, broad, and with just enough depth.

Nice, but too much paper.

I got to know Garry Wills through Head and Heart: American Christianities, a book that helped me understand the religious landscape of the US and US politics. This little book on Paul is very good, and I think it would be a good one for a church book group to tackle.

Same here. Quick read, solid stuff. Great conversation starters.

I do read fiction in the summer! I can't say it was fun, but once I started it, I didn't put it down.

Even the universe is mortal. That's old news for theologians, but it still gives rise to good thinking and writing. Physicists are underrepresented, though.

So careful to the type she [nature] seems,
So careless of the single life;
"So careful of the type?" but no.
From scarped cliffs and quarried stone
She cries, "A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go." Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam, verses LV and LVI

Southgate's book is a deep reflection on the beauty and violence of life, and what that means for our thinking about redeemed creation.