Thursday, May 16, 2013

Understanding Indonesian Muslims in a global context

Read more

We are pleased that the Pew Research Center’s new report, The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics & Society, has attracted widespread attention. The cross-national survey was a mammoth endeavor entailing more than 38,000 interviews in 39 countries across Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

From the outset, the inclusion of Indonesia in a global survey of Muslims was judged essential, and we are proud that we were able to achieve this goal. Some of the op-eds and comments published in the Post have raised questions about how we conducted the survey in Indonesia, and at least one incorrectly reported some of the findings. I hope to clarify both how we conducted the survey and what we found.

First, it is important to point out that the survey was designed to be comparable with surveys in more than three dozen countries. Among other things, this meant that survey questions needed to be translated and understood in multiple languages and contexts.

Questions, including those about sharia, had to be general in nature and could not always mention country-specific circumstances. For readers looking for a detailed analysis of Indonesia’s unique evolution as a Muslim-majority country, we understand that this may seem like a limitation.

However, the Pew Research survey did ask multiple questions about what sharia means in practice, and these questions were asked in a way that permitted insight into Muslim attitudes not only in Indonesia but in many other countries around the world.

As far as I know, there are no other comparable sources of information that place Indonesian Muslims in such a broad, global context.

In terms of the Indonesia survey in particular, we took great pains to ensure comprehensive coverage of the population.

As detailed in the methodology section of the report, we completed face-to-face interviews in October and November 2011 with 1,880 Indonesian Muslims from 19 provinces of Indonesia that collectively are home to 87 percent of the adult population (18 years and older); only Papua and some remote provinces with small populations were not sampled.

That 1,880 individuals can represent millions of Indonesian Muslims may be difficult for some to fathom.

The key is that these individuals were randomly selected. As such, their attitudes and opinions provide a basis for statistically estimating the percentage of Indonesian Muslims who hold the same attitudes and opinions.

We are transparent about the accuracy of these estimates, stating in the methodology section the level of confidence and margin of error for the survey.

In terms of the overall survey results, I would point out that our findings echo what scholar Robert Hefner and others found in the 2011 book Shari’a Politics: Islamic Law and Society in the Modern World (Indiana University Press) — that there are high levels of support among Indonesian Muslims for both sharia and democracy.

In particular, the Pew Research survey finds that 61 percent of Indonesian Muslims prefer democracy over a leader with a strong hand.

I also would like to make some specific corrections. In the May 2 article titled, “Is Pew really saying most Indonesians are Muslim radicals?,” Ary Hermawan writes that our study found that “72 percent of Indonesian Muslims want sharia law to replace the existing Criminal Code.”

The 72 percent figure is correct; however, the survey did not ask whether the existing Indonesian Criminal Code should be replaced, but only if sharia should be made official law.

In addition, Hermawan’s article incorrectly reports that the survey found “more than 45 percent of Indonesians are supportive of stoning and other cruel and sadistic corporal punishments.”

The 45 percent figure is only among those Indonesian Muslims who want sharia to be official law, not among the country’s entire Muslim population.

Another writer took issue with our “one-sided research questions” that did not ask about a “husband’s responsibility to his wife” or “men’s dress” in the May 8 op-ed, “Do RI women want sharia, too?” We agree that a comprehensive analysis of gender roles would have benefited from additional questions. Given the survey’s goal of covering a wide range of topics — including religious beliefs and practices, political views and attitudes toward society, science and popular culture — we had to make difficult decisions about which questions to include in
the survey.

We also had to consider what is foremost on many people’s mind when they think about gender issues — and that is the role of women. If we have the opportunity in the future, we would welcome the chance to research the role of men, as well as women, in societies like Indonesia.

We are pleased that our survey has attracted the attention of the Post and its readers. I hope that the full range of survey findings will continue to encourage the kind of thoughtful comments and discussions already evident in these pages.

James Bell, Washington, DC
director of International Survey Research, Pew Research Center, Washington, DC.

No comments:

Post a Comment