A comprehensive public opinion poll conducted across the Arab world has shown that a growing number of Arabs are becoming less religious, the BBC reported on Monday.

One of the key findings on attitudes toward a wide range of issues was a five percent increase since a previous survey in 2013 in the number of people across the Arab world who identify as “not religious.” Of the 13% of Arab League nations’ 420 million people who aren’t religious, the largest group is youth under 30, 18% of whom identify as not religious.

Arabs Turning From Islam

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“It is critical that we are able to go on the ground and capture public sentiment,” said Professor Amaney Jamal, a co-director of the Arab Barometer project at Princeton University, which conducted the survey for the BBC. Arabs Becoming Less Religious – BBC Survey.

Professor Amaney Jamal, co-director of the Arab Barometer project at Princeton University. (Courtesy)

More than 25,000 people were interviewed for the survey by the Arab Barometer, a research group that tracks public sentiment in the Arab world. The BBC News Arabic division commissioned the study, which was conducted in 10 Arab countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and the spring of 2019.

Professor Amaney Jamal, co-director of the Arab Barometer project at Princeton University. (Courtesy)
The study included the largest Arab countries, but left out Saudi Arabia, whose 2017 population of 33 million ranks it sixth in the Arab League after Egypt (97 million), Algeria (41 million), Sudan (40 million), Iraq (38 million) Morocco (35 million).

Other findings included a majority of Arabs supporting the right of a woman to become leader of a country, except for Algeria, where less than 50% supported the prospect of a female president or prime minister.

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At the same time, a majority of respondents including more than half the women polled said the man of the house should have the final say in domestic matters. Morocco was the exception — less than half of those questioned there supported the notion that a man should be the final arbiter in family decisions.

So-called “honor killings” — in which a family member kills a female relative over allegations her actions dishonored the family — remained more acceptable than homosexuality, which was met with very low rates of approval.

With people in the region aware of the political unrest in Tunisia, seen as the Arab country with the strongest democracy, Jamal said Arabs are wary of a move to liberalized democracy.

“Although people’s commitment to freedom and liberty is still very strong, I think people are questioning whether having a regime become more democratic is necessarily a good thing for their lives,” Jamal said in an interview posted on her organization’s website to comment on the survey. “People in the region are cautious about the potential effects of political liberalization.”

Arabs maintain wariness of Israel, with respondents ranking the Jewish state as the biggest threat to stability and national security, with the United States next, followed by Iran.

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With Arab countries ranked as some of the unhappiest places in the world to live, the study showed that 20%, or one in five people, in the countries polled, are thinking about leaving the region, most often due to economic concerns.

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  1. Like one frank rightly pointed out, the current socio-economic trends in the world are largely responsible:
    “The English began to lose faith in their traditional organised religion as a result off the two World Wars pressures accelerated by science but they were socially cautious while their religious parents and grandparents were alive and did not wish to offend them so it was only in the 1970’s that the number of civil weddings exceeded the religious. One of the reasons for Arab fundamentalist violence is a terror that Islam will lose its congregation as has the Church in the West and so the fundamentalist violence is as much an internal fight for a medieval ritualistic closed Islam as for whether a new Andalusia may blossom and tell their Mrs Grundy’s where to get off”


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