How widespread is extreme Islam?

It is often said by many (including me) that is not the problem, just the extreme version of it practiced by a minority. The majority of Muslims do not support suicide bombings, killing of apostates etc just as the majority of Christians do not support old testament punishments.

However many commentators (again including me) have pointed out that the size of the extremist faction of Islam is not small. It is a minority but it is a large minority. This is where Islam is different to other religions – the size of the faction with extremist views.

I’ve not seen much reporting trying to quantify the size on a global basis. Pew Research in 2013 published a report which collated opinion among Muslims in 39 countries with a large Muslim population. They report on views in each country. What I have done is take the percentages for each country and multiplied it by their estimated Muslim population to get a global figure. For some issues they report the data as a percentage of those who favour sharia law, so I have cross multiplied to get it as a consistent percentage of all Muslims in those countries.

Globally there are 1.6 billion Muslims. Here’s how many share what I (and most) would consider extreme views.

Favour Making Sharia the Law of the Land

In the 38 countries surveyed 69% of Muslims said they supported Sharia law being the official law of the land. This represents 739 million Muslims out of 1,064 million in those countries

Favour Stoning as Punishment for Adultery

In the 20 countries surveyed 42% of Muslims supported the stoning of adulterers .  This represents 352 million Muslims out of 835 million in those countries.

Favour Death Penalty for Apostates who leave Islam

In the 20 countries surveyed 32% of Muslims said the death penalty should apply to apostates who leave Islam.  This represents 267 million Muslims out of 835 million in those countries.

Say suicide bombings against civilian targets can be justified

In the 21 countries surveyed 22% of Muslims said suicide bombings against civilian targets can be justified . This represents 209 million Muslims out of 944 million in those countries.

Favourable opinion of al Qaeda

In the 11 countries surveyed 16% of Muslims said they had a favourable opinion of al Qaeda. This represents 107 million Muslims out of 666 million in those countries

Say honour killings can be justified as punishment for sex

In the 23 countries surveyed 47% of Muslims said honour killings can be justified as punishment for pre-marital or extra-marital sex.  This represents 420 million Muslims out of 903 million in those countries.


This data gives some idea of the size of the problem. It isn’t 20 lunatics members of the Westboro Baptist Church. A large minority of Muslims globally hold views that are extreme and go against basic human rights and/or principles such as separation of church and state. There is good news in that there is declining support for suicide bombings and al Qaeda. And a strategy of demonising all Muslims and an entire religion will not reduce extremism, but increase it. However neither is it a good idea to pretend that the problem is just a few thousand jihadists. It is more widespread than that.


Comments (110)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment

%d bloggers like this: