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Muslims, modernity and Maher

“I know most Muslim people would not have carried out an attack like this,” the host of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher said on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. “But here’s the important point: Hundreds of millions of them support an attack like this. They applaud an attack like this. What they say is, ‘We don’t approve of violence, but you know what? When you make fun of the Prophet, all bets are off.”

When you’re outspoken about the beliefs a group of people you better have your numbers straight, and Maher has no way of quantifying his claim. But dismissing him as a bigot overlooks significant evidence that a large faction of Islam remains at odds with modernity. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study of Muslim attitudes in 38 countries from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, a majority of those polled supported making Sharia law officially binding. The Pew study notes that “Muslims differ widely in how they interpret certain aspects of sharia, including whether divorce and family planning are morally acceptable.”

The survey – which involved more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 80-plus languages with Muslims across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa – shows that Muslims tend to be most comfortable with using sharia in the domestic sphere, to settle family or property disputes. In most countries surveyed, there is considerably less support for severe punishments, such as cutting off the hands of thieves or executing people who convert from Islam to another faith. And even in the domestic sphere, Muslims differ widely on such questions as whether polygamy, divorce and family planning are morally acceptable and whether daughters should be able to receive the same inheritance as sons.

While the poll can lead you to divergent conclusions, there were some disturbing findings that only the most rabid apologist would dare parse.

In fact, according to the 2013 Pew Research Center report, 88 percent of Muslims in Egypt and 62 percent of Muslims in Pakistan favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion. This is also the majority view among Muslims in Malaysia, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

And just yesterday we learned

A Saudi blogger sentenced in May to a decade in prison and 1,000 lashes will be publicly flogged Friday in Jeddah, The Associated Press is reporting, citing a person close to the case.

Raif Badawi was found guilty of insulting Islam on Free Saudi Liberals, a website he created, and also ordered to pay about $266,000 in fines. A court originally sentenced him to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, but a judge increased the sentence after an appeal. Amnesty International said he will receive 50 lashes each week for 20 weeks.

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