Dalia Mogahed is a Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a nonpartisan research center dedicated to providing data-driven analysis on the views of Muslim populations around the world. With John L. Esposito, Ph.D., she is coauthor of the book Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. Her analysis has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy magazine, the Harvard International Review, the Middle East Policy journal, and many other academic and popular journals. She travels the globe engaging diverse groups on what Muslims around the world really think.
Mogahed leads the analysis of Gallup's unprecedented survey representing the opinions of more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide, including Muslims in the West. She also directs the Muslim-West Facts Initiative, through which Gallup, in collaboration with the Coexist Foundation, is disseminating the findings of the Gallup World Poll to key opinion leaders in the Muslim World and the West. She is a member of Women in International Security, serves on the leadership group of the Project on U.S. Engagement with the Global Muslim Community, and is a member of the Crisis in the Middle East Task Force of the Brookings Institution.
Dalia Mogahed: Well, I think that one of the most interesting themes in our research is that sometimes here in the west, we can become prisoners of our own clichés, as Hussein ______ said today. Or prisoners of our own false dichotomies.
And so we sometimes look to Muslim women and we ask the question, “Do you want rights, or do you want religion?” And that’s the dichotomy.
What we find when we ask Muslim women themselves what they in fact want, the answer is both. And they see no contradiction between the faith they cherish and the rights they deserve.
I think that’s one of the most important findings is that we have to break out of these constructive, false dichotomies and really get a much more nuanced understanding of this population, which tells us that they admire much about the west. They see no contradiction between Islam and democracy, or Islam and women’s rights. But that these types of things have to grow out of their own cultural context. They cannot be imposed from the outside.
I think that there are definitely some ways that the interpretation of Islam needs to change; and many would argue to become more true to its spirit; that what Islam is essentially is really the collective understanding of its people, of its followers. And so that piece of human agency is very important. And what we find is that not only are the majority of Muslims interpreting their faith to be to offer a vision of gender justice, but that they are, in many ways, fighting for gender justice through the framework of their faith, rather than outside of it.
Recorded on: July 3, 2007.