Saturday, March 15, 2008

Poll Cites Increase of Religious Tolerance

Today's Today's Zaman included an article about a recent poll conducted by "independent polling company Veritas on 4,500 individuals across 33 cities for the Star dailÿ." According to the poll, "An overwhelming 92 percent define themselves as believers. Of those surveyed, 49.2 percent responded that they prayed five times daily, while 43.6 percent said they do believe in religion but do not practice it regularly. Only 7.2 percent said religion has no place in their life."

The main objective of the poll was to measure religious tolerance—a phenomenon the poll seemed to largely measure according to peoples' felling toward the türban. Based on interpretations by Today's Zaman, "the poll suggests that about 95 percent of the society has no problem with a woman covering her head."

The poll also evidenced a strong support for separation between church and state in Turkey.

Most alarming to a newcomer, though, and despite Today's Zaman's seeming dismissal of the finding, 16.5% of those polled expressed intolerance for Turkey's Alevi population. The Alevis are criticized for their religious unorthodoxy (they do not observe the Five Pillars), their Shi'a influenced beliefs, and their well-known adoration for independent thought. The Alevi community continues to fascinate me, and although I have posted little on them before, I hope to be able to do so in the near future.

Additonally, the poll also attempted to gauge religious piety among members of Turkey's political parties by using a measuring how many people claimed to observe namaz five times a day. According to the poll, "About 18 percent of those who voted for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) -- known for its hard-line secularist discourse -- say all the daily prayers, while that figure is 65.9 percent among voters for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and 46.4 percent of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)."

Obviously, measuring a value like "religious tolerance" is a difficult and multi-faceted task, but the poll and its interpretation in Today's Zaman are food for thought. Amonf notable variables missing are toleration for alcohol consumption (an issue in the news of late since an AKP-sponsored law is set to ban alcohol in sports clubs at the end of the month), other Abrahamic faiths, faiths outside of the Abrahamic tradition, and atheism. It would also be interesting to measure the attitudes of those polled toward issues like public prayer, science in classrooms, the teaching of other religions in schools, and similar issues that embroil the separation issue in state-society relations across the globe.

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