What do Arab youth think of ISIL and Al-Qaeda

by omouggos

Zogby Research Services has conducted a poll of young Muslims in various Arab countries asking them numerous questions pertaining to their faith, including what they thought of radical Sunni ideology.[*] It was found that approximately 75% of respondents considered ISIL and Al-Qaeda to be “either a complete perversion of Islam’s preachings or mostly wrong.[1,2]

Looking at the results in each country surveyed, we find that the youth of Morocco and the UAE were the most against Sunni jihadi ideology with 90% of respondents believing it to be “a complete perversion of Islam.” That the sampled youth of the UAE largely rejected extremist ideology is not surprising as their country is among the wealthiest, most commercial and westernized of Arab nations.

In Egypt 83% of respondents considered Sunni jihadi ideology to be a complete perversion of Islam. In Bahrain and Jordan that number was 60%, while in Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories it was only around 55%. With Saudi Arabia being the wellspring of the extremist Wahhabi ideology and the Palestinian territories being rife with violence and extremism, the survey results for these two countries were not surprising.

So what are we to make of this data? At first glance it indicates that the majority of young Arab Muslims see the ideology of ISIL and Al-Qaeda as perversions of Islam, which we can take to mean that they are against this ideology. This is a encouraging outcome. However, already the survey is being misrepresented by the media as evinced by a Christian Post article entitled 90% of Arab Muslims Millenials Say ISIS ‘Complete Perversion of Islam’, which is an erroneous statement as only 75% of total respondents said this. Furthermore if one analyzes the survey data it appears that a significant percentage of the youth surveyed may agree with extremist Sunni ideology.

It is interesting that the results presented in the articles about the survey do not give the percentage of respondents who considered ISIL compatible with Islam or representative of Islam (assuming that question was asked at all in the survey). We will have to wait until the full survey report is released in the near future[3], but I find it a bit suspect that such information, which one would think is very apposite based on current events in today’s world, would not also be released.

Since we have not been given this data, we will have to infer as best we can from the data that we do have. Taking the example of Egypt, 83% of respondents considered ISIL and al-Qaeda to be un-Islamic, does this mean 17% considered them to be Islamic? In the description of the survey it was also mentioned that there was another survey answer that considered ISIL’s teachings of Islam as mostly wrong. But what does it mean to be mostly wrong? And were there respondents who thought ISIL’s interpretation of Islam to be mostly right?

With these questions in mind, it seems like the best approach would be to label any respondent who did not consider extremist Sunni ideology to be a complete perversion of Islam as a potential ISIL or Al-Qaeda sympathizer. What I mean by such a categorization is that such respondents, since they did not outright reject Sunni jihadist ideology, have the potential for sympathizing, to varying degrees, with that ideology.

A small percentage of such sympathizers will become ISIL or Al-Qaeda members or fighters. Many others, being not of the type to kill people with their own hands, will not join these groups, but will nonetheless largely agree with the ideology in question and will be glad to live under the Sharia these groups want to implement. The majority may only agree with certain aspects of the jihadi ideology, and as such only have a limited sympathy towards it or may still be vehemently against the totality of it.

I understand that my definition of a potential sympathizer is a rather broad one, but in my view this is the best that can be gleaned from the available data. As such, based on the Zogby survey it can be argued that 45% of youths in Saudi Arabia are potential Sunni jihadi sympathizers, while in Morocco and the UAE less than 10% are.[**] Such an extrapolation suggests that while the majority of Arab youths reject ISIL and Al-Qaeda, there is a significant minority that do not.

To put things into perspective in Morocco based on the Zogby survey results and demographic data taken from wikipedia there are approximately 11.9 million Moroccans between the ages of 15 and 34, which means that over 1 million of them are potential sympathizers with ISIL.[4] In Egypt there are 5.5 millions such potential sympathizers,[5] while in Jordan 400,000[6] and in Saudi Arabia 2.3 million.[7]

This back of the envelope analysis does not mean to insinuate that all of these Arab youths will become future jihadis, but it serves to illustrate that there are potentially millions of young Arab Muslims who at the very least agree with certain elements of jihadi ideology. More worrying is that of these youths, some will largely agree with this ideology and some of those will join the ranks of the jihadis.

While the Western media and governments want you to believe that ISIL has nothing to do with Islam and that its ideology is anathema to the vast majority of Muslims, the Zogby survey seems to be indirectly indicating that this assertion is not the case. In spite of all of the horrors committed by ISIL there are still numerous Arab youths who at the very least consider them as being Islamic.

I hope that my cursory analysis is off point, but I suspect that it is not. It is clear that many young Muslims are attracted to ISIL’s ideology, almost seeing it as being hip or cool, in addition to being representative of the true Islam. Until ISIL’s message is discredited in the eyes of the vast majority of Muslim youth–not 75% but 99%–only then can ISIL be vanquished.

O Mouggos


[*] 5,374 Muslim men and women within the ages of 15 to 34 were surveyed.

[1] http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/01/13/445668/Arab-Muslim-Daesh-ISIS-alQaeda-Islam-Zogby-Research-/

[2] http://news.yahoo.com/arab-muslim-youths-qaeda-distort-islam-poll-145213387.html

[3] http://www.jordantimes.com/opinion/james-j-zogby/muslim-millennials’-views-religion

[**] Of course I am making an extrapolation based on the survey data onto the general corresponding populations of the nations in question, and such an extrapolation may be dubious based on the deficiencies and limited nature of the survey. First of all we do not know how representative the survey sample was. Did they predominantly survey college educated youths with urban backgrounds? Or did they adequately sample uneducated youths from rural areas? One interesting aspect of the survey was that it involved face to face sampling, meaning a questioner directly spoke to a respondent. One wonders if such a survey method may discourage respondents from expressing extremist views due to being uncomfortable or for fear of being arrested. One can imagine that an ISIL supporter may have reservations about voicing their support to the questioner for the legitimate fear that he or she could then become a target of the respective national intelligence agencies. With all this in mind I tend to suspect that the Zogby survey, if anything, will under represent the prevalence of support for extremist jihadi views among respondents.

[4] Data for the year 2004 and age group 15-34 years https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Morocco

[5] In 2014 there were 32,400,000 Egyptians aged 15-34 years https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Egypt

[6] In 2014 there were 1,900,000 Jordanians aged 15-34 years https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Jordan

[7] In 2014 there were 5,200,000 Saudis aged 15-24 years (I could not readily find data for the 15-34 years age group for Saudi Arabia) http://www.indexmundi.com/saudi_arabia/demographics_profile.html