I am a Social and Political Psychologist that has been researching in the area of Psychology of Religion. What fascinates me about this discipline is that it goes beyond collecting people’s responses to understanding and examining their attitudes. Our aim is not limited to knowing what people think about a particular issue, but it expands to answer questions about why do they think and behave in a certain way and what we can do to change or sustain their behavior.
The Christian faith dominates the field of Psychology of Religion. This is understandable since the West was the first to study religion using empirical scientific methods. As a Middle Eastern, I was keen to enrich the literature by expanding it to cover Islam and Muslims. In a recent study that I published in one of the top journals of the scientific study of religion, I examined the relationship between Muslim religiosity and prejudice towards the West. I wanted to investigate whether there was an association between being a religious Muslim and having negative attitudes toward the West. The sample of this study was collected from 17 Arab countries and from a variety of ages ranging from 18 to over 70.
The results were distressing and revealed that Muslim religiosity was strongly linked to hatred towards the West. It was expected to see a link between Islamic fundamentalism and negative attitudes towards the West; however, even intrinsic Muslim religiosity (moderate Islam) strongly predicted prejudice towards the West. In fact, the only groups that had favorable attitudes toward the West were the secular and nonreligious Arabs. What makes this finding intriguing is that it is different than what is found in a Western context. For instance, Christian fundamentalism is still linked to prejudice toward Muslims, but moderate Christian religiosity is not. Also, when we add ideological variables like Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Dogmatism to mediate this relationship, the Christian fundamentalism – prejudice link disappears. This means that in a Western context, Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Dogmatism have a substantial impact on prejudiced attitudes that the religiosity factor becomes insignificant. In comparison, Muslim religiosity remains even after including ideological factors like Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Dogmatism to try to mediate the link between Islam and negative biases towards the West. In other words, Muslim religiosity remains the dominant predictor for disliking the West regardless of it being moderate or reaching a fundamentalism level.
The crucial thing about these findings is that it shows that Islam is not like other religions and that this ideology needs to be understood and examined from a different scope. I have prepared a project entitled: “Conceptualizing and measuring Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, and consequences for anti-Western prejudice.” This project will examine Islamic fundamentalism in more detail in the Middle East and test its relationship to anti-Western prejudice, its link to political Islam, and other related psychological traits. Long story short, I was quite surprised by the response of many Western universities that were hesitant to invest in this research. I was asking myself why is it ok to study and examine other religions but one of a sudden it might not be a good idea to study Islam? After all, this is science, and science should remain objective.
As a psychologist, I believe that if we are serious about finding a cure for a patient, then we must begin by a proper diagnosis. But if we insist that the patient is ok and does not need treatment than things will only get worse. That is why science is crucial to help us understand and work on finding solutions to deal with extreme ideologies rather than leaving things the way they are which will only bring more violence and risk stability and security in both the East and the West. And if the recent horrifying act of beheading a schoolteacher in France because of showing some pictures was not enough to bring a wake-up call then I’m not anticipating a bright future! If you would like to read the details of my study you can reach it through this link: Islam and the West.
Bashar Albaghli is a Kuwaiti academic that specializes in the scientific study of religion. He was sponsored by Kuwait University and was supposed to go back to Kuwait and be a lecturer after he completed his PhD studies. However, he was prosecuted and sentenced to prison because of his political opinions against the Islamists and funding terrorism in the Gulf.