Religious Attitudes

Because of the small sample of Christians surveyed, survey results cannot be reliably used to analyze attitudinal variations among Palestinian Christians and, indeed, only certain comparisons between Muslims and Christians as a whole can be made. Analysis of religious attitudes in this report will focus, therefore, only on the Muslim part of the population.

Based on survey variables, a three point indicator of religiosity was constructed. The variables included weekly (or more) attendance at a mosque and/or religious study circle, visits to religious sites, Islam as an important political attribute in a future Palestinian state and Islam as the primary focus of personal loyalty. Some of these variables imply mainly religious belief and practice, others have more political connotations. A score of 0, "secular", indicates that the individual is neither religiously observant nor expresses any sort of religious political values. A score of 1, "observant", indicates religious belief and observance and a score of 2, "activist", indicates religious observance combined with political religious identity. Thus the index attempts to measure the range of religiosity from the secular to the religiously activist. Because the index is constructed in a manner that is only applicable to the Muslim sector of the Palestinian population, in the following analysis the Christian population has been removed from the sample.

Following this index, the distribution of religiosity for the Palestinian Muslim population, broken down by region and type of locality, is as illustrated in figures 9.6 and 9.7.

Figure 9.6 Religious index by region

Figure 9.7 Religious index by type of locality

These results seem to challenge some of the more common notions concerning Islamic activism in the occupied territories. They indicate that Islamicism is not particularly associated with Gaza refugee camps, nor indeed with Gaza at all, despite the long historical connection between Gaza and the Egyptian based Muslim Brotherhood. Of the various types of localities surveyed, Gaza camps, along with Arab Jerusalem, seem to be the most secular. To the extent there is a regional concentration of Islamicist activism, it appears to be more associated with the towns and camps of the West Bank. Moreover, the general percentage of Palestinians who are secular, observant or activist does not vary with their refugee status. Non-refugees and refugees, regardless of whether they live inside camps or outside of them, appear to have broadly the same religious profiles.

The survey results do indicate a certain correlation between religiosity and economic position. Table 9.7 presents the economic background of the secular, observant and activist inside the occupied territories.

Table 9.7 Religiosity index by economic strata
Lower third293536
Middle third353746
Upper third362934

The table shows that secular as well as observant Palestinians are drawn more or less evenly from all economic levels inside Palestinian society. The activists, however, tend to come more from the middle economic sectors.

Figure 9.8 Religious index by age, for men

There are also gender differences. Women tend to be more secular than men (29% for women versus 20% for men) and men more religiously activist than women (24% versus 12%).

In addition, age seems to affect the degree of religiosity and the impact of age is somewhat different for men and women.

The trend among the youngest age groups of men is very similar to the trend observed in relation to their attitudes to women. Among those aged 15 to 19, the group most affected by the street activism of the intifada, the trend toward secularisation has suddenly reversed and there is a very sharp jump in the portion who are observant Muslims or militants in relation to the preceding age group. Also notable is the concentration of Islamicists among those aged 50 to 59, the age group who experienced the 1948 war and the subsequent massive dislocation of Palestinians at a young, impressionable age.

Figure 9.9 Religious index by age, for women

Among women there is a slight decrease in the number of observant Muslims and a corresponding increase in the degree of secularisation among those under 50 years of age. However, the proportion of women who profess sentiments linked to political Islam seems fairly steady over the generations. The only exception is, again, women currently in the age group of 50 to 59.

Education also seems to impact on the degree of religiosity and once more the impact differs among men and women although the trends appear the same.

Figure 9.10 Religiosity index by educational level, for men

Figure 9.10 indicates that while education seems to produce a decline in religious observance, the most educated male sectors of Palestinian society are being to some extent polarised. On the one hand increased education produces a steady drive toward secularization. On the other, among the most educated a certain shift toward militancy is also noticeable.

Among women education is associated with the same drive towards secularization and away from Islamic practice. It is only among those women who have post-secondary education that an increase in the percentage of Islamic activists can be observed. Among this group some 18% score highest on the index. However, this group must be compared to the 41% of Palestinian women with post-secondary educations who are secular.

In a society in which hierarchical gender relations are an important organising principle with both social and religious legitimation, it can be assumed that religious beliefs help to shape attitudes toward women. If men's attitudes to women's roles are examined, there appears a clear correlation between increased religiosity and an attitude that women should be largely confined to the domestic sphere. While 50% of secular men feel that it is acceptable for women to work outside the home, only 42% of observant Muslims and 37% of activist Muslims share this view. This pattern is repeated when men are asked about the most appropriate behaviour for married women. While 48% of non-religious men feel that women should stay at home, take care of their children and not indulge in money generating activities of any sort, 59% of religious activists express this view. In short, for men religious radicalism seems to reinforce social conservatism.

Table 9.8 Percentage who feel western dress acceptable by religiosity index

Among women, however, the attitudes of secular women and activists concerning women's roles share somewhat the same profile. The trend is weak, but consistent. For instance, while 64% of non-religious women expressed the attitude that women should give priority to child care, but could otherwise work outside the home, 66% of activist women stated the same view. In contrast, only 57% of religiously observant, but not activist, women gave this reply. Activist women seem to be marginally more accepting of day care facilities for children than either their secular or observant counterparts.

Religious beliefs also appear to have an impact on the degree of parental authority that is deemed fitting for women. For instance, concerning the choice of a woman's husband, 60% of non-religious men stated it was the woman's, rather than the father's, choice, while only 48 - 49% of observant and activist men shared this opinion.

Among women on this issue, the same pattern of a correspondence of views between secular and activist women seems to emerge. Both these groups have slightly more liberal attitudes with regard to women's roles and prerogatives than observant women. However, the vast majority regardless of religious persuasion (range 79% to 85%) felt that it was mainly the daughter's, rather than parents', choice.

Figure 9.11 Degree of women's perceived influence in percent by religiosity index

While disparities in religious attitudes among men also translate into conflicting notions concerning appropriate roles for women, first and foremost, these differing religious attitudes impact on notions as to how women should dress. In this case the pattern is equally clear for both men and women.
Opinions are also clear with regard to head scarfs for women and the trend is the same. Among men, 37% of non-religious men state they would be insulted if a female member of their household appeared in public without a head scarf, but 83% of activist men share this view. Among women, the figures are 35% for secular women, 61% for observant women and 56% for activist women.
However, in the more detailed replies that were possible in relation to the survey question on head scarfs, another factor emerges. This is what could be termed the "fear factor". Among activist men only 8% state that they are concerned with what other people might say or do to a women who appeared publicly without a head scarf, but almost a full quarter, 24%, of secular men have this primary anxiety.2

Among women, it appears to be the activists who are most fearful. For instance, 21% of activist women in the West Bank compared to 9% of secular West Bank women seem to fear the consequences of appearing in public without a head scarf. Telling, a full 33% of West Bank women who actually wear head scarfs seem to fear the consequences of not doing so. This trend is present in all three regions.

The previous chapter on education indicates that a sense of influence within Palestinian society is critically affected by age, gender and household position. A crucial issue concerning religious attitudes is whether or not strong religious conviction also enhances the individual's sense of influence. Does a sense of certainty that frequently accompanies intense religious belief and purpose, translate into a sense of power within the household, neighbourhood, country or in respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Does religiosity affect the individual's self-assessment of the importance of his or her place within society? Certain, somewhat unexpected, trends seem to exist.

For men religious militancy does not seem to provide a greater sense of control or dominance. Indeed, to the extent a relation exists, it seems slightly negative. For instance, with regard to influence within their village or on the Arab-Israeli conflict somewhat more religious activists than non-religious men express complete powerlessness.

However, with regard to women, the pattern is reversed and the trend is stronger and consistent. In every sphere militantly religious women express a greater sense of influence and empowerment than their non-religious or observant counterparts.

The impression of female empowerment through religious involvement is reinforced when attitudes to the force of destiny, as determinant of the individual's future, are examined. While 33% of activist men and about the same percentage of the observant believe in the determining power of fate, only 21% of the non-religious men agree. For women, however, the equations seem reversed. Increased religious identity tends to correlate with a decreased belief in the control of fate. While 18% of secular women give credit to the force of fate, only 13% of women religious activists concur.
The explanation of the different impact religious militancy has on men and women's sense of empowerment could relate to the different aims they pursue through religion. Within the constraints of their social environment, by taking on the ideology and attributes of piety, women can gain leverage and manoeuvrability. Their ability to move in public, for instance, is much less threatening to their families because they are "protected" by their dress. Moreover, many women activists are currently attending religious study groups which represents a major break with former practice. Historically women have been denied the right to participate actively in the discussion and reading of religious texts.3 In short, for women religious activism can assist them in entering into the spheres of life dominated by men.


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