Public Release: 

U-M study shows devotion to Islam is not linked to terror

University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Islam is not to blame for suicide bombings, a University of Michigan study shows.

Personal devotion to Islam is unrelated to support for suicide bombing among Palestinian Muslims, according to the study, which will be presented May 27 at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society in Los Angeles. But the more often Muslims attended mosques, the more likely they were to support suicide terrorism.

"The frequency of suicide terrorism is growing exponentially, motivated by a fusion of religious and political goals," said Jeremy Ginges, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

At least 70 percent of more than 300 suicide attacks that occurred between 2000 and 2003 were carried out by religiously motivated organizations, recent research by Ginges' colleague Scott Atran has shown.

"But despite the appearance of a link between religiosity and support for suicide terrorism, the nature of this connection has been unclear. My analysis shows that Islamic beliefs and devotion are not, in themselves, linked to support for such terrorism," Ginges said.

The study analyzed how personal religious devotion, measured by frequency of prayer, and communal religious practice, measured by frequency of mosque attendance, predicted support for suicide bombings.

The study is based on a survey of 1, 151 Muslim Palestinians adults residing in the West Bank and Gaza, conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, a Palestinian survey organization, in May 1999. About half of those surveyed were female, and the mean age was 34. About one-third of the people surveyed were refugees, and about 29 percent had attended at least some college.

About 9 percent said they never prayed, 7 percent said they prayed very little, 6 percent said they prayed on Fridays and religious holidays, 8 percent said they prayed more often, and 69 percent said they prayed five times a day.

About 24 percent said they attended a Mosque only on religious holidays, 36 percent on Fridays and religious holidays, 22 percent at least once a week and 18 percent once a day.

About 16 percent said they strongly supported suicide bombing, while 45 percent said they strongly opposed it.

"Private religious devotion to Islam, measured by frequency of prayer, was unrelated to the odds of a Palestinian Muslim supporting the use of suicide bombing," Ginges said.

"In contrast, communal religious devotion, measured by the frequency of Mosque attendance, was a good predictor of support for suicide terrorism, even after controlling for a wide variety of factors, including frequency of prayer, age, economic situation, gender, refugee status, and attitudes about the peace process and the formation of a Palestinian state based on Muslim law, the Shari'a."

But Ginges cautioned that mosque attendance, in itself, does not lead to support for suicide terrorism. Participating in communal religious rituals of any kind likely encourages support for self-sacrificing behaviors that are done for the collective good, Ginges explained. "Suicide attacks can be seen as a bizarre example of self-sacrificial behavior---where often the best and brightest youth are sacrificed to the cause and to the community," Ginges said.

"Religion is not the only factor encouraging Palestinian rebellion against Israeli occupation or support for suicide terrorism," he said.

"The way particular communities are situated within an ethno-political conflict and the leadership of specific congregations are important factors predicting support for suicide bombings beyond how often an individual attends a mosque," Ginges said. "Leaders of certain political groups use mosques to recruit supporters, but most people who attend mosques do not support suicide terrorism."

Ginges is now conducting studies in the U.S. and in Israel to examine how church and synagogue attendance predict support for other kinds of self-sacrificing, altruistic behaviors among adherents of Christianity and Judaism.


Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at for more information.

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