Southeast Asia’s Muslims can be confident that when it comes to some key beliefs they are among the most devout in the world.
A Pew Research Center survey into the values, rituals and lifestyles of more than 35,000 Muslims around the world showed that the Muslims of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand were often among the most enthusiastic followers of some of the five pillars of Islam: the declaration of faith, prayer, alms giving, fasting during Ramadan and going on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The survey, which included about 5,000 people from the region, showed that believers in Southeast Asia were more enthusiastic than those in Africa, Asia, Europe and even the Middle East in upholding most of these pillars.
Some 98% of Indonesians said they gave alms annually, followed by 93% of Malaysians and Thais. Those were among the three highest rates for charity in the world. In most other Muslim communities, less than 80% of those surveyed participated in what is called zakat.
“Annual almsgiving, which by custom is supposed to equal approximately 2.5% of a person’s total wealth, is almost as widely observed as fasting during Ramadan,” the report released earlier this month said. “In Southeast Asia and South Asia, the median of roughly nine-in-ten Muslims say they performed zakat.”
This corner of Asia also outperformed when it came to fasting during Ramadan. While most of the Muslim world enthusiastically embraces the ritual of fasting during the holy month, 99% of Malaysians and Indonesians surveyed said they did. In Asia, only Thai Muslims were more devout, with 100% of them saying they fasted.
In Indonesia, mosque attendance is also among the highest in the world. The Pew report said 72% of Indonesians surveyed said they went to a mosque at least once a week. That compares to just 57% in Malaysia, 61% in Egypt and 44% in Turkey.
Southeast Asia ranked a bit lower when it came to daily prayers. More than 75% of those surveyed said they prayed several times a day, which is well above the average for most of Asia and the Middle East, but below most African countries.
Few of the Muslims surveyed had made it to Mecca yet: Only 6% of Southeast Asians, compared to 17% in the Middle East and northern Africa.
Interestingly, belief in angels is highest in Southeast Asia, with 99% of Indonesian Muslims, 98% of Malaysian Muslims and 91% of Thai Muslims believing in them.
Belief in powerful angels may be why few in the region think they need lucky charms. On average, Southeast Asian Muslims were among the biggest believers in witchcraft but at the same time the least likely to believe in using talismans to ward off evil or misfortune.
While around 40% of the Muslims surveyed in Pakistan and Albania believed in the protective power of charms, amulets or precious stones, less than 5% of Southeast Asian Muslims said they would use them.
“In all countries surveyed, a majority of Muslims report that they do not use magical objects to ward off evil or misfortune,” the report said. “Indeed, in 21 of 23 countries where the question was asked, fewer than three-in ten Muslims say they wear talismans or precious stones for protection.”