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Religiously tolerant

Portugal is considered to be one of the most religiously tolerant countries in Western Europe according to a German study which revealed that 89% of Portuguese people believe in the equal rights of all religious groups.

The study, released by German professor Detlef Pollack from the University of Westfälisches Wilhems, compared results from Germany, France, Denmark, Holland and Portugal and focused on questions relating to the Islamic religion to gauge tolerance levels.

The countries that were examined all have a high level of religious diversity and have special circumstances to question the levels of tolerance.

Germany has a particularly high number of Muslim immigrants, debates in France surrounding the  controversial burka banning laws have led to questions of tolerance levels, Denmark has come under scrutiny following controversial cartoons published in 2005 while Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh raised religious tension levels with a film that was accused of “offending” and “distorting” Islamic concepts.

Portugal was introduced into the study as a form of contrast as the country is predominantly Catholic and has a less pronounced religious plurality.

The results in Portugal differ greatly from those in other countries especially in Germany where only 49% of respondents in West Germany and 53% in East Germany believe that all religious groups should have equal rights and only 72% believe the same in Denmark.

The building of mosques gained approval from almost three quarters of the 1,000 Portuguese people questioned for the survey and 53% surveyed also agreed with the building of minarets, both numbers the highest of all the countries surveyed.

While the survey showed generally positive responses to religious tolerance 80% of Portuguese respondents agreed that Muslims “have to adapt to our culture” and more than 80% of those surveyed “think of discrimination against women when hearing the word Islam.

Sociologist Detlef Pollack comments that tolerance levels are higher when people have actually met a Muslim person to be able to make a fair judgement with “no factor as decisive as the frequency of contact”.

However, Portugal bucks this general rule with 74% of those surveyed saying that they had never met a Muslim person before yet still coming out as most tolerant.