The Effect of Muslim Religiosity on Youth Delinquency

Published date01 September 2021
Date01 September 2021
Subject MatterArticles
The Effect of Muslim
Religiosity on Youth
Ismail Sahin
and Ali Unlu
Conceptualizing religiosity as a multidimensional construct, this study aimed to investigate the
influence of religiosity on youth delinquency. Three dimensions of religiosity—belief about religion,
religious practice, and religious social environment—were examined as predictors of delinquency.
The survey data collected in 2010 by the Governance of Istanbul, Istanbul Department of Education,
and Istanbul Police Department were used. Participants were high school students (n¼31,272)
between 14 and 18 years. Structural equation modeling was used for statistical analysis and
hypothesis testing. The study found a relationship between the dimensions of religiosity and
delinquency. While dimensions of beliefs about the religion and religious social environment cor-
relate negatively with delinquency, the dimension of religious practices correlates positively with it.
Belief about one’s religion was found to be the strongest of the three dimensions. The findings
suggested that religion has the potential to reduce the risk of delinquency among youth. Implications
for future research and policy makers were also discussed.
youth, Muslim, religiosity, delinquency, Turkey
The relationship between religiosity and delinquency has received a great deal of attention from
researchers in sociology and public policy. Social scientists have debated this relationship for
more than 50 years. The beginning of this debate can be traced to Hirschi and Starks’s classic
article titled “Hellfire and Delinquency” published in 1969. Hirschi and Stark (1969) failed to
find a significant relationship between religiosity level and delinquency among youth. Similarly,
researchers have for centuries investigated the causative factors of delinquency as these factors
relate to both individuals and communities. Among these factors, religiosity is considered to be
protective against delinquent behavior. Higher levels of religious involvement have been asso-
ciated with lower rates of delinquency. The purpose of the present study is to examine
Freedom Research Association, Ankara, Turkey
Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Helsinki, Finland
Corresponding Author:
Ismail Sahin, Freedom Research Association, Ankara 06100, Turkey.
Criminal Justice Review
2021, Vol. 46(3) 361-381
ª2020 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016820966038
empirically the relationship between religiosity and delinquent behavior among youth in a
Muslim community in Turkey.
Beginning with the classical theorists, sociological approaches to this inverse relation have
emphasized various functions of religion, such as social control and deterrent effects (Durkheim,
1951; Weber & Marx, 1958). Several criminological studies have found that religiosity has a
significant negative impact on deviant behaviors, particularly ascetic behaviors such as substance
abuse (Bends & Corwyn, 1997; Brownfield & Sorenson, 1991; Cochran & Akers, 1989; Johnson
et al., 1997). Considering and overcoming the methodological limitations in early studies, the
majority of more recent studies have found the expected inverse relationship between religiosity
and delinquency (Abu-Rayya et al., 2016; Johnson et al., 2000, 2001; Unlu & Sahin, 2015).
Furthermore, recent meta-analyses also indicate that a negative relationship exists between religi-
osity and involvement in delinquent behavior (Baier & Wright, 2001; Kelly et al., 2015). Focusing
on the study variables and the relationships among them, the current study aimed to investigate the
possible effect of religious factors on delinquency rather than an exercise in theoretical comparison,
which is consistent with the risk factors approach to criminological theorizing (Bernard & Snipes,
1996). Bernard and Snipes (1996) suggest that the focus of attention should be the variables
themselves and the relations among them, not the contradiction between theories.
The findings of previous studies have suggested that religiosity is a protective factor with regard
to potential delinquent behaviors. However, some researchers have focused on a single aspect of
religiosity, such as belief or religious self-practice (Klein et al., 2006; Sekulic et al., 2009). Sekulic
et al. (2009) conceptualized religiosity as a single-dimension construct (religious practice–church
attendance) and found religiousness to be a significant protective factor in cigarette smoking, sport
nutritional supplementation, and the likelihood of doping. Conceptualizing religiosity as a multi-
dimensional construct, this study examined the influence o f religiosity on delinquent beh avior
among youth.
The major significance of the present study is that it examined the relationship between religi-
osity and delinquency in a sample of Muslim youth. To date, little has been reported in the scientific
literature on this topic in a specifically Muslim context (Abu-Rayya et al., 2016; O
¨zbay, 2007;
Roberts et al., 2011). It should be noted that the great majority of individuals in the sample popula-
tions of previous studies were Christian, which may limit the generaliza bility of these studies’
findings. A recent empirical study on the association between religiosity and youth deviance found
that higher levels of Islamic religiosity were associated with low er levels of deviant behaviors
among Australian Muslim youth (Abu-Rayya et al., 2016). However, the study was conducte d
within the context of a narrow Muslim community rather than a Muslim country. The present study
addresses this empirical gap.
Another significance of the study is that it analyzed the relationship between religiosity and
delinquency based on a large-scale dataset (n¼31,272). In addition, employing the exogenous
variable of religiosity as a multidimensional construct, the pre sent study sought to identify the
relative importance of various dimensions of religiosity with regard to delinquency among youth.
Mainly, examining the dimension of religious social involvement that has been rarely examined
within the context of delinquency in previous studies is another possible significant contribution of
the study in the field.
Literature Review
Religion—an organized set of beliefs, practices, and rituals engaging the transcendent—proposes a
doctrine about the afterlife and provides rules that guide behavior during the present life to prepare
for the future (Koenig & Shohaib, 2014). Almost all religious traditions encourage law-abiding
behaviors, teach respect for government authorities, and discourage violating social norms.
362 Criminal Justice Review 46(3)

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