A new report by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, released this week, shows that Americans are more prejudiced toward Islam than any other religion. The study, entitled “Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam,” shows that, more than 4 in 10 Americans (43%) admit to feeling at least “a little” prejudice toward Muslims. This is more than twice the number who say the same about Christians (18%), and almost three times more than that of Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%). The poll questioned Americans about knowledge of Islam, to which 63 percent of Americans said they have “very little” or “none at all.”
Similar findings were published last September by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Through a series of phone interviews of over 4,000 people, Pew found that “Muslims are thought to suffer more discrimination than any other U.S. religious group, by a wide margin.” The data speaks volumes to Muslim Americans.
Since this statistical evidence gives a glimpse of how Americans view Muslims and the Islamic world, one must ask why it is they feel this way and what are the implications?
The current War on Terror may be one explanation for why so many Americans are prejudiced. The almost exclusively negative media coverage of Muslims, and the lack of accurate information and resources on the Islamic faith, feed into stereotypes and dangerous generalizations. Ongoing news stories depicting Muslims as violent can resonate in the minds of Americans who are unfamiliar with the true values and teachings of Islam. These misunderstandings hold grave implications for American Muslims.
CAIR-Chicago receives several hundred complaints each year from American Muslims who have been victims of discrimination and acts of violence motivated by anti-Islamic bias.
Pew found that Americans’ views on whether Islam is “more likely than other faiths to encourage violence” have fluctuated dramatically since they first began researching this topic after the September 11th attacks. CAIR-Chicago notes that after increased levels of negative media coverage related to Muslims, such as the coverage of the recent Fort Hood shooting, incidents of hate crimes against Muslim Americans rise dramatically.
Openly addressing the taboo subject of racism and religious prejudice through dialogue and interfaith initiatives is one way to foster a more accurate understanding of Islam and Muslims.
And some of these religious prejudices should be battled in joint efforts by various religious groups, as Gallup found that there is a strong link between prejudice against Jews and Muslims.
One positive finding of the study shines a ray of hope for those working to fight prejudice. Gallup found that those who have a positive understanding of someone’s religion are less likely to be prejudiced against them. Authors of the report say this finding underscores the need for better education on what Islam teaches.
As the Countess of Blessington once said, “Prejudices are the chains forged by ignorance to keep men apart.” Doing our best to break the destructive cycle of hate and prejudice will improve our nation as a whole and make us a more pluralistic and peaceful society.