The percentage of Americans who believe Islam encourages violence has declined in recent years but remains far above where it was in 2002, while very basic knowledge about the faith has shown modest increases, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The poll’s findings, released ahead of the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, come against the backdrop of President Barack Obama’s attempts to reach out to the Islamic world and eroding public support for the war in Muslim Afghanistan as U.S. combat deaths there rise to record levels.
Most Americans also believe Muslims are discriminated against, a finding that suggests empathy for a community whose leaders often say they are regarded with suspicion and hostility.
The nationwide survey of over 4,000 adults in August found that 58 percent of Americans believe Muslims face a lot of discrimination in the United States. By contrast the same numbers for atheists and Mormons are 26 and 24 percent respectively.
“The fact that Americans believe Muslims face a lot of discrimination is a substantial finding … It is sort of like the public looking at itself in the mirror and there is some empathy for a group facing discrimination,” said Michael Dimock, an associate director at the Pew Research Center.
See also “Muslims widely seen as facing discrimination”, Pew Research Center, 9 September 2009
Download the report here.