WASHINGTON – Americans still largely have a negative perception of Muslims and Islam despite growth in positive Muslim-American political and social activism and interfaith organizations in the past decade, according to a new report from the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. "More than 50 percent of Americans said they had unfavorable opinions of Islam, while 29 percent of those reported a strong degree of prejudice towards Muslims," concluded the report, "Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of US Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam.
It questioned 1002 interview subjects about different aspects of Islam and Muslims over a month-long period last year and married the results with those found in the Gallup World Religion survey, which surveyed Americans’ opinions on Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam and their followers.
Of the faiths, Islam and Muslims elicited the most negative perceptions.
Other findings from the survey reveal that there is a great public prejudice towards Islam as a faith than Muslims as adherents of that faith.
Senior analyst Dalia Mogahed, who is the Executive Director for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, noted that though more than half of respondents said they knew someone who was Muslim, that didn’t deter from having negative attitudes towards Islam.
"While not knowing a Muslim is significant into falling in that extremely prejudice group," she said, "knowing a Muslims is not enough to keep someone from not being prejudice."
Mogahed said that correlation is indicative of how Americans tend to separate an individual from a group.
"We found that it’s possible to know someone in a group and make them the exception, to say, ‘Sure, so-and-so is a good Muslim. But most Muslims are not like him.’"
Though 70 percent of surveyed Americans said they believe Muslims worldwide want peace, 66 percent said Muslims are not accepting of other religions.
Some 68 percent said there is little in common between Christianity and Islam.
Despite numerous efforts by Muslim American organizations and individuals to inform the public about Islam, a whopping 63 percent said they have either no knowledge (23 percent) or very little knowledge (40 percent) of Islam.
The report is co-produced by the Muslim West Facts Project (part of Gallup) and the Coexist Foundation.
The findings did not surprise Mogahed.
"Though Muslim-Americans are positively involved in the fabric of American life, it’s difficult to see that in light of the media coverage of things like Fort Hood, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the troubles in Pakistan."
But she asserted that all the negativity revealed by the survey was disheartening to see because there has been so much hard work done by Muslim-Americans and Muslims worldwide to inform the non-Muslim public about the beauty of Islam.
"When the public tide can be turned towards having a positive view of Islam, then that will help negate all the prejudices."
The problem stems from media coverage of Islam, according to Media Tenor, a research firm that monitors and analyzes media coverage.
The report stated that not only is Islam the most frequently mentioned religion on the news networks in the US, but "a significant share of this coverage is negative."
An analysis of all statements made by television news between January and August of 2009 revealed that 36 percent of statements on religion is about Islam, and the tone of those statements is twice as likely (40 percent) to be negative than that about Christianity (20 percent).
Gallup’s survey surmised that the media coverage of the "fringe elements" of Islam "may shape Americans’ unfavorable attitudes towards Muslims."
"Muslims are different from one to the next. We live our lives differently, our world experiences are different and that shapes us," Mogahed said.
"But the one and only uniting factor of the group is Islam. And while acts of violence must be covered, perhaps what would help is for the media to pay attention to how it frames those stories."
"Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam."