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Survey: US Religious Prejudice Strongest Against Muslims

Two-thirds of Americans say they have little or no knowledge of Islam. But a new survey finds that more than half of Americans have an unfavorable view of the faith, with nearly as many people expressing negative feelings toward its followers.

According to a new public opinion poll by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Americans are more than twice as likely to hold negative feelings toward Muslims as they are toward Christians, Jews or Buddhists. The survey found that more than 40 percent of Americans say they are at least "a little" prejudice toward Muslims, with fewer than 20 percent reporting the same feelings toward the other three faiths.

Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, says the survey revealed a surprising trend.

"I think the conventional wisdom is that people who are deeply religious - who practice their faith more - might be more intolerant of other people, of other faiths," said Dalia Mogahed. "And we found that not to be the case at all, but quite the opposite."

People who reported attending a religious service of any type more than once a week were twice as likely to express no prejudice toward Muslims.

Although the majority of Americans polled said they have an unfavorable view of Islam, Mogahed says the poll highlights an improvement from previous surveys. She also notes that other recent polls have found that Muslim majority nations have begun to express more positive feelings toward the United States. Mogahed says that U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to increase understanding between Americans and Muslims around the world have likely improved cross-cultural tolerance.

Ibrahim Hooper of the Center for American-Islamic Relations says his organization is also working to improve perceptions of Muslims by educating Americans about their faith.

"The Koran is the foundational document of Islam," said Ibrahim Hooper. "If people have it in their hands, can read it for themselves, they're going to have less misinformation about Islam and Muslims."

Hooper says his group is working on a campaign to distribute 100,000 copies of the holy Koran to local, state and national U.S. leaders to increase their knowledge of Islam and, he hopes, to decrease negative views of the religion.