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American public opinion about the
of Islam before and shortly after 911

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Opinions about Islam by the American public:

Polls typically show that Christians -- particularly Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Protestant Christians -- have a very negative view of Islam.

bullet1995-JUL: Barna Research Ltd. is the most active religious polling organization in the United States. They conduct telephone polls about a variety of topics -- mainly involving Christianity. 1 George Barna, president of Barna Research commented: "While many Americans are not practicing Christians, they retain some identity with the Christian faith and remain protective of it. They are suspicious of other faith groups because they are unknown but different—and we are generally uncomfortable with those who are not just like us..." Barna asked a random selection of American adults in 1995-JUL whether they thought that various religions had a positive or negative effect on U.S. society. The margin of error is 3 percentage points. Responses were only counted from those subjects who regarded themselves to be familiar with the religion in question. 2

American adults, Christians and non-Christians alike, regard Christianity and Judaism as having a positive influence on society. Islam, Buddhism, Scientology and Atheism  received mixed reviews. Partial results of the survey are:

Religion % of born-again Christians who view the religion's impact as negative  % of non-Christians who view the religion's impact as negative
Islam 71% 24%
Buddhism 76% 22%
Scientology 81% 30%
Atheism 92% 50%

We suspect that mainline and liberal Christians have opinions that are intermediate between the above two groups. The percentage of American adults who are "born-again" is about 35%. The percentage of non-Christians is about 25% and is increasing by about one percentage point per year.


2001-NOV-13: The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted a public opinion poll among 1,500 adults on 2001-NOV-13 to 19 -- about two months after the 9-11 terrorist attack. The margin of error is within 3 percentage points. Americans, particularly "conservative Republicans" appear to have repudiated anti-Muslim attacks by Franklin Graham and other Fundamentalist Christian leaders. The survey found that:
bullet The percentage of Americans with a favorable view of Muslims rose from 45% in May to 59% in November.
bullet The percentage of conservative Republicans with a favorable view of Muslims rose from 35% to 64%! 3

bullet2002-OCT-28: reported on the results of an ABCNEWS/Beliefnet poll conducted in 2002-OCT among a random sampling of American adults. Some interesting results:
bullet The percentage of American adults with an unfavorable view of Islam rose from 24% in January to 33% in October.
bullet The percentage of American adults who say that Islam "doesn't teach respect for other faiths" rose from 22% to 35%.
bullet The percentage of American adults who feel that they do not have a good basic understanding of the beliefs and tenets of Islam rose from 61% to 73%.
bullet Evangelical, white Protestants are 22 percentage points more likely than other white Protestants to express an unfavorable opinion of Islam. 4

The poll was taken just before the two "Beltway Sniper" suspects were arrested and one of them was identified as a convert to Islam. If the poll had been repeated a few weeks later, the numbers would probably have increased.

bullet2002-FALL: The Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington think-tank, and Beliefnet, a religious Internet web site, commissioned a poll of 700 Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Protestant leaders. The poll was conducted by the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, and was financed by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Results were released on 2003-APR-7. Half of the religious leaders responded; this is a very large return for a mail-in poll. The poll showed that:
bullet 77% had an unfavorable view of Islam; 13% had a favorable view.
bullet 72% believe that Islam opposes pluralism (in the sense of religious diversity) and democracy,
bullet 72% believe that the Sharia legal systems violate human freedom.
bullet 10% agreed with President George W. Bush that Islam is "a religion of peace."
bullet 70% believe that Islam is a religion of violence.
bullet 17% believe that Muslims and Christian pray to the same God.
bullet 2% believe that all the world's great religions are equally true and good. 5,6

These beliefs do not bode well for the future of religious tolerance in the U.S. Large minorities of citizens view Islam and other non-Christian religions very negatively. If similar results were found in a survey about other races, other genders, other sexual orientations, or other nationalities, then one could attribute the response to simple racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia. But the above survey is in a different class. Many born-again Christians believe that the normal destination for people after death is Hell; only those who are born-again will attain heaven. Thus, any religion that does not motivate people to be "saved" would, in their view, have a negative impact on its members, and thus on society as a whole. So, it may be positive concern for followers of other religions that is causing the born-again Christians to have extremely low opinion of those religions.

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  1. Barna Research has a home page at:
  2. "Christianity has a strong positive image despite fewer active participants," Barna Research, 1996-FEB-5, at:
  3. "U.S. Muslims' Image Gains, Poll Finds," Associated Press, 2001-DEC-7, at:
  4. Steven Waldman and Deborah Caldwell, "Unease With Islam; Public Opinion Shifts, As Religious Leaders Speak Out," at:
  5. "UWE SIEMON-NETTO: Pursuing an Evangelical-Muslim dialogue," United Press International, at:
  6. "Evangelical views of Islam," Beliefnet, at:

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Copyright 2001 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-SEP-19
Latest update: 2006-SEP-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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