WASHINGTON — As the nation marks the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, almost six in 10 Americans believe Muslims are the subject of discrimination — more than other major religious groups — a new survey shows.
According to a study released Sept. 9 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 58 percent of U.S. adults think Muslims face “a lot” of discrimination. Only gays and lesbians were named by a higher percentage of respondents (64 percent) as victims of discrimination.
Certain sectors of society, including young adults (ages 18-29) and liberal Democrats, were especially likely to believe that Muslims face a lot of discrimination.
In addition to views on discrimination of Muslims, the survey showed a recent change in how much Americans connect Islam and violence. Forty-five percent of those surveyed said Islam is no more likely than other faiths to encourage violence; 38 percent said it is.
That’s a small shift from two years ago, when 45 percent thought Islam encouraged
violence more than other faiths.
Compared to two years ago, smaller percentages of almost every group surveyed said Islam encouraged violence, including a 13-point drop, to 55 percent, among conservative Republicans. The change was less dramatic among white evangelical Protestants, with 53 percent now saying Islam encourages violence, a drop of just 4 percentage points from 2007.
The results of the Pew Forum survey, conducted with the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, are the first to be released from the annual Religion and Public Life Survey. Based on phone interviews with 2,010 adults, it has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
Researchers also found that more Americans have a basic knowledge of Islam. Slightly more than half of those surveyed know that Allah is the name Muslims use for God, or that the Quran is the Islamic holy book. Forty-one percent can identify both as aspects of Islam, up from 33 percent in 2002.
In general, Americans who had some familiarity with Islam or knew someone who is Muslim were more likely to have positive views of the faith.
Zahid Bukhari, director of the Muslim Studies Program at Georgetown University, said public perception of Muslims has changed as Muslims have become more visible, both in society at large and as neighbors next door.
“They are doing more social service activity,” said Bukhari, whose program is part of the university’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. “They are doing more interfaith activity. They are inviting more of their neighbors to their mosque.”
As Muslims become more visible in everyday American life, and in media that portray them positively, popular perception changes, too, he said. He compared the trend to people who may have low views of Congress but high praise for their own representative.
“If they know any Muslim personally … their opinion will be, relatively, much better,” he said.