The percentage of Americans who believe Islam encourages violence has declined and very basic knowledge about the faith has shown modest increases, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Thirty-eight percent of those polled believed Islam was more likely than other faiths to encourage violence, down from the 45 percent who held this view two years earlier.
Most Americans — 58 percent – also believe Muslims are discriminated against. In fact, they see them as a group second only to gays and lesbians in terms of the discrimination they face. These findings suggest unexpected empathy for a community whose leaders often claim they are regarded with suspicion and hostility.
The survey also reports that Americans are generally learning more about Islam and that increasing familiarity with the religion correlates with a decline in belief that Islam promotes violence.
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.