One in four Americans holds a negative stereotype of Muslims, and almost one-third respond with a negative image when they hear the word "Muslim," according to a new national poll commissioned by a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group.
Officials with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sponsored the survey, called the findings alarming. Although the organization was aware that hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims had increased since the 2001 terrorist attacks, "we did not know [anti-Islamic sentiment] was that deep," the council's executive director, Nihad Awad, said yesterday at a news conference.
He and other council officials urged that American Muslims increase their outreach and that U.S. officials speak out against anti-Islamic bias.
The violence in Iraq, including the beheadings of hostages by Muslim radicals, might be fueling the negative attitudes, Awad said.
The telephone poll of 1,000 Americans was conducted from June 23 to July 2 by Genesis Research Associates, a Southern California marketing firm.
When asked if they agreed with such statements as "Muslims teach their children to hate unbelievers" and "Muslims value life less than other people," between 26 percent and 29 percent of respondents said they did. Fifty-one percent said Islam encourages the oppression of women.
When respondents were asked what comes to mind when they hear the word Muslim, 32 percent responded with a negative image and 2 percent offered a positive image. The remaining 67 percent gave a neutral response, which CAIR officials called somewhat encouraging.
"We take comfort in this finding," said Awad, adding that "the majority of Americans are open-minded and receptive" to learning more about Islam.
Other hopeful results from the poll, council officials said, were that 64 percent said terrorists are misusing the teachings of Islam; 63 percent agreed that Muslims have family-oriented values; and 47 percent said Muslims have contributed to civilization. And 47 percent of the poll's participants said American Muslims are cooperating in the war on terror, with 21 percent disagreeing with that statement and the other respondents having no opinion.
But when asked whether Muslims are as active as they should be in condemning terrorism, 50 percent said no and 46 percent said yes.
The council's board chairman, Omar Ahmad, said that Muslims "have condemned 9/11, they have condemned every act of violence in the name of Islam." He noted that a petition condemning violence and posted on the council's Web site has garnered 700,000 online signatures.
Council officials also cited several projects they have begun to teach Americans about Islam, including a national ad campaign and a program to put books about Islam into all public libraries.
Ahmad said the organization commissioned the poll after its annual civil rights report in May counted more than 1,000 incidents of alleged harassment, violence and discrimination against American Muslims in 2003, an increase of 70 percent from 2002.
Among the poll's other findings:
* People younger than 45, African Americans and people with Muslim friends or colleagues generally had more favorable views about Islam than did other Americans.
* Those with the most negative attitudes tended to be white males who had no more than a high school education and who described themselves as conservative or Republican.
* Almost half of those polled (49 percent) disagreed with the statement that the war in Iraq was justified because Muslims attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Twenty-nine percent agreed with the statement, and 23 percent had no opinion.