Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.
The poll also finds that two-thirds of non-Muslims (65%) say that Islam and their own faith are either very different or somewhat different, while just 17% take the view that Islam and their own religion are somewhat or very similar. But Islam is not the only religion that Americans see as mostly different from their own. When asked about faiths other than their own, six-in-ten adults say Buddhism is mostly different, with similar numbers saying the same about Mormonism (59%) and Hinduism (57%).
By a smaller margin, Americans are also inclined to view Judaism and Catholicism as somewhat or very different from their own faith (47% different vs. 35% similar for Judaism, 49% different vs. 43% similar for Catholicism). Only when asked about Protestantism do perceived similarities outweigh perceived differences, with 44% of non-Protestants in the survey saying Protestantism and their own faith are similar and 38% saying they are different.
Results from the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 11-17 among 2,010 adults reached on both landlines and cell phones, reveal that high levels of perceived similarity with religious groups are associated with more favorable views of those groups. Those who see their own faith as similar to Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism and Islam are significantly more likely than others to have favorable views of members of these groups.
Detailed questions about perceptions of Islam show that a plurality of the public (45%) says Islam is no more likely than other faiths to encourage violence among its believers; 38% take the opposite view, saying that Islam does encourage violence more than other faiths do. Views on this question have fluctuated in recent years, with the current findings showing that the view that Islam is connected with violence has declined since 2007, when 45% of the public said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions do.
Almost half of Americans (45%) say they personally know someone who is Muslim. Also, slim majorities of the public are able to correctly answer questions about the name Muslims use to refer to God (53%) and the name of Islam’s sacred text (52%), with four-in-ten (41%) correctly answering both “Allah” and “the Koran.” These results are consistent with recent years and show modest increases in Americans’ familiarity with Islam compared with the months following the 9/11 attacks. Those people who know a Muslim are less likely to see Islam as encouraging of violence; similarly, those who are most familiar with Islam and Muslims are most likely to express favorable views of Muslims and to see similarities between Islam and their own religion.
Religious Similarities and Differences
When asked how much various religions resemble their own, the public cites Protestantism and Catholicism as the faiths most like theirs. Overall, more than four-in-ten non-Protestants in the survey (44%) say that the Protestant religion and their own faith are similar (including 12% saying they are very similar), slightly more than say Protestantism and their own faith are somewhat or very different (38%). Of non-Catholics, 43% see mostly similarities between Catholicism and their own faith, while roughly half (49%) see mostly differences. More than one-third of non-Jews say Judaism is somewhat or very similar to their own faith (35%), while 47% say it is somewhat or very different.
By comparison, the public is even more likely to see differences rather than similarities between their own religion and Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. In fact, majorities say that each of these faiths is different from their own religion, with sizeable numbers saying that these religions are very different from their own (37% say this about Mormonism, 40% about Hinduism, 44% about Buddhism and 45% about Islam).
Protestants see Catholicism as the religion most like their own, followed by Judaism. Among Protestants in the survey, white evangelicals (49%) and white mainline Protestants (50%) are somewhat more likely than black Protestants (39%) to see their religion as similar to Catholicism. But all three groups have roughly the same impression of Judaism’s similarity with their own faith (39% similar among white evangelicals, 34% among both white mainline Protestants and black Protestants). Fewer Protestants see Mormonism (22%), Islam (15%), Hinduism (9%) or Buddhism (7%) as similar to their own faith.
Catholics, especially white, non-Hispanic Catholics, name Protestantism as the faith that is most similar to Catholicism. Interestingly, Catholics see greater similarities between Catholicism and Protestantism than do Protestants. After Protestantism, Catholics see Judaism as most like their faith. Indeed, Catholics are slightly more likely than Protestants to say their faith is similar to Judaism. Less than a quarter of Catholics (22%) see Mormonism as similar to their religion, 19% see Islam as similar, 16% see Buddhism as similar, and 12% see Hinduism as similar.
Compared with other groups, fewer of the religiously unaffiliated see their own beliefs as similar to Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. However, the religiously unaffiliated are more likely than any other group in the survey to see their own beliefs as similar to Buddhism (26%).
Analysis of the survey reveals that perceptions of similarity with religious groups are linked with more favorable views of these groups. For instance, non-Catholics who see mostly similarities between their own faith and Catholicism are much more likely than those who see mostly differences to view Catholicism favorably (76% vs. 54%). And two-thirds of those who see mostly similarities between their own faith and Islam have a favorable view of Muslims (65%), compared with fewer than half of those who see mostly differences with Islam (37%).
Discrimination and Religious Minorities
Americans are more likely to say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims than against any other religious group asked about in the survey. Most people say there is not a lot of discrimination against Jews, atheists, Mormons and evangelical Christians in the U.S., while nearly six-in-ten (58%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims.
The only group that Americans perceive as subject to more discrimination than Muslims is homosexuals; nearly two-thirds of adults (64%) say gays and lesbians face a lot of discrimination. About half say blacks (49%) and Hispanics (52%) suffer from a lot of discrimination, and more than a third (37%) say there is a lot of discrimination against women in the U.S. today.
Young people (ages 18-29) are especially likely to say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims, with nearly three-quarters (73%) expressing this view. Among those older than age 65, by contrast, only 45% say that Muslims face a lot of discrimination.
Across the political spectrum, most people agree that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims. But this perception is most common among liberal Democrats, with eight-in-ten saying there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims. This is significantly higher than among all other partisan and ideological groups.
There are only minor differences of opinion between members of the major religious traditions on this question. Black Protestants are most likely to say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims (65%), but majorities of all religious groups say Muslims face a lot of discrimination.
Few Feel Like Part of a Religious Minority
When asked about their own religious status, one-in-five Americans (19%) say they think of themselves as belonging to a minority because of their religious beliefs while 78% do not, numbers that are unchanged since early 2001. Though white evangelicals constitute the single largest religious group in the country, roughly a quarter (24%) identify themselves as part of a religious minority, much more than the 11% of white mainline Protestants and 13% of Catholics who do so. In this regard, evangelicals resemble black Protestants, among whom 22% regard themselves as part of a religious minority. Among the religiously unaffiliated, 18% see themselves as part of a religious minority, a figure significantly higher than among mainline Protestants or white Catholics.
Frequent attendance at religious services is associated with a higher tendency to feel like part of a religious minority. Overall, one-quarter of those who attend religious services at least once a week say they are a minority because of their beliefs, compared with 16% of those who attend less often. And among white evangelicals, nearly three-in-ten regular churchgoers (29%) see themselves as part of a religious minority. Likewise, 23% of those who say religion is very important in their lives think of themselves as minorities, compared with 14% of those who say religion is less important in their lives.
Politically, those in the middle of the ideological spectrum are less likely to consider themselves part of a religious minority. Just 13% of moderates identify as religious minorities, compared with 22% of conservatives and 21% of liberals.
Views of Islam and Violence
Americans’ views of the link between Islam and violence have fluctuated in recent years. Currently, a plurality (45%) says Islam is no more likely than other faiths to encourage violence among its believers, compared with 38% who say that Islam does encourage violence more than other religions. This is similar to positions on this issue in 2005. By contrast, in Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2004 and 2007, more people said Islam does encourage violence than said it does not.
Among conservative Republicans, 55% say Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence, down 13 percentage points in two years. However, conservative Republicans are still more likely than other political groups to express a negative view of Islam on this question. Views of Islam and violence have also changed considerably among conservative and moderate Democrats (with the number saying Islam encourages violence more than other faiths down nine percentage points since 2007), while holding steady among other political groups.
White evangelical Protestants are significantly more likely than other religious groups to say Islam is inclined toward violence, with more than half (53%) taking this view. Within other religious groups, fewer than four-in-ten people express this opinion (39% of white mainline Protestants, 38% of white Catholics, 33% of the religiously unaffiliated and 30% of black Protestants).
Familiarity with Muslims
Just under half of Americans know a Muslim, a figure unchanged from 2007 and slightly higher than in November 2001, when 38% of Americans said they personally knew a Muslim. Familiarity with Muslims varies greatly by age and education.
Two-thirds of college graduates (66%) know a person who is Muslim, as do a smaller majority of those with some college (55%). But that drops to just 29% among those who have not attended college. Similarly, 52% of people under age 30 know a Muslim, as do almost half of those ages 30-64. But among those over age 65, just three-in-ten personally know a Muslim.
Men are more likely than women to say they know a Muslim (51% vs. 40%), and blacks are more likely to know a Muslim (57%) than are whites (44%) or Hispanics (39%). Half of moderates (51%) and liberals (50%) say they are acquainted with a Muslim, compared with 41% of conservatives.
White evangelical Protestants are now 11 percentage points more likely to know a Muslim than they were in 2007 (41% vs. 30%), bringing them more in line with the 40% of mainline Protestants and 43% of white Catholics who also say they know a Muslim. Interaction with Muslims is much more common among black Protestants, among whom 61% say they know a Muslim.
Knowledge of Islam
A slim majority of Americans know the Muslim name for God is Allah, and a similar number can correctly name the Koran as the Islamic sacred text. Overall, 41% of the public is able to answer both questions correctly, 23% can answer one but not the other, and 36% of Americans are unfamiliar with either term.
Men are generally more knowledgeable about Islam than women; 47% know the Muslim name for God and name the holy book correctly, compared with 35% of women. This knowledge is also higher among whites than among Hispanics, and Americans under age 65 are much more likely than seniors to know these facts about Islam.
Still, as with knowing a Muslim personally, education makes the greatest difference: Almost two-thirds of college graduates (64%) answered both questions about Islam correctly, compared with less than half of those with some college (48%) and 24% of those who have not attended college.
A majority of liberal Democrats (56%) named both Allah and the Koran correctly, as did nearly as many conservative Republicans (49%). Fewer than half of independents (44%) and just a third of moderate and liberal Republicans and conservative and moderate Democrats answered both correctly.
Knowledge of Islam is fairly equal across religious groups, though it is highest among the unaffiliated (44% answered both questions correctly) and lowest among Catholics (35% answered both correctly).
More Americans can correctly identify both the Koran and Allah today (41%) than could do so in 2002 or 2003 (33% and 31% respectively), though there has been only a marginal increase in Americans’ knowledge about Islam since 2005, when 38% were familiar with both Allah and the Koran. Awareness of the Muslim holy book and name for God has increased noticeably among some groups while remaining steady among others. For instance, 42% of those under age 30 can correctly name the Koran and Allah, up eight percentage points from 2002. Knowledge is also significantly higher among those ages 30 to 64, but familiarity with Islam is largely unchanged among seniors, the group that was least knowledgeable about the religion to begin with; 26% can name both the Koran and Allah today, compared with 23% in 2002.
Knowledge has grown markedly among many religious groups. The increase is most obvious among black Protestants, among whom 42% can name both the Koran and Allah today, compared with 27% in 2002. White Catholics as well as evangelical Protestants are also much more familiar with Islam today than they were in 2002. However, the trend is not apparent among the religiously unaffiliated; 44% of this group can name both Allah and the Koran today, compared with 42% in 2002. The unaffiliated stood out for possessing
the most knowledge of Islam in 2002, whereas today there is less of a gap between them and other religious groups.
Familiarity with Islam Affects Views
Roughly a fourth of Americans (26%) have a relatively high level of familiarity with Islam, that is, they know the names Muslims use to refer to God and to their sacred text, and they are also personally acquainted with a Muslim. Another fourth of the population (27%) is basically unfamiliar with the Muslim religion, neither knowing a Muslim nor having knowledge of Allah or the Koran. The remaining half of the population (47%) falls somewhere between these two groups in terms of familiarity with Islam.
The survey shows that higher levels of familiarity with Islam, and especially knowing someone who is Muslim, are associated with more positive views toward the religion. For example, among the group with the highest level of familiarity with Islam, most reject the idea that Islam encourages violence (57%). By contrast, fewer than half of those with medium familiarity with Islam (46%) and one-third of those with little familiarity (34%) reject the idea of a link between Islam and violence. Not surprisingly, people with lower levels of familiarity with Islam exhibit higher levels of non-response in attitudes about Islam, saying they do not know whether it is more or less likely than other religions to encourage violence.
Similarly, those with the highest levels of familiarity with Islam express the most favorable views of Muslims. Nearly six-in-ten of those most familiar with Islam express favorable views of Muslims, compared with less than four-in-ten among those with less familiarity.
Regardless of their familiarity with Islam, more Americans say that their beliefs are different from rather than similar to the Muslim religion. However, even on this question, those who are most familiar with Islam stand out as being more likely to say that their religion is similar to Islam (27% vs. 7% among those with low familiarity). More than a third (35%) of those with low familiarity say they do not know whether their religion is similar to or different from Islam.
A similar pattern exists with regard to whether Americans perceive a lot of discrimination against Muslims. Those who are most familiar with Islam are significantly more likely than those with minimal exposure to say that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims today. Seven-in-ten say this, compared with just 44% of those with a low level of familiarity. As on the question of Islam and violence, a large portion (25%) of those with minimal knowledge of Islam say they do not know whether there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims today.