US Muslims More Tolerant, Opposed to Violence Than Other Faiths


Jim Lobe

Muslims in the United States express greater tolerance for members of other faiths than any other major religious group, according to a major new survey and report released Thursday by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center.

They are also more likely than any other religious group to oppose violent or military attacks against civilians, according to the survey, “Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom, and the Future.”

Nearly four out of five (78 percent) U.S. Muslims say that military attacks against civilians can never be justified. That compares with less than two of five Protestants (38 percent) and Catholics (39 percent) and just over four out of Jews (43 percent) who take that position, the poll found.

Similarly, 89 percent of Muslims said attacks by “an individual person or a small group of individuals to target and kill civilians can never be justified.” Between 71 percent and 75 percent of Christian and Jewish respondents agreed.

The survey also found that Jewish and Muslim Americans shared many views, including how best to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Eighty-one percent of Muslims and 78 percent of Jews queried by Gallup said they supported a two-state solution.

Jewish respondents were also more likely than any other group, including Muslims themselves, to believe that Muslims face prejudice in the U.S.

While 60 percent of Muslims agreed with the proposition that “most Americans are prejudiced against Muslim Americans,” that was less than the 66 percent of Jews agreed with it. Protestants and Catholics, in contrast, were roughly evenly split on the question.

Jewish respondents (80 percent) were also more likely — besides Muslims themselves (93 percent) — to see Muslim Americans as being loyal to the United States, compared to less than 60 percent of Christian respondents. Conversely, more than a third of Protestant and Catholic respondents questioned Muslims’ loyalty, as did 19 percent of Jews.

The survey, which was based on nearly 2,500 interviews with respondents, 475 of whom said they were Muslim, poses a major challenge to efforts, primarily by right-wing Christian and Jewish groups in the U.S., to depict Muslims — and Islam as a religion — as fundamentally alien, if not actively hostile, to “Judeo-Christian” or “Western” values and U.S. society.

Those efforts reached a high point over the past year in the form of a largely successful effort to derail the construction of a Muslim community center — the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” — two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan and an ongoing state-by-state campaign led by the neoconservative Center for Security Policy (CSP) to outlaw the application of Shariah, or Islamic law, in U.S. courts.

The latter campaign, headed by a former resident of a Jewish settlement on the occupied West Bank, has claimed that Shariah is part of plot by the Muslim Brotherhood to transform the United States into an Islamic “totalitarian” state.

Those campaigns — as well as congressional hearings chaired by Republican Rep. Peter King this year on threats allegedly posed by Muslim extremism in the U.S. — have affected the public’s perceptions of U.S. Muslims. Their perceptions of the U.S. was not addressed by the survey, which is based on interviews conducted early last year and again last October, according to Mohamed Younis, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and main author of the survey analysis.

“I really can’t speculate on the impact of those events,” he told IPS.

The survey also didn’t break down differences of views — based on ethnicity or other factors — among U.S. Muslims who make up the most racially diverse religious community in the country.

Asian Muslims, who comprise about 18 percent of the total Muslim population, enjoy particularly high incomes on average, for example, while African-American Muslims — about 35 percent of the total — are least well off, according to the last major Gallup survey, “Muslim Americans: A National Portrait,” published in 2009.

Overall, Muslim Americans expressed more optimism about their lives, including their economic well-being, than all the other major religious groups, according to the survey.

They felt especially positive about President Barack Obama, the first president with Muslim roots. Eighty percent said they approved of his performance, compared to 65 percent of Jews and only 37 percent of Protestants.

On the more negative side, nearly half of all Muslim respondents (48 percent) said they had experienced discrimination over the past year, compared to an average of 20 percent of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, and 31 percent of Mormons.

And while, of all religious groups, Muslim respondents were most likely to express confidence in the honesty of elections (57 percent), they were the least likely be registered to vote (65 percent) and to express confidence in the military (70 percent) and in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (60 percent), no doubt because they have been the target of repeated investigations, especially since 9/11.

Four out of five Muslims said they do not believe it is possible to profile a terrorist based on his or her gender, age, ethnicity, or other demographic traits. Slightly less than half of the other major religious groups agree with that view.

According to a “religious tolerance index” devised by Gallup, in which respondents assess how strongly they identify with other religions, the survey found that Muslims and Mormons were the most accepting or “integrated” — defined as going “beyond a live-and-let-live (or ‘tolerant’) attitude [to] actively seek to know more about and learn from others of different religious traditions.”

Forty-four percent of Muslim respondents fit that definition, compared to 34 percent of Catholics, 35 percent of Protestants, and 36 percent of Jews.

Asked whether U.S. Muslims were sympathetic to al-Qaeda, 92 percent of Muslim respondents, 70 percent of Jews, 63 percent of Catholics, and 56 percent of Protestants responded negatively. Nonetheless, about one third of Christian respondents did not dismiss the possibility of Muslim Americans holding some sympathy for al-Qaeda.

On foreign policy in the Muslim world, U.S. Muslims tended to be more skeptical than other religious groups. Eighty-three percent of Muslims said they thought the Iraq war was a mistake, compared to 74 percent of Jews and an average of 47 percent of Christian respondents. Muslim Americans (47 percent) were also the most likely to see U.S. military action in Afghanistan as mistaken, compared to about one third of Jews and Catholics and 29 percent of Protestants.

While most respondents of all religious groups said the U.S. suffered a negative image in Muslim world, Muslim Americans (65 percent) were the only group that attributed it to “what the U.S. has done,” as opposed to “misinformation … about what the U.S. has done.” Seventy percent of Catholics, 65 percent of Protestants, and 55 percent of Jews attributed Washington’s negative image to misinformation.

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