A new poll released last week by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that, overall, American attitudes toward Islam remain largely unchanged from the prior year.
Basically, Americans remain split on their view toward the religion—39% have a favorable impression, while 37% have an unfavorable opinion of Islam.
As one may expect, attitudes varied depending on the respondents’ religious and political affiliation. So Evangelical Christians who attend Church regularly were much more likely to have a negative impression (54%), while self-identified secular Americans viewed Islam in a much more positive light (only 25% held a negative view).
By the same token, conservative Republicans viewed Islam negatively (45% to 33%) compared to liberal Democrats (56% of whom had a favorable impression).
The poll also shows that sadly, yet understandably, a plurality of Americans—more than at any time since September 11th—believe that Islam is more likely to encourage violence (46% to 37%).
Perhaps the most telling part of the survey has to do with the attitudes of African Americans toward Islam. African Americans constitute the single largest segment within the American muslim community—about a third of all American Muslims. Also, Islam has been much more visible in that community.
However, 44% of African American respondents had an unfavorable view, compared to only 37% that had a positive view of Islam. (In contrast, only 37% of White Americans had an unfavorable view.)
So the question we need to ask ourselves as Muslims is why, despite the fact that Islam—through the conversion of family members and friends, through hip-hop cultural influences, through the lives of community heroes like Malcolm—has touched the African American community more than any other American group, why do so many of those who should be our strongest allies hold our faith in such low regard?
I don’t think we can blame this one on the media.
I think the answer might have to do with the kind of ultra-conservative Islam that has been introduced in that community, the corruption of the religious leadership, the social dysfunctions that have been often exacerbated instead of healed, the drive to “Arabize” the community, the fact of the very real racism that exists within the immigrant community toward African Americans, the role of immigrant Muslims in selling liquor and over-priced basic goods in the black community through immigrant-owned “convenience” stores, the fact that so many of that community’s sons and daughters are now endangered in the US Armed Forces fighting in Muslim lands.
It’s time for all of us American Muslims to take a long hard look at what we have done and continue to do. If when they know us, people like us even less, then how much worse can things get?