On a recent ‘Muslims for Peace’ flier distribution in Passaic NJ, we asked random people what they thought a Muslim would look like. “A bearded man riding a camel,” said one man. When asked what objection she had to Muslims, another Catholic woman said, “They beat their wives and believe Jesus was false.” When asked how she had so much (mis)information on Islam, she paused to think and replied, “Everyone knows this.” Most of the people interviewed had never interacted with a Muslim and had never read anything on Islam.
Favorable opinions of Islam have declined over the last five years. According to figures from the Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans in August 2010 had a positive opinion of Islam as opposed to 41% in July 2005.
If accurate, this translates to about 30 million people who have disapproved of Islam after having held a favorable opinion of the faith in the last 5 years – i.e. about 6 million Americans each year and about 11 Americans every minute in the five years studied.
What have Muslims done (or not done) to meet this disfavor?
In the same poll, there was no significant difference in the percentage of Americans between 2005 and 2010 who thought Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. Surprisingly, radicalization of Muslims did not reflect on the poll as the main reason for the loss of favorable opinion.
Whereas there was almost a 10% drop in the number of Americans who favored Islam in this study, there was not much difference in those who said they had an unfavorable opinion. Most of those who lost a favorable opinion of Islam merely said they did not know or were not familiar enough. This points to a large group of Americans who merely lack proper awareness of Islam and a significant number that is more confused about it.
Two important inferences can be drawn from this study.
Firstly, we can assume that though radicalization of Muslims has probably played the biggest role in the negative opinion of Islam in the USA, this effect has almost plateaued (thanks to all the thwarted plots?).
Secondly, education and awareness will play the key role in reversing the now predominately negative opinion of Islam amongst Americans. The main reason for the resentment seems to be unawareness of Islam.
To reverse this trend would require Muslim-Americans to be more proactive. They will have to educate the American people (including Muslim-Americans) on the true teachings of Islam and help remove any misunderstandings. Eleven Americans will have to be reached out to every minute, six million every year.
This is the exact number of Americans that one Muslim group has vowed to reach out to. The ‘Muslims for Peace’ campaign of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA is taking the true peaceful message of Islam to street corners all across the US. They are going door-to-door delivering peace fliers and condemning terrorism in all its forms. They are preaching ‘love, peace and loyalty’ and inviting Americans to remove any misconceptions that they might entertain.
So, coming back to the question, ‘What have Muslims done (or not done) to meet this disfavor?’ – they have not been proactive enough to spread awareness of the true teachings of Islam. Likewise, many American people have relied too much on media stereotyping and have not interacted with fellow Muslim citizens enough. It is only through mutual outreach efforts that misunderstandings could be removed and the decline in favorable opinion of Islam likely be reversed.
When we told the Christian lady that the Koran mentions Jesus as a holy prophet of God and wives have equal rights in Islam, she was astounded. “Really?” She asked with disbelief. “One down”, I said to myself.