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Negative views of Islam attributed to surge
in knowledge about it, prof says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An increase in the percentage of Americans who believe Islam encourages violence stems from an upsurge in knowledge about the religion itself, a seminary professor who converted from Islam to Christianity says.

A poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that a plurality of Americans — 44 percent — believe that Islam is more likely than other religions “to encourage violence among its believers.” The finding, released July 24, is a sharp increase from the 25 percent who answered the same way in March 2002.

The number of people who disagreed with the statement is down from last year, when it was 51 percent. It is 41 percent in the new poll.

Emir Caner, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., attributes the changing numbers to Americans learning more about the teachings and history of Islam.

“[So] many people are now studying Islam,” said Caner, an assistant professor of church history and Anabaptist studies at Southeastern. Those same people “have come across disturbing passages within the Koran that if taken literally” mean that Islam is “militant in its purist form.”

“They [also] see in its history, from its outset, that physical force has been used from the time of Muhammad until basically the Colonial period of American and British empires.”

In fact, the percentage of people who said they know a good deal about Islam has increased. Forty-three percent said they have a “high” level of knowledge about Islam — an increase from 26 percent last year.

Suicide bombings throughout the Middle East also have played a role in Americans’ changing beliefs, Caner said.

“Just looking at it from the most superficial standpoint, you have the connection of religion with the acts of violence — whether in Israel or in Pakistan [or in other countries],” he said.

The study also found that a decreasing number of people, 22 percent, said Islam has a lot in common with their religion. It was 27 percent last year.

Caner and his brother Ergun have written two books on Islam: “Unveiling Islam,” which recently won an Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion award, and “More Than a Prophet,” released this year. Raised in a Muslim home, the Caners later converted to Christianity.

Emir Caner acknowledged that there are “many peaceful Muslims” and that there is a movement “to modernize the faith, but that is a small movement compared to the resurgence of purist Islam — of militant Islam — that we have seen” since the late 1970s.

The poll results were unexpected, Caner said.

“It was somewhat surprising because of the onslaught of political correctness after 9/11,” he said. “You would have assumed that the numbers would have even gone down.”

Fifty-one percent of people said they have a favorable view of Muslim-Americans, while 24 percent said their view was unfavorable.

The poll of 2,002 adults was taken between June 24 and July 8.

In other poll findings:

— Fifty-three percent of Americans opposed legalizing same-sex “marriage,” while 37 percent supported it. Among registered voters, the numbers were 54 percent against legalization, 31 percent for.

Two days of the polling were conducted before the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws — a ruling which some attribute to a June 28 Gallup poll showing a backlash against homosexual-friendly policies. The polling also took place before Canada’s government decided to move to legalize same-sex “marriage.”

— Sixty-four percent supported the death penalty for murder, while 29 percent were opposed.

— Forty-one percent said they sympathized more with the Israelis in the Middle East conflict, while 13 percent said they sympathized more with the Palestinians. Eight percent said both, 18 percent neither.

— A plurality, 44 percent, said that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jews. Thirty-six percent disagreed.

— Fifty-two percent said churches should express their views on social and political issues, 44 percent said they shouldn’t.

— Fifty-two percent said the Republican Party is friendly toward religion, 42 percent said the Democratic Party is.

— Eleven percent said President Bush mentions prayer and faith too little, 14 percent said too much and 62 percent the “right amount.”

Regarding Bush’s reliance on his faith for policymaking, 21 percent said too little, 10 percent said too much and 58 percent the right amount.

— Seventy-one percent said they agreed with the statement, “[T]he Constitution promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” 24 percent disagreed.

— Sixty-seven percent said they agreed with the statement, “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity,” 27 percent disagreed. When told that Bush said it, the number who agreed increased to 73 percent.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust