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.

Is Islam More Likely Than Other Faiths  To Encourage Violence?

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.

Fewer Say Islam Encourages Violence

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).

Nearly Half Personally  Know a Muslim

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.

Americans More Knowledgeable

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.

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.

Most Familiar with Islam Less Likely to See Link with 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.

Most Familiar with Islam View Muslims More Favorably

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.

Most Familiar with Islam See More Similarity with Own Beliefs

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.

Most Familiar See More Discrimination Against Muslims

More Resources

Forum logoPew Forum

Dec. 18, 2008
Survey: Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life

June 23, 2008
U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

May 22, 2007
Survey: Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream


Sept. 2, 2009
Students must learn about other religions: judge
National Post

Aug. 16, 2009
Muslims divided on other faiths
The News & Observer

Aug. 15, 2009
We Are All Hindus Now

Pew Research Center

May 21, 2009
Social and Political Attitudes About Race
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Jan. 7, 2009
Gains Seen On Minority Discrimination – But Little Else
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Jun 20, 2008
Data and Insights on Minority Populations
Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

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