At more than 1 billion followers, Islam is one of the largest religions in the world. Between five and 12 million of those followers live in the United States.
But among the United States population as a whole, there is a growing sentiment that the Muslims who live here stand “at odds” with the American way of life. According to polling data released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority — 56 percent — of Americans say Islamic values are at odds with American values. Among people who identify as Christian or Republican, the number is even higher — 76 percent of Republicans say Islam is at odds with America, while over 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, and Catholics say the same. Even among Democrats, only 52 percent disagreed that Islam was incompatible with American values. Forty-three percent agreed.
The survey’s findings are particularly noteworthy in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut this weekend, ostensibly committed by operatives of ISIS, a violent extremist group operating in Syria and Iraq that proclaims itself to be Islamic. Though the polling data was released today, the results were taken from a 2,695-person survey conducted in September and October, more than a month before the Paris and Beirut attacks.
Since those attacks, the U.S. has seen increased incidents of anti-Muslim assaults and vandalism, as well as a wave of statements from politicians framing the conflict as “Islam vs. America.” Republicans in particular have been at the helm of this framing, with many calling for a widespread ban of Syrian refugees — most of whom are Muslim — into the United States. Several have suggested that America only accept Christian refugees into the country, saying only Muslims pose a meaningful risk to Americans’ safety.
Most Muslims, however, denounce ISIS as not upholding the values of their religion, and Muslim scholars say the group incorrectly uses scripture to support its violent cause. Reza Aslan, a Muslim historian, has gained notoriety for his argument that any religion can be violent if that’s what someone decides to use it for:
Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is gonna be violent. There are marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful and that depends on their politics, their social world, the ways that they see their communities.
Still, non-Muslim Americans’ views toward Muslims in general are decidedly not positive, and getting worse over time, according to the poll. While 56 percent of Americans today said the values of Islam were at odds with American values, only 47 percent agreed with that statement in 2011. And Americans clearly see the sentiment in action — 70 percent of Americans acknowledge that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in America today, the poll results showed.
Of course, the results were not all overwhelmingly negative toward Islam. Among religious people who are non-Christian (including Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists), only 37 percent believed Muslim values were at odds with Americans, while 58 percent disagreed. Non-religious people were also less likely to believe Islam was incompatible with Americans’ way of life, with only 41 percent agreeing and 58 disagreeing.