World Opinion: Islam 2009
A 2005 poll called the Pew Global Attitudes Project asked about 18,000 people in 17 countries whether they regarded Christians, Jews and Muslims favorably or unfavorably. Except in Turkey, Pakistan, and China, Christians seem to enjoy a favorable rating almost worldwide. Jews seem to be more or less well regarded in Europe and North America, but not at all in the Middle East. Outside the Middle East and Indonesia, Muslims are viewed between 8 and 15 percent less favorably than Christians or Jews. According to the poll, Muslims are least favorably viewed in the Netherlands, China, and India, and most favorably viewed in Middle Eastern countries.
Through immigration and conversion, Islam is growing in the United States. Some estimates say that the number of Muslims will exceed 2 percent of the population by the year 2010. In 2005, 57% of United States residents polled viewed Muslims favorably, 22% unfavorably.
In 2005, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) cited a 29.6 percent increase in harassment of Muslims and an 8 percent increase in hate crimes over 2004. In 2008, CAIR reported a decrease in hate crimes, but a significant increase in civil rights violations.
During the recent US presidential campaign, Americans' attitudes toward Islam became apparent when certain people tried to label presidential candidate Barack Obama a Muslim. Most of us remember the emails that circulated accusing Obama of being a closet Muslim. Reactions to this were telling.
Obama's opponent, Senator John McCain, said he would vote for a Muslim if the person was a qualified candidate, however, John McCain's pastor, Rod Parsley, claimed that Islam is a "conspiracy of spiritual evil." A patter of similar villifications created a negative background noise to the entire campaign.
Colin Powell, a former US Army general and Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, said during his endorsement of Barack Obama for president, as a response to the attempt to label Obama a Muslim, "Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? The answer is no." Reaction to Mr. Powell's endosement and remarks was predictably split along party and liberal vs. conservative lines, indicating that Americans are still divided in their views about Islam.
According to the BBC, because of immigration and a higher-than average birth rate, the Islamic population in Europe is growing rapidly, and Islam is Europe's fastest growing religion. In western Europe, the population averages less than 5 percent of the overall population whereas in some eastern European countries Muslims make up 40 percent or more of the population.
According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, western Europeans regard Christians, Jews, and Muslims twice as unfavorably as Great Britain, the United States and Canada. All in all, the western European attitude toward Muslims is right around 50/50: half favorable and half unfavorable.
Because Islamic immigrants form a cohesive, separatist entity within the host country, Europeans are concerned that Muslims will not integrate into their society. In particularly secularist states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, this can be a source of conflict, as illustrated by the fact that more than 50 percent of those polled in each of these three countries favor banning Muslim head scarves in public schools.
There is a feeling among some Europeans that immigrants are being given civil rights over and above that of the natives.
The Middle East
According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Middle Eastern countries overwhelmingly favor Islam and look unfavorably upon Christians and very unfavorably upon Jews.
In Israel, about one in six citizens is Muslim, comprising about 16 percent of the population - a higher percentage than most European countries. Israel was not polled by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, and a thorough search did not yield statistics on Israeli feelings toward Islam, pro or con. About 35 Israelies convert to Islam every year. A New York Times Magazine article bore witness that Jewish Israeli youngsters harrass Muslim youngsters in West Bank settlements.
China and Indonesia
About fifty percent of people polled in China expressed an unfavorable view of all religions. Ninety-nine percent of Indonesians polled expressed a favorable view of Islam, while 76 percent expressed an unfavorable view of Jews, and 38 percent were unfavorably disposed toward Christians.
As part of the pre-Olympics clean-up in the spring of 2008, China accused their tiny Muslim minority of conspiring to commit terrorist acts, but no evidence was presented to validate this claim.
Indonesia is like a Middle Eastern country in its disposition toward religions. Therefore it is decidedly pro-Islam.
Russia has the most favorable view of Christians among those nations polled, and a favorable outlook on Jews, but a split view of Islam that is echoed everywhere but in the Middle East. Fifty-five percent of those polled viewed Islam favorably whereas 36 percent view Islam unfavorably. Similar percentages appear across the globe.
Freed from Soviet repression, Islam is blossoming in Russia. But ethnic Russians view the growth of Islam with worry that they are losing their national identity. This feeling, too, is echoed across the globe.
We live in a diverse world where conflict is as common as consensus, and hatred as common as acceptance. In different places people regard Islam as a threat to their way of life, something of no concern, or the salvation of their life. Many distrust Islam and many accept Islam as their faith. We can only hope that someday Muslim, Jew and Christian can live in trust, harmony and lasting peace.
In the meantime, the world has no consensus on Islam. The world is divided in its view of Islam and is likely to remain so for a very long time.