Muslims face more discrimination than followers of any other major religion, but public knowledge about Islam has increased over the last seven years, a new study from the Pew Research Center shows.
According to results from the Pew Research Center’s 2009 Religion and Public Life Survey, 58 percent of American adults said Islam faces more discrimination than any other mainstream religion in America.
Thirty-five percent of those surveyed also said they felt Islam encourages violence more than any other mainstream religion.
Three Muslim student groups at the University of Minnesota work in different ways to combat this discrimination and to educate Muslims and non-Muslims alike about the religion.
“I think after 9/11 there’s been a lot of not only fear in Islam but kind of interest in Islam because people want to know what we are,” sophomore Senna El Bakri said.
El Bakri is the secretary of the Al-Madinah Cultural Center , a student group that focuses most of its efforts on educating University students on the religion.
“We’re trying to bring awareness to the culture of Islam,” El Bakri said, adding the group often works with non-Muslim students and groups. “We reach out to different people … to be able to cut back on the stereotyping.”
The group’s president, Fuad Hannon , stressed the center’s openness to students regardless of their religion.
“We open our doors to anyone,” he said. “Once a week or so we’ll just have someone just pop in.”
The Muslim Students Association (MSA) is another University student group that caters more specifically to Muslim students, providing them with a place to socialize and pray with fellow Muslim students.
Post-Secondary Enrollment Options student Abdulrahman Jama , who serves as MSA secretary, said the group gives Muslims “a sense of belonging” at the University.
“Most Muslims, when they come to the ‘U’ … they probably want to find a place to pray or find a place where they can practice their religion freely,” Jama said.
American Followers of Mohammed is another Muslim student group that focuses on raising awareness of Islam in an American context.
“Our mission is to kind of introduce people to Islam and [help] them understand Islamic foundations, which [are] not contrary to American culture,” said the group’s president, Esam Sharafuddin .
Hannon said he was surprised by a statistic that showed 65 percent of non-Muslims thought Islam is more different from their own religion than any other mainstream religion in America.
He said he thinks this statistic comes more from a lack of knowledge than from discrimination.
“You so often hear about Judeo-Christian values and that … this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values when really, Muslims believe that Islam is a continuation of Judaism and Christianity,” Hannon said. “As far as the majority of the beliefs, I think they’re pretty similar.”
Sharafuddin said his group hopes to increase the public’s basic knowledge of Islam.
“That should be our mission, to increase the number of people who have basic knowledge,” he said. “That’s going to be a goal for our group.”
Forty-one percent of the adults surveyed answered two basic Islam knowledge questions correctly, up 8 percent from 2002.
Those surveyed were asked for the Islamic equivalent of God — Allah — and for the Islamic equivalent of the Bible — the Koran.
El Bakri said that although discrimination against the religion increased because of Sept. 11, she thinks the attacks are also a reason for increase in knowledge about the religion.
Jama shared this sentiment. “Given what happened recently with the terrorist attacks, there’s more awareness about Islam [and] people want to know more about Islam,” he said.
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