Skip to comments.Poll: Alabamians distrust Muslims
Posted on 07/07/2002 4:51:35 PM PDT by scratchgolfer
Poll: Alabamians distrust Muslims
By SEAN REILLY Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Last September's terrorist attacks didn't just topple the World Trade Center and kill thousands. They also left bitter feelings about Muslims, and the enmity appears to be more severe in Alabama than the nation as a whole.
Fewer than one in five Alabamians has a favorable view of the world's second-largest religion, a percentage far below the national average, according to the latest University of South Alabama-Mobile Register poll.
At the same time, more than one-third of the respondents said they believed that Islam's teachings encourage terrorism and violence -- even though the overwhelming majority admitted they don't know much about those teachings.
"Apparently, we have a long road ahead of us," said Shafik Hammami, president of the Islamic Society of Mobile. Since Sept. 11, Hammami said that he and other mosque leaders have responded to more than a dozen invitations to speak on Islam at area churches and synagogues. While those appearances have been well received, he said, knowledge of Islam remains "terribly weak."
Indeed, almost three-quarters of those responding to the statewide USA survey said they did not have "a good basic understanding" of Islam. More encouraging from the Muslim perspective, perhaps, is that an even larger percentage said that it is at least "somewhat important" for Americans to learn more.
Most Muslim leaders were quick to voice horror at the Sept. 11 attacks. Some liken the terrorists' use of Islam to justify murder as being similar to the Ku Klux Klan's reliance on Christianity to trade on racism.
Now that Islam's best-known representative is Osama bin Laden, however, it's no easy task to explain that the essence of Islam is peace and submission to God's will. Nor is there any consensus within the mainstream Muslim community on how to get the word out.
Ronald Ali, imam of the Mobile Masjid of al-Islam mosque, attributed the USA poll results to negative portrayals of Muslims in the media. Rather than making special efforts to explain their faith, Muslims should teach by personal example, Ali said.
"We just live our religion as good Americans," he said, "and let people see us as we are."
But numerically, Muslims comprise a tiny percentage of Alabama's population, making it unlikely that most people will encounter them often enough to form an impression.
"You need to do both," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "You need to have upright conduct and also reach out to people of other faiths."
Neither Ali nor Hammami knew of any local instances of harassment of Muslims after Sept. 11. But Hammami said he had encountered hostility from members of evangelical churches "bent on destroying the image of Islam for some reason."
Like other Southern states, Alabama has a high proportion of evangelicals. Two-thirds of respondents to the USA poll described themselves as born-again Christians.
Last month, the Rev. Jerry Vines, a former Mobile pastor and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told participants at the SBC's annual meeting in St. Louis that the prophet Mohammed was a "demon-possessed pedophile."
"That kind of message does not help," Hammami said. "It puts a barrier between religions rather than trying to promote religious understanding."
For people of all faiths, the carnage of the Sept. 11 attacks produced at least a temporary rush for spiritual solace across the nation. Many pastors reported a spike in church attendance in the weeks afterward. Attendance levels have reportedly since fallen back to normal levels.
The USA-Register survey results appeared to reflect that backsliding. More than half of those polled said the nation as a whole has become more religious. Only 16 percent said their own attendance at religious services had increased.
"I think the perspective of ourselves as a nation has changed, but in terms of our actual behavior it doesn't appear from this self-report that it made a whole lot of difference," said Keith Nicholls, a USA political science professor and head of the USA Polling Group.
But several local clergymen said the attacks have produced changes less easy to quantify.
At St. Peter Baptist Church in Mobile, the Rev. Cleveland McFarland Jr. said he has seen a lasting increase in church attendance, as well as signs of "better understanding and tolerance."
In regard to Muslims, McFarland added, church members "seem to understand that it is not just the Islamic world or religion. It is really the overzealous action of some radical thinking people."
At the Congregation Ahavas Chesed, a conservative Jewish synagogue in Mobile, "we did have increased attendance at a variety of functions," said Rabbi Steven Silberman. Although there has since been a dropoff, Silberman said, some congregation members are more likely to attend services before and after a trip. In addition, he said, "there seems to be a greater awareness of not taking family and friends for granted."
One should not expect people to be instantly and permanently transformed, said the Rev. Edwin Beachum, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Mobile. Instead, Beachum said, individuals may go through many conversion experiences over time.
"Maybe this is a beginning," Beachum said. "Maybe most people won't change, but maybe a few will. Maybe they're going to become more loving parents, more concerned citizens. And, you know, if one person changes, one person is a whole lot."
The telephone poll of 418 adult Alabamians was taken between June 25 and July 1. USA Polling Group, which conducted the survey, put the margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. This means there is a 95 percent probability that the results are within 5 percentage points of the results that would have been obtained from a survey of all adult residents of Alabama.
Sounds OK to me, I am moving there tomorrow. See you there. Alabama seems to be a perfect state for a dejected Ca conservative.
If thats so,why isnt there an American flag on every US Mosque? How about a United We Stand bumper sticker on US Muslims cars? How about the deafening silence out the US and World Muslim camp condemning unequivocally the violence? Islam sucks and I dont care what anyone thinks of me for saying that.
Osama blows up New York and these guys prostilitize on that.
This is yet another Muslim propaganda piece, attempting to do its drip-drip-drip of manipulation by playing the prejudice/guilt-trip card.