Written by Haroon Siddique
The Guardian, London
2 August 2010
Three-quarters of non-Muslims believe Islam has provided a negative contribution to British society, according to a new poll, which has prompted calls for Muslims to help improve the perception of their faith.
The study for the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) also found that 63% of people surveyed did not disagree with the statement "Muslims are terrorists" and 94% agreed that "Islam oppresses women". It included qualitative as well as quantitative data. One respondent said: ""If I had my way I'd kick them all [Muslims] out of here."
The results follow an online YouGov poll, published in June, that found 58% linked Islam with extremism and 69% believed it encouraged the repression of women.
Despite the widespread negative perceptions of Islam, iERA believes the fact that most opinions were formed in ignorance of the faith indicates that Muslims can positively influence them.
Four-fifths of those polled said they have less than very little knowledge about Islam, while 40% did not know who "Allah" referred to and 36% did not know who the Prophet Muhammad was.
iERA's senior researcher Hamza Tzortzis said: "We wanted to do something positive with the survey results rather than just say, 'It's so sad'. So, the organisation's strategy is to give a new realm of possibility for people to comprehend Islam, have a proper respect for Islam and see the human relevance of the faith."
The organisation has made a number of recommendations on how to spread knowledge of Islam and the Muslim community through education and audiovisual materials. It also advocates "promoting Muslim women as ambassadors of change" to counter the impression that they are oppressed.
Although the survey indicated people may not be willing to listen – 60% said they preferred not to receive any information about religion, while 77% did not agree in any way that Muslims should do more to teach people about their faith – Tzortzis believes they will if they are shown that religion is relevant.
"We need to show that it [Islam] encompasses all the things in your life whether social or practical," he said.
"We had one of the biggest economic crises and we had no Islamic scholar saying the Islamic [financial] model wasn't as affected and might be relevant."
The study, carried out for iERA out by DJS Research, used face-to face questionnaires to ascertain the views of a "statistically robust" sample of 500 randomly selected non-Muslims.