Amid broad public unfamiliarity with Islam, doubts about the religion's tenets have grown. More than a third of Americans now don't think it teaches respect for other beliefs, and nearly a quarter believe Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims.

While these numbers remain far from majorities, they are up. Last January 22 percent said Islam doesn't teach respect for other beliefs; today it's 35 percent. And the view that Islam encourages violence is up by nine points, to 23 percent. Many more - 53 percent - reject this suggestion, but a substantial number, 25 percent, are unsure.

Similarly, while 42 percent of Americans express an overall favorable opinion of Islam, this is unchanged in the last 10 months, while unfavorable views are up by nine points, to 33 percent. (Still it was higher, 39 percent unfavorable, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.)

This poll was conducted earlier this month, before the arrest of Washington-area sniper suspect John Allen Muhammed, who's been identified as a convert to Islam. Authorities have not specified a motive for the shootings.

Unfavorable opinion of Islam33%24+9
Think Islam doesn't teach respect for other faiths3522+13
Think Islam encourages violence2314+9

These views in part reflect very widespread unfamiliarity with Islam. Seventy-three percent of Americans do not feel they have a good basic understanding of its beliefs and tenets, and that, too, has risen, from 61 percent last winter. This suggests that any additional information people have gleaned about Islam has confused more than clarified.

Feel you have a good basic understanding of Islam25%73

Familiarity does matter: People who feel they have a good basic understanding of Islam are 16 points more likely to express a favorable opinion of it, 15 points more likely to think it respects other faiths and 15 points more likely to call it a peaceful religion.

EVANGELICALS - Last fall, Christian evangelist Franklin Graham called Islam "evil" and "wicked" and wrote that it "encourages violence in order to win converts." More recently, early this month, the Rev. Jerry Falwell described Muhammad as "a terrorist" and "a violent man." A week later Falwell apologized.

Such views are more prevalent among evangelical white Protestants than among their non-evangelical counterparts or the public more broadly. Evangelical white Protestants are 22 points more likely than mainstream white Protestants to express an unfavorable opinion of Islam. They're also more likely, but by much smaller margins, to think Islam encourages violence and doesn't teach respect for other beliefs.

White Protestants EvangelicalNon-evangelical
View of Islam
Think Islam
Respects other beliefs3043
Doesn't respect others4131
Think Islam
Encourages violence3122
Is a peaceful religion4955

However, negative views of Islam haven't grown more quickly among evangelical white Protestants than among others - suggesting that comments such as Falwell's are more an expression than a cause of such views.

Think Islam encourages violence
Evangelical white Protestants3120+11
Non-evangelical white Protestants2213+9

PREJUDICE? - While just under a quarter of Americans, 23 percent, say it's "a fair comment" to describe Islam as a violent religion, more than twice as many - 49 percent - say such comments are an expression of anti-Islam prejudice.

Evangelical white Protestants are much more accepting of this kind of remark. They divide, 35 percent to 37 percent, on whether it's a fair comment or prejudicial. By contrast non-evangelical white Protestants call it prejudice by a 39-point margin.