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.

  Now January Change
Unfavorable opinion of Islam 33% 24 +9
Think Islam doesn't teach respect for other faiths 35 22 +13
Think Islam encourages violence 23 14 +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.

  Yes No
Feel you have a good basic understanding of Islam 25% 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
Evangelical Non-evangelical
View of Islam
Favorable 31% 48
Unfavorable 45 23
Think Islam
Respects other beliefs 30 43
Doesn't respect others 41 31
Think Islam
Encourages violence 31 22
Is a peaceful religion 49 55

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
Now January Change
All 23% 14 +9
Evangelical white Protestants 31 20 +11
Non-evangelical white Protestants 22 13 +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.

White Protestants
Calling Islam violent is: All Evangelical Non-evangelical
Fair comment 23% 35 15
Anti-Islam prejudice 49 37 54

Most accepting of this kind of comment are those evangelical white Protestants who describe themselves as political conservatives. In this group, 47 percent say it's a "fair comment" for religious leaders to call Islam a violent religion; 31 percent say it's prejudice.

OWN CHURCH - Most Americans say the religious leaders in their own churches or houses of worship have been silent on Islam: Eighty-four percent say they haven't heard their own pastor or religious leader say anything about it recently.

Just nine percent have heard about Islam from the pulpit. Of them, 63 percent say the comment was a favorable one; 30 percent say it was unfavorable.

OTHER GROUPS - There are ideological components to some of these views, with conservatives more apt than moderates or liberals to express an unfavorable opinion of Islam. Overall views of Islam are similar between blacks and whites, and more favorable among better-educated than among less-educated Americans.

Views of Islam
Favorable Unfavorable
All 42% 33
Conservative 35 40
Moderate 46 31
Liberal 50 25
Whites 41 33
Blacks 46 35
High school 38 35
Some college 42 32
College grad 48 31

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