Report finds American Catholics have lots to learn about Islam

Pope Francis greets Syrian refugees he brought to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos, at Ciampino airport on April 16, 2016. A recent study from The Bridge Initiative found that the pope has been deeply influential on attitudes toward Islam among U.S. Catholics. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Well, at least there’s room for improvement.

That could be the takeaway from a new Georgetown University report released on Monday that found fewer than two in 10 U.S. Catholics hold a favorable view of Muslims, with many possessing little understanding when it comes to the beliefs of the world’s second largest religion.

When asked, “What is your overall impression of Muslims?” 30 percent of those Catholics polled said they held unfavorable views, 14 percent said favorable and 45 percent said they held neither favorable nor unfavorable views.

The report was released by Georgetown's The Bridge Initiative, a program at the Washington, D.C., Jesuit university aimed at improving public understanding of Islam while tracking the public discourse on Islam and Muslim life.

“We hope Catholic educators, catechists and clergy can use this report as a starting point to ask, ‘What do Catholics know; what do Catholics not know; and what do we need to be communicating?’” Jordan Denari Duffner, the author of the report, told America.

The survey also asked about religion and violence. Forty-five percent of Catholics said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions while 24 percent said it encourages violence as much as other religions.

RELATED: As Tensions Mount, Avoiding a Clash of Religions

Catholics are about split when it comes to the response by Muslims to violence committed in the name of Islam. About four in 10 U.S. Catholics agree that “Muslims have sufficiently condemned acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam” while another four in 10 disagree.

Catholics in the United States aren’t sure about what they share in terms of religious belief with the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. About a third of all U.S. Catholics (32 percent) believe that Catholics and Muslims worship the same God, while 42 percent say they do not. About a quarter of Catholics are unsure.

The Catholic Church has taught since at least the Second Vatican Council’s “Nostra Aetate” that the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—all worship the same God. But as the report shows, this teaching is still not fully understood, or accepted, by all believers.

Last month, for example, a controversial American prelate made headlines when he said, “I don’t believe it’s true that we’re all worshiping the same God.” Cardinal Raymond Burke shared that assessment at a press conference promoting his new book. He added that he believed Muslims seek domination while Christians promote love.

“While our experience with individual Muslims may be one of people who are gentle and kind and so forth, we have to understand that in the end what they believe most deeply, that to which they ascribe in their hearts, demands that they govern the world,” Cardinal Burke said.

The report notes that Pope St. John Paul II reiterated Catholic teaching about the three monotheistic faiths worshiping the same God in a 1985 speech to Muslim youth in Morocco. He said then, “We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world.”

Denari Duffner noted that Pope Francis often portrays Islam in a positive light, which has affected how the Catholic press in the United States represents Islam.

“The way our religious leaders talk about Islam is often the way people learn about Islam,” she said.

The report is being released, coincidentally, on the 10th anniversary of a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI in which he quoted a 14th-century emperor criticizing Islam, setting off a maelstrom of protest across the Islamic world. The retired pope has said he did not intend to insult Islam, but in a recent interview conceded that he did not “evaluate correctly” the political implications of the speech.

RELATED: Was Pope Benedict XVI Right About Islam?

On the question of salvation for Muslims, which the church teaches is possible, more than half of all U.S. Catholics (55 percent) agree that Muslims can go to heaven, while 11 percent disagree. A third said they don’t know. Again, Vatican II, which theologians say is part of the church’s magisterial teaching, says that non-Christians can indeed go to heaven.

The report took a look at how the perceptions about Islam by American Catholics are influenced by Catholic publications. It found that publications that talk about Islam in the context of what Pope Francis said about the faith give a more positive explanation of Islam, while articles in Catholic publications that don’t mention the pope as often portray Islam negatively.

“Pope Francis’ words, gestures, and activities are often the frame through which Catholics consume information about Islam,” the report found.

However, the report suggests that many Catholic publications still tend to present Islam through references to terrorism, lately because of the Islamic State.

“The headlines of Catholic online articles dealing with Islam have a slightly negative overall sentiment, and the primary emotion conveyed is anger,” the report says.

And those headlines influence how frequent consumers of Catholic media view Islam. Readers of America have the most favorable view of Muslims (50 percent) among consumers of Catholic print media, while readers of Our Sunday Visitor have the lowest share (4.7 percent) describing Muslims as favorable. (Though the report notes that the vast majority of U.S. Catholics don’t consume much Catholic media at all.)

U.S. Catholics do appear to have at least some basic understanding of Islamic theology.

Most Catholics understood that key components of Islam include daily prayer (93 percent) and fasting (77 percent) and knew that Muslims do not believe in the Trinity. But 86 percent of Catholics thought incorrectly that Muslims worship Mohammed, a revered prophet.

When it comes to Jesus, 74 percent of Catholics said Muslims do not hold Jesus in high regard and 88 percent said they do not honor Mary. In fact, Muslims believe Jesus is a revered prophet (but not Son of the Father, as Catholics believe) and that Mary is his virgin mother.

Nearly half of U.S. Catholics, 44 percent, say that they either didn’t know of any similarities between the two faiths or that they believed there were none at all.

Some Catholics could note similarities, such as the  two in 10 Catholics who said a belief in God was the most common facet of the two faiths, and the one in 10 who cited monotheism, or the belief in one God.

When it comes to cultural issues, most American Catholics think Muslims are victims of religious discrimination. Half (52 percent) say they agree that Muslims in the United States face similar discrimination that Catholics once faced.

But on the issue of religious liberty, just 26 percent of Catholics say American Muslims face threats. (Meanwhile, 34 percent of Catholics say their faith faces similar threats.)

American bishops have made religious liberty a key issue in recent years, usually around issues related to contraception and same-sex marriage. Critics contend that the bishops’ efforts have not taken into account threats facing non-Christians.

The report found that Catholics who know Muslims personally report having the highest views of Islam generally.

“From our survey, we found that knowing a Muslim personally — or participating in dialogue, social activism, or community service with Muslims—can often impact Catholics’ views in major ways,” the report said.

Reaping the benefits of personal relationships between U.S. Catholics and Muslims may be easier said than done. After all, Muslims comprise just one percent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center, and the report found that just three in 10 U.S. Catholics say they know a Muslim personally.

The report is based on a survey of 1,027 people polled between April 9 and April 15, 2015.

Michael O’Loughlinis the national correspondent for America. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

Correction: Sept. 12, 2016
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Jordan Denari Duffner.
William Rydberg
8 months 1 week ago
It's regrettable in my opinion that the statisticians at Catholic Georgetown do not appear to adequately make the attempt to discuss the impact of releasing results independent of the reporting principles/methodologies as well as a md&a of American freedoms and tolerance versus other countries (compare Finland, Pakistan or Turkey). For example, separated from its context, one in Pakistan might be tempted to compare the famously tragic Bibbi Catholic (Pakistan) Death Row Case to this in my opinion, Coffee-table Survey. I wish that the Catholic Georgetown Statisticians would sit down with the Experts in Missiology beforehand. Although I am surprised that America Magazine would not have caught this. Pray for Bibbi, in Christ,
J Cosgrove
8 months 1 week ago
My understanding is that few Catholic clergy or politicians understand much about Islam. Islam definitely encourages violence towards non Muslims. While there are some peaceful verses in the Quran, they generally are not the later verses. One should not read the Quran in the order the book is presented but in the order it was written starting with the verses in Mecca which are generally much shorter and at the end of the Quran. Also the Quran is only a small part of Islamic belief. The Hadith is much more extensive and then there is the Sira or the life of Muhammed. All three are essential to Islam. A good book to start with is by an Egyptian Jesuit, Samir Khalil Samir S.J.
111 Questions on Islam
http://amzn.to/1TNUHwm He was raised in Egypt and his native language is Arabic so he has read the Quran in the Arabic. Here is the chronological order of the surah from Wikipedia http://bit.ly/2c4t2IE
Vincent Gaglione
8 months 1 week ago
Guess what? Most Muslims follow the Koran like most Catholics follow the Gospels. They all ignore most of their holy books. And their religious leaders for the most part do likewise. That’s because there has been in most instances a better understanding of the context and times and attitudes in which the holy books were written. I find it amazing how Pope Francis is vilified for recapturing the spirit of mercy and love that Christ projects throughout the Gospels except for the moments when he is admonishing the self-righteous among the Jews, their religious leaders no less! Great irony; a great lesson. The comments here mirror what was said 150 years ago about Catholic immigrants to the USA by Protestant bigots. What goes around comes around. We have had 200+ years of Protestants trying to make the nation into their vision of a white Christian theocracy. Ironically they now count among their supporters many white Catholics.
Lisa Weber
8 months 1 week ago
Radical, violent Islamic extremists have done a great deal of harm to Americans' willingness to accept Islam. Most Americans have little opportunity to meet Muslims personally so what most people know is what they see in the news.
Alfred Chavez
8 months 1 week ago
It's not hard to to see in this article what St. Paul was talking about in this morning's (9/12/16) First Reading: "First of all, I hear that when you meet as a Church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it; there have to be factions among you in order that also those who are approved among you may become known." The last part of that quote was puzzling to me; the notes to the NABRE explain, "Paul situates their divisions within the context of the eschatological separation of the authentic from the inauthentic and the final revelation of the difference." Oh....all righty then. So which side of this 'Muslims good/Muslims bad' (to oversimplify) contretemps will ultimately be revealed to have been authentic? I believe that this article makes excellent points as did Nostra Aetate. But Lordy, I'm surrounded by fellow Catholics who take the opposite view. There's even one self-proclaimed Catholic prophet out there with a big following who claims we're in a struggle to the death with Islam.
Alfred Chavez
8 months 1 week ago
Another book that's out there with a forward by Mitch Pacwa, S.J. is 'Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics' by Ali and Spencer. It left me with a very negative impression of Islam, despite its stated aim of ecumenical dialogue. Based on the number of five star reviews on Amazon it's easy to see that many westerners have developed a strong antipathy to Islam.
J Cosgrove
8 months 1 week ago
Thank you for the recommendation. I am almost finished it and it confirms what I have read several other places. For those who don't know about book. It is 100 questions and answers written by two Catholics. One is an ex Muslim. The brief forward is by a Jesuit. Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics: 100 Questions and Answers http://amzn.to/2cPezmO Every Catholic should read this book and the one by Fr. Samir or at least those who want to learn about Islam.
J Cosgrove
8 months 1 week ago
Maybe Mr. O’Loughlin should quote/interview Cardinal Schönborn
Austrian cardinal warns of 'Islamic conquest' of Europe
http://bit.ly/2cn2qDK
Tom Fields
8 months 1 week ago
Islam seems to present a very low place for women. Islam lends itself to radicalization. The rapes, torturing, child molesting, burnings, beheadings, are done in the name of Islam. What do we need to learn?
John Linton
8 months 1 week ago
It's a bit tendentious, the opening paragraph saying only 2 in 10 Catholics hold a favorable view of Islam, when the next paragraph says 45% hold a neutral view. I suppose I support this sort of outreach and consider it important for global spirituality and growth toward peace. At the same time, however, proportionate condemnation of each religion's statistical incitement to violence will likely end up with Islam having a very heavy tally. Some of these liberal progressive types omit in passing that it is Jews in North America who routinely face the highest rate of hate crimes -- not Muslims, as the CAIR crowd ever leads us to believe. Further, Islamist violence around the world is a far larger problem than other religions being violent toward Muslims (at least in the present age). An analogy I often draw is between how the global media handled the Catholic pederasty scandal versus how they handle the global Islamic abuse scandal against women. In the former case, it was the very depth of probity for the international media to call relentlessly (and properly) for reform of the corrupt culture of Catholicism. It was well understood that such calls did not impugn the globe's entire 1 billion Catholics. Yet when similar calls go out again reforming Islam, we are constantly feted with the progressive canard that this is not probity but bigotry. Yet it's statistically probable that the violence against women committed in the name of Islam has a far larger % of the world's Muslim population as its genesis than the % of abusive priests. The pope has been too PC and in general should consult the writings of Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris more often.
John Linton
8 months 1 week ago
One might also place such an ecumenical survey of American Catholic religious beliefs alongside the Pew polls of, say, European Muslims as to what % believe in religious liberty or oppose sharia's impositions on women, gays, free speech, etc. These are not idle stereotypes but well-documented issues that far supercede Catholic caution about Islam. The problem is, there is a statistical basis for concern about Islam in the West based purely on how people poll. It's not an easy issue to solve or discuss, but pretending that it's only a question of religion and not also a troubling problem of religion+governance is part of the problem. I think 99% of the problem will be what sort of Reformation Islam has within itself, and how the world's intellectuals can help encourage that to be as bloodless as possible.
Henry George
8 months 1 week ago
Having lived in the Mideast it seems to me that followers of Islam are similar to everyone else. However, Islam is a religion of conquests. We may say the contemporary terrorism is an aberration but if you study the history of Islam you will learn it is not. As for those, even those who claim Nostra Aetate teaches that Judaism/Christianity and Islam worship the same God - what of the Trinity ? "It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows." Nostra Aetate 4 So, neither you, nor I or anyone goes to Heaven until we are washed of our sins by the blood of Jesus - the Lamb of God - and at that point they become Christians in the fullest sense. When they do that is decided by the provident mercy of the Trinity not by America Magazine and her national correspondents.
Julius Hawk
8 months 1 week ago
You seem to be saying what a lot of us have come to realize---that there are two Islams. One is the political movement masquerading as just a religion, and one is what we consider religion, or the path to redemption and salvation through worship. I don't think we are going to make any progress at all until we recognize this and treat the two differently. Religious Muslims are going to have to take a stand, and be with either the political movement or a Reformed Islam that renounces the aspects of conquest and violence and jihad and focuses on the spiritual. And we are going to have to stop conflating the two.
L J
8 months 1 week ago
Restated another way, "there are two Catholicisms". Who of us does not cringe when we read in polls where "Catholics" are surveyed as supporting gay marriage, abortion, women ordination, have little regard for the Virgin Mary, view Christ as just one alternative of many to God, reject countless Truths as being unique Catholic qualifiers (e.g. Confession, worthy reception of Eucharist, attending Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, etc) ? I find it instructive that those who would lump "Muslims" as being a religion of "conquerors" is as legitimate as saying "Catholicism" is a religion of Papists as Calvinists argue
Henry George
8 months ago
GR, Do non-Muslims have all the rights of Muslims in all Muslim lands ? Yes or No ? Does the Koran say it is the duty of Muslims to bring Islam to all others, if needed be - by force ? Yes or No ? Who is going about the world meticulously killing school children, journalists, women, Christians, other Muslims ? You know the answers and you know by those answers where you stand. As for Catholics, if we are not a religion of "Papists" then why say we are Roman Catholics ?
L J
8 months 1 week ago
A lot of ballyhoo has been mentioned about Muslims "conquest" mindset. Funny thing is, people say the exact same thing about Christians. When Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra, we heard and read lots of accusations against St Serra for decimating the native Indians of California and the West. Who of us has not had to defend Christianity against those who remind us of the facts that Christians annihilated lands throughout the world, e.g. Mexico, Peru, Cuba, Florida, etc.? So now Christians are accusing Muslims of doing to them what they did to others. I find this rather rich. As usual Archbishop Christoph Schönborn, a respected and well received Prelate by Pope Francis, with unassailable pedigrees in theological studies, spoke rather forcefully about the notion of Islam's "conquest". This is in sharp contrast to another Prelate who was ejected from sphere of influence within the official Magisterium. NB: This is the same Abp Christoph Schönborn who was rebuked by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 for urging the Church to not cover up the sex abuse cases by priests and bishops. Victims of priestly pedophilia defended Abp. Schönborn. It wouldnt be an exaggeration to state Schönborn is a true defender of the People of God. http://www.cleveland.com/world/index.ssf/2010/06/vatican_publicly_rebukes_austr.html How things change, eh? ~~~~ Schönborn: Renewal of Christian Legacy (ENGLISH) http://www.erzdioezese-wien.at/pages/inst/14428675/text/stellungnahmen/article/52187.html "Cardinal Schönborn's urgent call to Europeans: We are the prodigal son, who has squandered his inheritance. Islamists are not at fault for our weakness, but they can take advantage of it. Hope lies in returning to Christ, the gospel and works of charity. "Cardinal Christoph Schönborn spoke in no uncertain terms of the loss of Europe's christian heritage during his homily on the occasion of the "Holy Name of Mary Celebration" in St. Stephen's Cathedral on the 11th of September 2016. This has been misinterpreted on social media as an attack against Muslims and even as directed against the refugees." [.....] "We Europeans have squandered it,” he said. “That has absolutely nothing to do with Islam nor with the refugees. It is clear that many Islamists would like to take advantage of our weakness, but they are not responsible for it. We are.”
Tim O'Leary
8 months ago
There is a scary similarity between the response/denial of the liberal wings of Western nations & churches with today’s Islamic jihadi war and the threat of Communism in the 1950s-80s. For them, Islamophobia seems on par with the anti-anticommunism of that time. So, while 1) the actual incidences of Muslim oppression by Christians is minuscule and pales in comparison with the massive clear and present danger of Jihadi terrorism (3 attacks this weekend of US Muslim immigrants), 2) there is ongoing oppression of women and minorities in Muslim nations (see Saudi Women tweeting for their freedom http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/16/world/saudi-arabia-male-guardianship-campaign/), 3) there remain persistent cultural assimilation issues with Muslim immigrants even to the 2nd and 3rd generation, and 4) the thousands of actual Christian martyrs that outnumber the Roman persecutions, Georgetown University deems it important to have a center dedicated to advancing fear of Islamophobia (go to the link and see that the word is everywhere). Now to this article. While the title is probably true, a poll of "self-identifying Catholics (SICs,) would likely show a similar gap in misunderstanding what Catholicism teaches, as many polls show this method is not good for identifying those who actually know, believe or practice their faith. This applies not only to moral teaching but also to doctrinal teaching (the Real Presence, etc.). A key question for me is – will deeper education in Islamic history, theology, practice and societies result in people having a more or less favorable view of that faith than they have now? Will more education make people think Islam is a promoter of peace & equality, or of violence and enslavement or at least inequality (dhimmitude), when it has political power (and not as tiny minorities in the Western nations)? Wasn’t the problem with Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg Address that it actually exposed rather than incited a violent streak in that religion that is unlike any other major faith? His quote might have been imprudent, but wasn’t the violent reaction a confirmation of its veracity?
J Cosgrove
8 months ago
Tim, If you have time there is a youtube video of an interview of Bill Warner by a Jewish man named Gad Saad. Warner is probably the most knowledgeable person in the US on political Islam. In it discusses many things but in the final third talks about the complete lack of an intellectual discussion on Islam by any non Muslim in the West. He never talks negatively about Muslims but instead focusses on Islam itself. The only Muslim he will discuss in any detail is Mohammed. He has read most of the Islamic publications that are the basis of Islam. These are the Quran, the Hadith and the Sira (biography of Mohammed) Here is the video. I downloaded the video on my iPhone and listened to it in the car. There is no need to look at it. It is a little over an hour. http://bit.ly/2dcpXsu

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