Americans remain wary of Islam

Americans are conflicted over Islam as the FBI investigates a growing list of anti-Islamic incidents. Still, Muslims and their mosques are being welcomed in some communities.

By , Staff writer

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    Muslim men praying in a mosque in Chicago. Americans remain conflicted over Islam as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies investigate a growing list of attacks on mosques and threats to Muslims.
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For now, at least, the “ground zero mosque” in New York and threats to burn copies of the Quran are no longer front-page news. But Americans remain wary of Islam as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies investigate a growing list of attacks on mosques and threats to Muslims.

The picture on public attitudes is mixed, according to a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which finds that opinions about Islam are less favorable now than they were five years ago.

For example, a plurality of those surveyed (42 percent) say Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions. Still, a substantial minority – 35 percent – believe Islam to be more violent than other faiths.

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While the reasons for this have not been pinned down, two factors likely are involved: Recent terrorist threats and attempted attacks in the United States (the Fort Hood shootings, the Christmas Day and Times Square bomb attempts, the fatal shooting at a US Army recruiting office), plus controversies around the country involving new mosques.

Most recent available figures show a 57 percent increase in the number of mosques in the United States over the past ten years – from 1,209 to 1,897. While opposition often is tied to local zoning and traffic issues, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said this past week that it is monitoring 11 cases of potential land-use discrimination against Muslims – eight of those cases opened since May.

At the same time, the number of instances of vandalism at mosques and the threats to those involved in proposed new mosques continue to increase, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The burning of a car in the parking lot of an Islamic community center in Lafayette, La. last week is being investigated by the FBI as a possible hate crime. Burned copies of the Quran recently have been found at the Islamic Society of San Francisco, the Muslim Community Center in Chicago, the Annoor Mosque in Knoxville, Tenn., and the Islamic Center of East Lansing, Mich.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that “a record number of Muslim workers are complaining of employment discrimination, from co-workers calling them ‘terrorist’ or ‘Osama’ to employers barring them from wearing head scarves or taking prayer breaks.”

“Although Muslims make up less than 2 percent of the United States population, they accounted for about one-quarter of the 3,386 religious discrimination claims filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year,” the Times reports.

As for the proposed mosque and Islamic center new ground zero in New York, 80 percent of likely voters in New York State say a Muslim group has the right to build there, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday. But 57 percent say doing so would be wrong.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported Friday that 35 proposed mosques and Islamic centers have encountered community resistance in the last two years.

“In many cases, the opposition has centered on neighbors' concerns about traffic, noise, parking and property values – the same objections that often greet churches and other houses of worship as well as commercial construction projects,” reports Pew. “In some communities, however, opponents of mosques also have cited fears about Islam, sharia law and terrorism.”

At the same time, new mosques have been welcomed in several communities around the country, including the Philadelphia suburb of Berwyn where a new mosque is next door to a Jewish synagogue and across the street from a Baptist church.

The mosque and the synagogue share parking lots, and Muslims help with tasks that Jews cannot perform on the Sabbath, reports the Associated Press.

"We're just good friends. We're really good neighbors," said Yossi Kaplan, a Lubavitch rabbi at Chabad Jewish Center. "There's never been any issues."

Mosque president Mohammad Aziz echoes that sentiment.

"We have much more in common than not in common," said. "We are blessed with very good neighbors."

VIDEO: Build a mosque near ground zero?

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