A recent Pew Research Center study conducted in fifteen countries has observed that “people who say they personally know a Muslim are generally more likely than others to have positive opinions of Muslims and their religion”. Knowing something about Islam (rather than personally knowing a Muslim) is less associated with positive opinions about Muslims and their religion, however. The survey was conducted amid the ongoing political debates in Europe about the role Islam and Muslims should play in society, debates which have played prominent roles in a number of national elections over the past year.
The survey asked non-Muslim Western Europeans if they agreed or disagreed with the statement “In their hearts, Muslims want to impose their religious law on everyone else in the country”. Large gaps exist in most Western European countries between those who disagree with this statement and say they know a Muslim, and those who disagree with this statement and say they do not know a Muslim. For example, in Switzerland, 85% of those who say they know a Muslim disagree with this statement compared with 48% of those who say they do not know a Muslim.
In contrast, there is less of a difference in responses to this question between those who say they know “a great deal” or “some” about Islam and those who know “not very much” or “nothing at all”. Again using the example of Switzerland, Swiss adults who know a great deal or some about Islam are only four percentage points more likely to disagree with the statement than their counterparts who know less about Islam.
The numbers of people in each country who say they personally know a Muslim or know a great deal or some about Islam vary regionally. In France, nearly twice as many adults say they personally know a Muslim as say they have at least some knowledge of Islam (79% and 40% respectively). These statistics are higher than the overall Western European medians for those who personally know a Muslim or know a great deal or some about Islam, which stand at 67% and 36% respectively. France’s higher statistics can be partly attributed to the fact it has the highest percentage of Muslims in Western Europe (9%).
In comparison to the statistics for Western Europe, the numbers of those who know a Muslim in the United States is significantly lower (45% as opposed to 79%) according to a separate Pew Research Center study.
Gardner, S. and Evans, J. (2018) ‘In Western Europe, familiarity with Muslims is linked to positive views of Muslims and Islam’. [online] 24 July. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/07/24/in-western-europe-familiarity-with-muslims-is-linked-to-positive-views-of-muslims-and-islam/. [Accessed 4 August 2018].