More Perceptions of Islam

Islamophobia certainly appears to be a hot topic in 2010. Ten opinion polls have already been undertaken between January and July to gauge the attitudes of adult Britons towards Islam and Muslims.

Now The Guardian of 3 August has noted another, carried out on behalf of the London-based Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA). iERA was established in 2009 as a global organization committed to presenting Islam to the wider society (a process known in Islamic theology as dawah).

The iERA investigation was conducted among a random sample of 500 English-speaking non-Muslims aged 16 and over interviewed face-to-face on the street in Britain by DJS Research in November 2009. Fieldwork seems to have occurred disproportionately in major British cities. 

The full report on the survey is entitled Perceptions on Islam & Muslims: A Study of the UK Population, with Hamza Andreas Tzortzis as the senior researcher. It can be downloaded (albeit not in a very printer-friendly form) from:

The enquiry covers similar ground, but in rather more detail, as the YouGov poll for the Exploring Islam Foundation which we have already featured on the British Religion in Numbers website (on 8 June).

However, as iERA notes on page 5, the results of the two investigations differ in various ways. iERA attributes this to the methodological inferiority of YouGov’s approach, not least the fact that it uses a panel (deemed by iERA to constitute a self-selecting sample), obtained a low response rate and employed only closed questions.

80% of the iERA sample had no or very little knowledge of Islam, with 17% having basic knowledge and 3% a lot. 40% did not know who Allah is, 36% did not know who the Prophet Mohammed was, and just 20% had come into contact with the Koran (compared with 95% for the Bible).

Only 14% had been taught or actively sought information about Islam, in contrast to the 84% who had not. 76% had never spoken to a Muslim about Islam and 71% had never seen or heard any dawah material. Even when exposed to such material, attitudes were more likely to remain unchanged or to worsen than to improve. 77% had no desire to learn more about Islam.

27% of respondents entertained negative perceptions of Muslims, with 55% neutral and 18% positive. Around three-quarters thought that the contribution of Islam and Muslims to Britain was either non-existent or negative; and disagreed or were neutral when asked whether Muslims positively engaged with society.

For one-third Muslims were seen as the major cause of community tension, 32% being convinced they preached hatred. 24% viewed them as terrorists, with one-fifth denying they were law-abiding and peaceful. 30% were antipathetic to Sharia law and 59% agreed that Islam oppresses women.

The commentary (pages 30-39) records the more significant breaks by demographic sub-groups, although too much significance should not be attached to these disaggregations on account of the relatively small size of the overall sample. In particular, the report inclines to make more than is advisable of replies from those aged 21-24 (of whom there cannot have been more than about 45 interviewed).

The conclusion (page 10) is: ‘The general population has displayed a negative perception concerning religion, Islam and Muslims. The dawah has had limited reach and it has not improved perceptions about Islam. There has also been a consistent trend of apparent neutrality; we believe this indicates apathy and indifference coupled with genuine ignorance about religion and specifically Islam.’ Nineteen recommendations are advanced (pages 39-45) to improve this situation.

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One Response to More Perceptions of Islam

  1. David Voas says:

    As Clive Field notes above, the iERA report (page 5) makes some rather defensive criticisms of the similar YouGov study. It’s hard to take these comments seriously in the absence of further information on the methods used for their own survey.

    Face to face interviews do have advantages (and some disadvantages), but the key issue is how representative the sample is of the population. YouGov is a leading firm with a good record (as measured by some objective tests, including elections). This very small study may be better, but we simply don’t know enough to judge.

    The survey was conducted by a small but respectable market research firm. Unfortunately there is no real information in the report about sampling.

    On page 16 one finds the statement that “The questionnaire was completed by a random sample of 500 English-speaking people living in Britain; this ensured that the gathered information was of the highest, most statistically robust standard.” I’d want to know more about how respondents were selected. (Was it really a random sample, and if so what was the sampling frame and what was the level of non-response?) I strongly suspect that it was actually a quota sample; the age/sex distribution is otherwise too good to be true. Most opinion polls report on 1,000 people; 500 is quite a small sample, particularly if you try to break down the topline results by age, region, etc.

    For the most part the presentation of the results is straightforward and broadly sensible. It’s apparent that there have been some criticisms, and I have a certain amount of sympathy with both sides of the argument.

    There’s always a risk that presenting results in an interpretative context with a clear policy agenda tends to raise questions about impartiality. It might have been better had the iERA separated the report on the findings from the theology and advocacy. That said, there is no reason to suppose that the research wasn’t well conducted.

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