Warren Larson, former director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, called such beliefs “very damaging for ministry and mission among Muslims.” The survey statistics indicating Christians’ negative attitudes towards Muslims have played out in his experience among believers.
“The main cause seems most directly tied to 9/11 because during the five years following, quite a few evangelical books came out warning Christians to steer clear of Islam; in short, fear of Muslims grew substantially,” said Larson, who commented on such exposés in a 2006 issue of CT. “I felt such Christian writings often lacked solid research and were deficient in helping fellow believers reach out to Muslims with love and understanding.”
Yet, across Arab countries in the Middle East, researchers find most Muslims have relatively positive views towards those of other faiths.
“While state policies and the actions of extremist groups often mask the high levels of tolerance in the minds of ordinary Arabs, the typical citizen in this region expresses a great deal of support for tolerant policies,” said Michael Hoffman, who studied religious minorities as part of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. “Recent behavior by ISIS represents the opinions of a group of extremists rather than the Arab street.”
According to the Arab Barometer Survey, most Muslims across 10 countries said they’d be comfortable with neighbors of a different faith. In Egypt and Lebanon the support was nearly universal, and in Iraq—where Christians have been expelled by ISIS—82 percent of Muslims were comfortable with non-Muslim neighbors.
A strong majority of Muslims in Arab countries, even in Saudi Arabia, supported the right for religious minorities to practice their faith. More than 9 in 10 Iraqi Muslims agreed. “While knowledge about Christianity is low, tolerance of non-Muslims (Christian and otherwise) is high across the Arab world,” Hoffman said.
Majority-Muslim countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and Yemen rank among the places where non-Christians have the fewest Christian contacts. African countries like Algeria and Somalia also make the list.
A 2010 Pew report on Islam and Christianity in Africa found:
- 43 percent of Christians on the continent saw Muslims as violent.
- 20 percent of Muslims saw Christians as violent.
- 60 percent of Christians supported making the Bible the official law of the land.
- 63 percent of Muslims supported making Shari‘ah the official law of the land.
“By their own reckoning, neither Christians nor Muslims in the region know very much about each other’s faith,” Pew said. “In most countries, fewer than half of Christians say they know either some or a great deal about Islam, and fewer than half of Muslims say they know either some or a great deal about Christianity.”
Though the polls reveal that white evangelicals are very concerned about Muslims’ impact on American security and values, many top US evangelical leaders are preaching a different message.
Last month, prominent pastors signed a letter along with 500 evangelical figures opposing Trump’s refugee ban, not just for the sake of persecuted Christians but also to assist “vulnerable Muslims.”