One third of Australians are completely ignorant of the Islamic
faith, with women and people without tertiary training the most
likely to lack knowledge, a new study shows.
The survey, conducted by Roy Morgan research, involved 1300
UNSW geographer Dr Kevin Dunn was commissioned to analyse the
results, which have been published in the Journal of Islamic
The survey revealed only one in six Australians had a decent
understanding of Islam, while one third claimed to be completely
ignorant of it.
More than 55 per cent of respondents - mainly women, people with
no tertiary training and those aged over 50 - reported having no
contact with Muslims.
People who had no contact with Islam were twice as likely to be
ignorant about the faith compared with those who were linked to it
in some way, the study also showed.
It also found that whether people felt threatened by Islam
depended on their knowledge of the religion.
A staggering 56 per cent of those surveyed, who admitted having
no knowledge of the faith, reported feeling threatened by it, while
61 per cent of those with a little bit of knowledge still felt it
posed a risk.
Even 46 per cent of those polled who claimed they had a
reasonable understanding of the Islam faith still felt
The most common negative stereotype associated with the religion
was that it was fundamentalist, with 27 per cent saying this was
Meanwhile 11 per cent said Islam was fanatical and hostile to
The published results come weeks after federal treasurer Peter
Costello invited anyone who wanted to live under shariah to find
another country, prompting Muslim leaders to accuse him of
It also follows the first meeting of Prime Minister John
Howard's hand-picked Muslim advisory committee and Sydney's race
riots last December, which involved Muslim youths.
Dr Dunn said he was not surprised by the results.
But he said they were alarming as education was the best weapon
in the fight against discrimination.
"And going the other way, ignorance is further ground for any
sort of ideas or stereotypes to take root," Dr Dunn said.
He said many current initiatives, including comparative religion
studies and new learning objects introduced in schools about Islam
were "on the right track".
"(But) I'm a bit more concerned about people who are beyond the
education system and how to reach them," Dr Dunn said.
"I don't think there's any other way than through popular
culture and through the media."