Third of Aussies ignorant about Islam: survey

March 20, 2006 - 12:36AM

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 Australians.

UNSW geographer Dr Kevin Dunn was commissioned to analyse the results, which have been published in the Journal of Islamic Studies.

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 threatened.

The most common negative stereotype associated with the religion was that it was fundamentalist, with 27 per cent saying this was their belief.

Meanwhile 11 per cent said Islam was fanatical and hostile to women.

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 Islamophobia.

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."