- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Most Americans hold favorable views of American Muslims, and almost half say Islam doesn’t encourage violence more than other religions, according to a study released yesterday at an international interfaith conference.

These findings offer hope that Muslims eventually will be accepted and integrated into American society as people of other faiths have been, said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which conducted the study.

However, many Americans remain wary of Muslims and Islam, Mr. Lugo said. More personal friendships and education should improve chances for interreligious relations.

Nearly all of yesterday’s conference speakers decried terrorism by “extremists” and “radicals.”

The Pew findings were presented at the International Conference on Faith and Service in Washington, which featured conciliatory messages from leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths; Indonesian scholar and special envoy Alwi Shihab; and Karen Hughes, the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy.

Catholics and Jews were once objects of “widespread and often institutionalized discrimination” in America, Mr. Lugo said. But by 2005, three-quarters of Americans viewed these religions favorably.

Such findings “strongly suggest that the United States has the capacity to overcome historical religious divisions and prejudices,” he said.

The findings also showed that 60 percent of Americans think recent terrorist attacks represent a conflict with “a small radical group,” not “the people of Islam.”

Mrs. Hughes also spoke yesterday about the Afghan man who is facing death for converting to Christianity.

“This case clearly violates the universal freedom held dear by democratic people throughout the world, and we believe it violates the Afghan Constitution, which guarantees the right of an individual to freedom of religion,” she said. “We are deeply concerned and have expressed those concerns to the Afghan government.”

Islamic doctrine says there “shall be no compulsion in religion” and says people of all faiths should be allowed to practice their religion unmolested, said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, head of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. “It is a travesty of Islamic law and Islamic thought” that these principles are violated today.

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