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Greek public opinion on Islam & the construction of a mosque in Athens

Thursday, 30 Jul 2009

The survey by Public Issue on the attitudes of Greeks toward Islam investigates, for the first time in Greece, social perceptions concerning the notions and symbols associated with the Islamic faith, the degree of knowledge and familiarity of citizens with Islamic culture, as well as social beliefs regarding relations between Islam & the West and Islam & Greece.Key findings:

According to the survey results, more than 5 in 10 Greeks maintain a neutral stance toward traditional notions and symbols of the Islamic world, stating that neither a positive nor a negative impression is created by words associated with it, such as: ‘Arabs’ (50%), ‘Qur’an’ (52%), ‘Muslims’ (53%), ‘Prophet Muhammad’ (53%), ‘Mosque’ (54%) and ‘Islam’ (61%).However, words such as ‘burqa’, ‘Islamic veil’ and ‘jihad’ create a negative impression among 67%, 62% and 53% of respondents respectively. This may be due to the fact that traditionally, these concepts have been negatively charged in the West. In this respect, the ‘Islamic veil’ is considered a remnant of a patriarchal, non-secular society, while the ‘burqa’ has repeatedly been criticized as a violation of women’s rights, and ‘jihad’ is associated with ‘Holy War’.

Between the religious and the political aspects of Islam, Greeks recognize more the religious (54%) rather than the political (18%) dimension. Although Islam is one of the four major religions1 of the world, with about 1.5 billion followers, 8 in 10 (83%) Greeks state that they have no knowledge of its teachings and customs, while similarly, 8 in 10 (83%) report that they have never come into contact with the Qur’an, the holy book of the Islamic religion. On the other hand, that fact that 42% of Greek public opinion acknowledges that Islam and Christianity share many common points should come as no surprise, given the historical relationship between the two faiths. Nevertheless, despite acknowledging similatities between the two faiths, 1 in 2 (51%) Greeks believe that Islam leads more easily to violence than other religions, including Christianity.

As for relations between Islam and the West, the majority of Greek public opinion describes them in general as ‘poor’. More specifically, 1 in 2 Greeks (53%) believe that relations between Islam and European countries are poor, while only 3 in 10 Greeks (29%) consider them to be good. At the same time, the perception of Greek citizens regarding relations between Islam and the USA is more negative, with 6 in 10 Greeks (61%) believing these relations to be ‘poor’.

2 in 3 (67%) Greek citizens are of the opinion that there is presently a ‘clash of civilizations’2 between Christianity and Islam. Indeed, almost 1 in 2 respondents (55%) do not rule out the possibility of a further clash between Islam and the West in the future.

In the opinion of the majority of Greek citizens and specifically for 2 in 3 respondents (63%), the distance between Greece and the Islamic world is ‘large’, while almost 1 in 4 respondents (27%) believes it is ‘small’. However, despite the differences between Greece and the Islamic world, and the clearly ascertained diverseness of these two worlds, the results of the survey show that 7 in 10 (70%) citizens believe that Islam does not today pose a threat to Greece.

Lastly, the survey participants were asked to compare Christianity and Islam on the basis of five possible characteristics. This comparison yielded the following results: Christianity is considered to ‘respect women more’ (83%, against 7% for Islam), is ‘a more peaceful religion’ (73%, against 3%), and that it ‘created a greater culture’ (64%, against 9%). In contrast, Islam is perceived as being more closely connected with ‘politics’ (42%, against 27% for Christianity), while it is also considered to be a more ‘dogmatic/harsh’ religion (82%, against 5%).

The construction of a mosque in Athens

The issue of building a mosque in Athens has returned to the forefront of public debate, not for the first time in recent years. Regarding this issue, its monitoring over time, based on Public Issue’s Barometer time series, reveals a negative shift in public opinion during the past five years (2006-2010).

[Figures]

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