Muslim “no-go zones” came up as a topic of conversation in my recent lecture to the Good Shepherd Episcopalian community in Kingwood, Texas, not far from Rice University, where I teach a course called “Muslims in American Society.” Early in my talk, an older white Christian man interrupted me. He claimed that “no-go zones,” or parts of a city where only Muslims can enter, are prevalent across the United States, and that these kinds of communities seek to install a harsh form of Sharia.
I asked the man where he heard about these zones, to which he responded: “the news.” Many of the 100 or so audience members chuckled. After all, “fake news” is on the rise. I proceeded to ask the man, “Have you ever visited a mosque?” He hadn’t. Unfortunately, he didn’t appear to be very enthusiastic with the idea of ever visiting one.
There is a correlation between Islamophobic sentiment and a lack of exposure to Muslims. In 2015, HuffPost/YouGov conducted a poll to gage Americans’ views of Muslims. The poll found that 55% of Americans had either a somewhat, or very, unfavorable view of Islam. Few seemed to base these judgments on relationships with Muslims, as only one in 10 respondents said they had been to a mosque. What explains these bleak numbers?
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