In recent years, many people have been hearing more about Islam because of 9/11 and the war in Iraq. In recent days, it may be because of the controversy over Muslim taxi drivers in the Twin Cities who don't want to carry passengers with alcohol. Sometimes, those stories can reinforce negative and misleading stereotypes.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr is an Islamic Studies professor at George Washington University. He says there are plenty of positive stories to tell about Islam, but the media aren't finding them.
"Once I was asked by a rather important person, in an audience that had many important decision-makers in it, 'How would you improve the image of Islam in America?' I said, 'Give me CNN for one week and I'll do it,'" he said.
There are more than a billion Muslims in the world. It's estimated that only about four million of them live in the United States. But many Americans know little about the small minority of people who practice Islam in this country. Much of the discussion last night focused on American ignorance about Islam and how to change it.
Afshin Molavi, a fellow at the New America Foundation at William Mitchell College of Law, that the media play a large role how Islam is perceived. He's says news organizations must become more responsible.
'How would you improve the image of Islam in America?'
"I think there is an element of lazy journalism out there. It's just a lot easier to take one extreme side, pit it against the other extreme side and then that's on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand journalism. We lose that vast middle ground," he said.
But the media aren't the only culprits in the eyes of the forum participants. University of Minnesota Professor Kathleen Collins says schools have to step up too.
"I think our education system has to do a far, far better job than it's done in the past 50 years in teaching people about the rest of the world. We barely know anything about our own American history, much less about the history of the rest of the world. And particularly the history of much of the Islamic world," she said.
Still, Afshin Molavi says it isn't all bad in academia. He says college Arabic classes are packed, as are classes on Islam. And that, he says, leaves him hopeful.