British Muslims a ‘nation within a nation’

Who says?: a random UK sample of 1,081 adults aged 18+ who identified themselves as Muslim

A TV programme has highlighted a yawning gulf between British Muslims and non-Muslims on issues such as marriage, sexuality and free speech. How harmful is this and what can be done?

‘If the husband says ’obey’, asking me to do things that are pleasing to Allah, then by all means,’ says Nusrat. ‘My faith teaches me — and many Muslims — our duty is to Allah first.’

Nusrat is a highly-educated British Muslim. Her view may surprise many but according to a new poll, it is common among those who share her faith.

Last night, former equalities commissioner Trevor Phillips interpreted the survey’s findings as he presented What British Muslims Really Think on Channel 4. Phillips called the poll ‘the most detailed and comprehensive survey of British Muslim opinion yet’.

More than eight in ten respondents, who were chosen from areas with dense Muslim populations, are happy to live in the country and feel British. ‘It’s a privilege to live in a country which lets us practise our belief,’ said comic Aatif Nawaz.

But the results also showed patterns of segregation and isolation. One in five respondents said they never enter non-Muslim homes. In Blackburn, interviewee Anjum Anwar says, ‘certain areas are wholly Asian, others wholly white’.

‘The separation isn’t just down to white bigotry,’ says Phillips.

The survey suggested hostility towards women, homosexuals and Jews was much more common among Muslims than the general public. Journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says liberal Muslims ‘are a dying breed. In 10 years there will be very few of us left unless something really important is done.’

Three million Muslims now live in the UK; the number is rising faster than was expected 20 years ago. In 2013, 62% of Britons said they thought a rise in the Muslim population would weaken Britain’s national identity.

Incidents of Islamist terrorism and sex abuse scandals in cities such as Rotherham have heightened those fears. Phillips now says integrating Muslims ‘will probably be the hardest task we’ve ever faced’.

The limits of tolerance?

This requires ‘a far more muscular approach’, says Phillips. More Muslims must abandon the politicised forms of Islam which teach rejection of the West. Liberal values must be asserted through a programme of civic integration, similar to Holland’s inburgering initiative, which teaches new citizens about Dutch law and customs.

But some think this is patronising: the government cannot change deeply-held beliefs. Britain must either accept cultural division or change its immigration and social policies to discourage the growth of segregated areas. The solution is economic. In 2015, around 46% of Britain’s Muslims lived in the most deprived 10% of council wards in the UK. Over 20% of British Muslims have never worked. If more Muslims get the chance to earn more, they will embrace our liberal, tolerant society.

You Decide

  1. If you lived in Japan would you adopt Japanese values and culture?
  2. Can you engineer social change? (Or must you leave it to individuals?)


  1. Study the six statistics in the image above this article. Write a short paragraph on each one, explaining how true you think each is.
  2. Hold a class discussion about the alienation of Muslims in society. Create some policies to deal with it. Attach them as comments to this article so we can all read them.

Some People Say...

“Counter-terrorism strategies help create a moral panic between a British ‘us’ and a Muslim ‘other”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not Muslim. Does what other people think affect me?
People’s beliefs inform how they are likely to act — and people’s actions help to create the society around you. For example, they will influence how — or whether — people vote; where they shop; and the norms of social behaviour you see daily.
When does criticising some people’s intolerant views become bigotry against Muslims?
In a free society, it is fundamental that people can criticise each other’s ideas. It is not bigoted to criticise someone’s religious beliefs, or ask potentially awkward questions about what people think; but prejudging a person, based on a stereotype or generalisation, is. As Maajid Nawaz, himself a Muslim from the Quilliam Foundation, has said: ‘no idea is above scrutiny; no people are beneath dignity’.

Word Watch

Data was collected in areas where the Muslim population was over 20%. Some say the sample is unrepresentative. ICM says all surveys involve some form of compromise.
British Muslim role models include athlete Mo Farah, cricketer Moeen Ali and Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain.
Lets us
Muslims face persecution in parts of the world — for example from Hindu nationalists in India and Islamists who exclude different interpretations of Islam.
The town’s Muslim population is approaching 30%.
White bigotry
Around 40% of Muslims said they feel prejudice against them in Britain today is worse than five years ago.
General public
A ‘control group’ of responses from the public was also commissioned.
Dying breed
On some questions, 18 to 24-year-olds gave similar answers to the oldest respondents, who tended to be most conservative.
Three million
According to the Office for National Statistics.
20 years ago
In 1996, a report by the Runnymede Trust predicted the Muslim population of Britain would be two million by 2020.
According to British Social Attitudes.

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