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Unsettled Belonging – A Survey of Britain’s Muslim Communities – Policy Exchange

December 4, 2016

peThis report examined exactly what Muslims living in Britain really think about the country and its people. It confirmed what many British Muslims have been saying for a long time: “We are just like everyone else, with similar concerns, aspirations, hopes and fears.”

It provides evidence to support the argument that, by and large, Muslim communities are comfortable living in British secular society and make constructive contributions through engagement in mainstream political processes at both local and national levels.

9 per cent of Muslim respondents condemned the use of violence in political protest and 90 per cent condemned terrorism. Muslims, are actually more likely to condemn acts of political violence than the UK population as a whole.

So it’s wrong to say that we are caught in a clash of civilisations, or that British Muslims are somehow trapped in identity purgatory, torn between Britishness and obligations to their faith.

69 per cent of those surveyed favour secular education, 91 per cent feel able to follow Islam freely in Britain and, despite what many organisations claiming to represent Muslim communities argue, they are comfortable with counter-extremism and radicalisation measures and programmes, including state-led initiatives.

There is a huge gap between the lived reality of British Muslims (in all their diversity) and representations of them as individuals and communities. Groups such as The Muslim Council of Britain, which regularly claim to speak for all Muslims in the UK, enjoy only marginal support at 2 to 4 per cent from within Muslim communities.

Misrepresentation in the media is also a concern for Muslims. Only 34 per cent of survey responders said they trusted the BBC, the organisation considered the most trustworthy of mainstream media outlets.

Overall, Muslims do not feel represented, neither by traditional religious-community institutions nor the mainstream media. It isn’t difficult to conceive that this lack of representation and perceived misrepresentation fuels mistrust and suspicion, and therefore not unfathomable to imagine that British Muslims may look elsewhere for alternative narratives. Two concerns emerging from the report are that 26 per cent deny the existence of extremism. Conspiracy theories seem to resonate more with British Muslims than other groups.

British Muslims are essentially no different than other British communities, groundbreaking. It has the power to change the narrative perpetuated by many who, deliberately or not, jeopardise the place and role of Muslims in Britain.

The report indicated almost half of British Muslims agree they should do more to tackle extremism. Perhaps reform of community and religious institutions so they better represent the needs, aspirations, opinions and diverse life choices of British Muslims is a good start. But violent extremism is not exclusively a British Muslim problem – the responsibility to do more falls on all of us, including those who have the capacity to disseminate representations of Muslims to a wider audience.


It is clear that the more religious character and general social conservatism of British Muslim communities, does not detract from the essentially secular character of most Muslim lifestyles. In terms of their everyday concerns and priorities, British Muslims answer no differently from their non-Muslim neighbours. When asked what are the most important issues facing Britain today (people were allowed to give three responses), the most likely answer was NHS/hospitals/healthcare (36%), with unemployment second (32%) and then immigration (30%).

Religious devotion and social conservatism do not correlate to political radicalism.

The government should not be “spooked” into abandoning, or apologising for, the Prevent agenda. Our survey shows that Muslim communities are generally relaxed about government intervention to tackle extremism – and are actually supportive of traditional ‘law and order’ policies more broadly.

alongside that, as this report also makes clear, there are some issues on which the views of British Muslims do give pause. Nowhere is this more evident  than with regards to the troubled question of ‘extremism’. It is obviously a cause for  concern that so many within our communities should doubt the very existence of this phenomenon, even as we face a severe and on-going terrorist threat. Even more startling is the fact that so many British Muslims seem ready to entertain wild and outlandish conspiracy theories about the way the world works, believing that dark forces are at work to ‘do us down’ as Muslims. From the attacks of 9/11, down to the more recent conflict in Syria, too many people seem ready to believe that these events are being deliberately organised and manipulated – whether by the American Government, Jews, or some other force – with the express intention of damaging Muslim

“For me, yes there should be a control on immigration. It shouldn’t be like, ‘well, anybody pack your bag and come here’,

When asked what are the most important issues facing Britain today (people were allowed to give three responses), the most likely answer was HS/hospitals/healthcare (36%), with unemployment second (32%), followed by immigration (30%). Other popular answers included housing (28%) the economy (23%), crime/law and order (21%) and Europe (20%) (The polling was mostly carried out pre-Brexit – we might expect some shift in the direction of the latter). Issues connected with terrorism, defence and foreign affairs were only mentioned by 9% of respondents.

For the most part, then, it seems safe to conclude that the issues of highest concern to Britain’s Muslim population are very much those that concern the UK population as a whole, with regional variations driven by the socio-economic context of those areas

The ‘normalcy’ of the prevailing outlook among British Muslims was born out further by our question that asked them to think more personally about their priorities (as opposed to those of the country as a whole). The four most popular answers were: happiness and well-being (47%), the future of their children (43%), financial security (41%) and being safe from crime (32%).

“The veil is kind of a big issue. In University no one can tell if I’m a Muslim or not, but for a Muslim woman, the veil, so they’re definitely going to tell you’re a Muslim. So it relates to hate crime also because it’s really easy for Muslim women to be victims of a hate crime because they’re just wearing a veil and walking across the street.”

“My mum wears a headscarf, she was actually in Oxford Circus, she was… going down an escalator, someone decided to run down, sat behind her and pulled off her scarf from the back and ran away.”

“My sister, who does wear a hijab, my mum who does wear a hijab, they get spat on.”

“My mum, she wears a headscarf. My sisters wear headscarves. I get worried if they’re going out walking around town and stuff because, you know, they might get abused. ”

“You know my younger sister she wears a full veil… Ultimately I worry about my sister. I do. The reason being is she was, there was an occasion where… I think somebody called her a ninja or something. You know, just horrible malicious remarks… she’s been wearing the Niqab for I think over a year and she’s had so much abuse.”

an overwhelming majority of respondents (91%) feel that they are entirely free to practice their religion in Britain; a further 7% said that they could ‘partly’ practice their faith freely; whereas only 2% said no, they could not.

These figures stand as an important corrective to those who would argue that the police are seen as an inherently pernicious force by Britain’s Muslim population

Britain’s Muslim population feels comparatively more able to exert influence upon the system.51% felt they could influence decisions affecting their local area by engaging with local officialsand 14% felt this ‘very strongly’ – proportionally twice as many as the populace as a whole. 31% disagreed with this statement.

Over the previous twelve months, 72% had voted in an election (as compared to 54% of the general population according to our control group); 33% had used local leisure and fitness activities (compared to 8%); 23% had raised money for a local charity (as compared to just 4% of the general populace); 18% had participated in a community event (as compared to 4%); 17% had visited a museum, gallery or concert (as compared to 11%), and 10% had volunteered at a local school, or other care-based institution (as compared to 4%).

They do not feel a need for special representation from either political parties, or from groups that purport to represent specific ‘Muslim’ interests

“I, kind of, refuse to follow community leaders… they bring so much of their culture into it, they’re not really community leaders any more, they’re culture leaders.”

“There’s no like community leadership. It’s the head of the Muslim councils and that I don’t think they do enough… They’re not supporting enough of going against certain things, like Abu Hamza only came to light because of how the media portrayed him and how it all came. There was nobody in that community of those thousands of Muslim men that were condemning him or reported him to the police or whatever.”

“I must say, the media always picks the dodgy ones when it comes to some sort of debate, some sort of talk on the news. People see the dodgy leaders on the TV, and it really disappoints me because I would say there’s very few good community leaders out there.”

when respondents were asked whether their local mosque represented their views. 71% agreed that it did, whereas only 12% disagreed

“I grew up in Britain, I would class myself as British. My values are the same as any ordinary British person, I just happen to be from a particular faith.”

“I wouldn’t affiliate myself to any nation other than Great Britain. I think it’s the best place in the world to live.”

“I would agree with that. I’m a British Muslim, that’s my identity. I wouldn’t separate  the two.”

only 1% of respondents declared in favour of a ‘fully separate Islamic area in Britain, subject to Sharia Law and government’

“What [the] media is talking about [with] Sharia law is, I’ll give you an example. When they say Sharia law, that means hand chopped off, leg chopped off, and stoned to death.  That’s it. That is Sharia law, and that’s done, washed our hands. It’s not. When we are talking about Sharia law, we are talking about divorce, you know, in Islam, how the  divorce is done, or getting married. That is Sharia law.”

Just 4% of our respondents said that they used Sharia banking. A further 37% of it said that they would ‘prefer’ to use it (though what this does not reveal is whether they would ‘prefer’ to use it if it were an option, or whether they would ‘prefer’ to use it in a more abstract, idealised way). Crucially, a majority – 55% said they would not prefer to use it.

“I think what people are finding is that Islamic loans, they’re quite high, if you’re taking a mortgage out. So if your normal mortgage is, say, £500, with the Islamic one it’d be £900. So I think a lot of people, they are fighting with that thinking.

“My child is in a good school, Church of England. We moved area, but we kept him there because he likes that school and he’s really settled in. They’ve got good morals, and it’s  a very good school… we’d rather keep him there because he’s happy there, receiving  a good education. So yes, good education’s very important. Islam, we can teach them at home.”

When asked about gender segregation within schools, there was almost an equal split between those who agreed ‘girls and boys should be taught separately’ (40%) and those who disagreed (41%).

A clear majority still supported the teaching of art and music (63%), but it is striking that there was more opposition to this idea than among the UK population as awhole (15%).

only a minority of British Muslims (26%) believe that faith should be taught inside the classroom. By comparison, most believe that children should learn their Islam outside the school gate: in the mosque (48%) or at home (24%).

the kind of curriculum being foisted on Muslim children under the aegis of the ‘Trojan Horse’ project, runs counter to the desires of a clear majority within that community.

On the subject of corporal punishment, 71% of respondents supported its Prohibition, whereas just 12% of people opposed such a ban.

“I think the problem with radicalisation is that you get people that don’t know much about Islam and they get a sick knowledge.”

On the more pointed questions about either threatening, or committing terrorist actions, 90% of Muslims condemned these, and just 2% sympathised with such acts. By comparison, the equivalent figures from the control survey were 83% and 84% condemnation and 4% of respondents sympathised with these acts. Indeed it is striking that 18% of Muslim respondents even condemned ‘non-violent political protest’ – as compared to just 7% of respondents on our control survey. Such responses strongly suggest that on every index, Britain’s Muslim communities are more supportive of ‘law and order’ and less tolerant of  protest than the population as a whole.

“OK, so 9/11, before it went down, I think three days prior to it, it was sold. The actual  World Trade Centre was sold. There was a very rich guy, very heavily politically involved  in America, who managed to secure an insurance policy for it. When the building went  down, the fact that he’s-, it’s just such a coincidence that that insurance was paid out,  then it’s a coincidence that you’re getting all of these experts coming in and saying,  ‘How can a Boeing such and such take down-, these buildings are made to be even plane  resistant. The metal does not burn, even at that centigrade.’ It just raises questions as to  how that building did not go head over and manage to come down securely.”

 The report is online here.

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From → Inter Faith

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