A review of survey research on Muslims in Britain

A new report by Ipsos MORI brings together and analyses research from various sources and explores the attitudes of British Muslims as well as the views of the public towards Muslims. The report was supported by the Aziz Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Unbound Philanthropy.

The research findings shows that:

There are a lot of similarities between the views of Muslims and the general public

There are many aspects of life where Muslims are no different to the general population. For example, Muslims have very similar levels of life satisfaction to the general public, they tend to be satisfied about the area where they live (82% satisfied for Muslims vs 86% for the general public) and slightly more optimistic that their local area has improved (23% vs 17% for the public). Muslims are positive about community spirit in their area, which is in line with the general population.

Muslims have a strong sense of belonging to Britain

Fairly consistently across all the data that we examined it is evident that Muslims feel a part of British society (88% say they very or fairly strongly belong to Britain) and they have a strong sense of attachment to British identity. Muslims have strong sense of commonality with other Britons, which is higher among Muslim UK graduates.

Religion plays a far more important part of life for Muslims than it does for others

Religion is far more important to Muslims’ sense of identity than it is for others, which is notable given that wider research points to a decline in religion in British life. Religion is a particularly important to Muslims holding a UK degree. The vast majority of Muslims believe they can practice their religion freely in Britain and that being a Muslim is completely compatible with the British way of life. However, there are concerns that not enough is being done to protect the rights of Muslims and the review shows that Muslims are more likely to be worried about being a victim of crime because of their religion, ethnicity or skin colour.

Young Muslims hold distinct views to older Muslims

Younger Muslims are quite a distinct group in their views and outlook and this is particularly the case among young Muslim UK graduates. Across a range of attitudes, younger Muslims demonstrate more outward looking and liberal views. For example, younger Muslims have a more diverse friendship groups than their older counterparts, and are more relaxed on issues such as inter-racial marriage. Younger Muslims – particularly UK graduates – are more likely to be politically active than Muslim non-graduates. At the same time, this group is more likely to report experiences of discrimination and feel that prejudice against Muslims is increasing.

The British public hugely overestimates the number of Muslims in the country

The public thinks that around 1 in 6 Britons are Muslim, when actually fewer than 1 in 20 are and while trends indicate people’s estimates may be moving in the right direction, they are still overestimating by quite a distance.

The public’s views on Muslims are mixed and understanding of Islam is limited – but age and knowing someone Muslim make a difference

The review indicates that public’s understanding of Islam is very limited with a minority (32%) saying they have a good understanding of the religion. When asked about the compatibility of Islam with British life, views tend to be more negative. However, one finding that is consistent is that the views of young people overall tend to be more positive than older people. Similarly, those who personally know someone who is Muslim tend to be more positive in their views.

Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Research Director at Ipsos MORI said:

This report is an important study as it synthesises many of the surveys that have been done examining the attitudes of British Muslims as well as the attitudes of the British Public towards Muslims. The report highlights that British Muslims are a diverse group of people – much like the public as a whole. They have a strong sense of British identity and while religion does play a greater role in the lives of Muslims than the general population, the vast majority believe that being Muslim and being British is entirely compatible. Yet, the report indicates that there are increasing concerns that religious prejudice towards Muslims is rising. While the British Muslim population has a younger age profile than the population as a whole, the findings shows that younger Muslims are a distinct group; they are more open in their views and have more diverse social networks – this is particularly the case for those who are graduates.

The findings also show that public opinion towards Muslims is mixed. Muslims make up just under five percent of the population yet the British public think it’s three times this figure. And while the majority think that Islam is peaceful religion, they believe that most people perceive the religion in a negative way. Again, in the general population we also find that the views of younger people tend to be more positive and open towards Muslims than other age groups. [Ipsos MORI] Read more

Muslims place greater importance on national identity, finds UK study

More than half see being British as important, compared with 44% of general population.

They also place greater emphasis on education, and identify more strongly with their religious identity than their non-Muslim peers.

The 75-page report from Ipsos Mori analysed research and opinion polls conducted since 2010 to paint a comprehensive picture of British Muslims.

The UK’s Muslim population was 3 million at the 2011 census, but was estimated last year to be 4.1 million, or 6.3% of the population. Almost half are under the age of 24 and one-third are under 15, making them the fastest-growing group among young Britons.

…. Muslims tend to have more conservative social attitudes than the general population, the report said. Half of Muslim men and one-third of women believe wives should obey their husbands, and 38% of men said it is acceptable for a British Muslim to have more than one wife. A majority said homosexuality should not be legal. [The Guardian] Read more

Young British Muslims are becoming much more liberal – but they aren’t less religious as a result

Muslims, especially second generation Muslims, seem to be finding ways to reconcile British culture with religion. It’s only natural that, when Islamic thought has adapted to the context in Malaysia, in Pakistan and in Egypt, it can do so in Britain as well

…. So when Ipsos MORI released a review last month of all the major polling data on Muslim social attitudes to date, it’s surprising that no one picked up on the significance of its findings. Delve into the detail and what you find is something completely new.

What it showed is that Muslims are becoming more liberal. But what was surprising was that they’re not becoming less religious; if anything, the data suggests the opposite. The report noted rising religious observance over the 2005-2009 period, saying “this rise was particularly evident in the younger (16-29) age group (from 68 per cent to 80 per cent)” compared to 73-79 per cent for all Muslims.

And yet, these Muslims are more likely to want to fully integrate into all aspects of British life, have ethnically diverse friendship groups and think it correct that homosexuality is legal in Britain.

What is happening? Muslims, especially second generation Muslims, seem to be finding ways to reconcile British culture with religion. It’s only natural that, when Islamic thought has adapted to the context in Malaysia, in Pakistan and in Egypt, it can do so in Britain as well. Apparently, it can do so without becoming less Islamic.

[TOP RATED COMMENT] Whilst this can only be good news, if true, it is a bit of a PR article that glosses over many of the issues the Muslim community and Islam, as too often practiced, has.

There is fair agreement as to the issues with Islam and these have been discussed at length by people who have fundamental opposition to Islam, like Murray, to reformers, like Nawaz.

The near universal and unyielding view that the Koran is the literal word of Allah, that Mohammed is a perfect human and beyond question and the less universal but still common belief that Islamic law, Sharia, is a perfect legal system leads to an ever present intolerance amongst a disturbingly large minority/majority.

Being decentralised doesn’t help either, leaving latitude for extremism even if the majority become liberal.

All of this is self evident in the Islamic world today with 14 nations believing that leaving Islam or being an atheist should be punished by death, the prevalence of widespread sectarian violence and the continued existence of extremity groups like Isis.

Certainly, the increase of liberal imams in the UK will help but it’s worth pointing out that almost half of all British mosques are run by conservative/extreme Islamic sects and MI5 say ~1% of the British Muslim populations are a threat to safety and security. Social attitude surveys suggests and 10-30% hold extreme views. So, there’s a long way to go.

[ANOTHER] “It’s only natural that, when Islamic thought has adapted to the context in Malaysia, in Pakistan and in Egypt,”

The latter two being among the most misogynistic countries in the world; 90% of women have been genitally mutilated in Egypt.

So maybe there is a little more adapting to do, I reckon.

[ANOTHER] Having visited Malaysia let me assure you they take their Islam seriously there. The Chinese areas are laid back and liberal but Malay areas are every bit as strict as their Middle Eastern counterparts.

[ANOTHER] Far be it from me to denounce the slowest kid in the class when they demonstrate minor but positive incremental changes especially as the fact is that the overwhelming majority of UK Muslims lead peaceful lives.

What’s concerning is that this survey shows little or no improvement in the majority views regarding the more alarming findings shown in the extensive poll of Muslims in the UK in April 2016 conducted by ICM and reported in the Guardian and by Channel 4. Here are just three results with the approximate population numbers included, based on the known 3 Million Muslims in the UK.

52% Muslims agree that homosexuality should illegal in Britain.

38% believe it is not the responsibility of Muslims to condemn terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam.

6% Muslims say they would not report activities supporting violent extremism to the police.

[ANOTHER] Turkey was relatively secular for 100 years under Ataturk but that hasn’t stopped the rise of a virulent strain of Islam there. Nor does it changes the fundamentals of islam one iota.

ECHR Judgement Summary: “sharia law is incompatible with democracy and human rights”

Source: “Annual Report 2003 of the European Court of Human Rights, Council of Europe”

Noting that the Welfare Party had pledged to set up a regime based on sharia law, the Court found that sharia was incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy as set forth in the Convention. It considered that “sharia, which faithfully reflects the dogmas and divine rules laid down by religion, is stable and invariable. Principles such as pluralism in the political sphere or the constant evolution of public freedoms have no place in it”.

According to the Court, it was difficult to declare one’s respect for democracy and human rights while at the same time supporting a regime based on sharia, which clearly diverged from Convention values, particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervened in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts. [The Independent] Read more