Census disputes fallacies about British Muslims

27th Feb 2015

Hamed Chapman

The Muslim community in Britain is an ethnically diverse group of people and differ little from the rest of the population, according to the first study of its kind based upon the last census carried out in 2011.

The report published by the Muslim Council of Britain, a demographic, socio-economic and health profile of Muslims in Britain, disproves many myths about the community, its often exaggerated number, their identity with being British and how they fit within society.



The overall picture is of a “faith community that is growing in size, with an ethnic and socio-economic diversity that is a microcosm of the changes in society at large.” The composition of Muslim households is “mostly of married couples with dependent children but there are also a surprisingly high number of lone parent families with dependent children and also one-person households.”

The self-reported health was also found to be similar to that of the overall population, except for the older age group of Muslims where health deteriorates more markedly. There were similar trends too in the case of self-declared disability.

In terms of numbers, the Muslim community in England and Wales grew from 1.55 million in 2001 to 2.71 million in 2011, larger than all other non-Christian faith groups put together. Almost half were UK-born. There were also 77,000 Muslims in Scotland and 3,800 in Northern Ireland.

The report comes when Muslims have been subjected to an unprecedented rise in Islamophobia, when the name of their religion has been deliberately distorted and the population is largely viewed through the prism of terrorism. In some sections of the media throughout the west, there has been alarmist scaremongering.

Author of the report, Sundas Ali of Oxford University, said that in the interests of responsible journalism, the demographic reality should be firmly kept in mind that Muslims comprise less than 1 in 20 of the overall population.

Far more discerning were other factors responsible for their increase in the population and the contribution of members to the country. “The links and networks that British Muslims have with their countries of birth and other overseas connections offer the nation a competitive edge in promoting economic ties and trade,” she said.

One of the largely unrecognised aspects is the extensive ethnic diverse background of the Muslim population which makes up a third of Black & Minority Ethnic’ groups and comprises 68% Asian and 32% non-Asian, including 8% ethnic White.

The report also looks at the geographical distribution of Muslims, with the majority (76%) living in inner city conurbations of Greater London, West Midlands, the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside. Of Local Authority Districts, 35 have a Muslim population of 10% or more. In London, it is 12.4%.

“Muslims are part of the social fabric of Britain’s plural society and are to be found from Land’s End to Stornoway,” the lecturer in Politics and Political Sociology at Hertford College in Oxford said.

At a time when the wider population is ageing rapidly, half of British Muslims were found to be under the age of 25 and a third are under 15. “The younger age profile, overseas connections and entrepreneurial inclinations can all be strategic strengths for the nation.”

The study challenges the stereotype of self-segregating BME communities and notes the increase in residential integration. With regard to the youthful profile of the Muslim population, it is seen as “a strategic asset at a time when the proportion of senior citizens is increasing.

Using ethnicity as a proxy, there is a high level of English language competence amongst Pakistanis and Bangladeshis that contrasted with claims by some politicians. Those struggling with speaking English comprised only approximately 6 per cent of the Muslim population.

The Census findings on national identity also firmly disputes other scaremongering about the allegiances of Muslims with 73% stating their only national identity as British (or other UK identity only) and is in line with other studies and academic research.

Similar to the rest of the population, a section of Muslims were prospering and making progress and also better educated than a decade ago, while many are small employers or self-employed. But there is a higher rate of unemployment and economic inactivity. Almost half live in the most deprived areas, more than in 2001.

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