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Muslims in the United Kingdom

According to the most recent Citizenship Survey, Muslims constitute approximately 4 percent of the population. The Muslim community consists predominantly of individuals of South Asian origin, but other groups from the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Levant also are represented. In addition, there is a growing number of indigenous converts. The 2001 UK census showed a population of 1.6 million Muslims. In April 2008, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that HMG estimated the Muslim population at 2 million or 3.3% of the UK population. This represented an increase of 400,000 in seven years.

The 1951 census showed a population of Muslims of less than 22,000. Therefore between 1951 and 2001 (50 years) there had been an annualized increase of 31,500 Muslims in the UK, but in the seven year period between 2001 and 2008 there was an actual annualized increase of 57,000. The rate of increase as measured by decades has slowed, however. In 1961, the population of Muslims in the UK was 2.5 times what it had been in 1951. Between 1961 and 1971 the Muslim population multiplied an astonishing 5 times its previous population. Thereafter the Muslim population's rate of growth began to slow. In 1981 it was only 2.4 times the 1971 population (this was attributed to the ending of unlimited Commonwealth immigration in the early 1970's). In 1991 it was only 1.7 times what it had been in 1981; and between 1991 and 2001 it only grew by 1.6 times the previous population.

Based on a projected 2011 population of 2.2 million, the rate of increase between 2001 and 2011 is estimated to be 1.4 times the 2001 figure. In overall numbers, the UK Muslim population is rapidly increasing, but its rate of growth is slowly decreasing. Changes to UK visa rules announced in 2008 may slow this rate even more. HMG does not categorize either births or immigration by religion. A rough estimate, however, based on immigration statistics by country of origin indicates 50-55,000 "self declared" Muslims were granted settlement (permanent residence) in the UK in 2007. Based on the aforementioned 57,000 annualized growth in the Muslim population, it is clear that a significant portion of the population growth among Muslims in the UK is based on immigration.

They are a young, tightly clustered, but often disadvantaged community, according to UK social and economic statistics. People with Muslim backgrounds are most concentrated in London (38% of the total UK Muslim population) and other large urban areas, including the West Midlands (14% of the Muslim population), the North West (13%), and Yorkshire and the Humber (12%). Within these areas, Muslims are highly concentrated spatially. Muslims make up 8% of the population of London overall, but 36% of the Tower Hamlets area and 24% of the Newham area population.

Muslims households were the least likely to be homeowners (52%) and are the most likely among all religious groups to be living in accommodation rented from the council or housing association (28%); 4% live rent-free. Some 32% of Muslim households live in overcrowded accommodation. Average family size for a Muslim family is 3.8, which can contribute to overcrowding. 34% of Muslim households contained more than five people. 63% contained at least one dependent child, and 25% contained three or more dependent children.

Unemployment rates were higher for Muslims than any other religion, for both men and women. Muslim male unemployment rate was 13% in 2004, and for women it was 18%. Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 had the highest unemployment rates at 28%; 11% of Muslims over the age of 25 were unemployed. Muslims were most likely to be unavailable or not actively seeking work due to reasons such as disability, being a student, or looking after the family and home. 31% of working-age men were economically inactive, as were 69% of working-age women.

Arranged marriages in the Muslim community are creating unusually large population growth in areas where Muslims predominate, since first-generation families tend to have larger numbers of children (based on published research and a comparison of the 1991 and 2001 census). For example, in the eighties the Bradford (city) Council estimated that the Muslim population would reach 130,000 by 2030 and then level off. Now the projection is for 130,000 by 2020 and rising. Bradford is a West Yorkshire industrial city whose 2001 population of 294,000 included an estimated 75,000 Muslims (25%), predominantly of Pakistani origin. Bradford has the largest Muslim population in the UK outside of London, and no single London borough (neighborhood) has as large a Muslim population.

Sharia (Islamic law) is managed by Sharia councils that have operated parallel to the national legal system since 1982. The councils deal only with civil cases, have no legal powers, and may only rule in areas such as dispute mediation, marriage, and finance in ways that do not contradict the law and with the consent of both parties. However, critics, including the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization and the Muslim Women’s Network-UK, claim the male-dominated councils discriminated against women in their judgments. Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the House of Lords, introduced a bill during the year to regulate Sharia organizations. The legislation was pending at the end of 2011. Sharia law rarely is used in Northern Ireland, and in Scotland it has been employed solely in private mediation upon the agreement of both parties.

It is government policy to ensure that public servants are not discriminated against on the basis of religious beliefs and to accommodate religious practices by government employees whenever possible. For example, the Prison Service permits Muslim employees to take time off during their shifts to pray. It also provides prisoners with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim chaplains. The military generally provides adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith. The Chaplaincy Council monitors policy and practice relating to such matters.

Following government-provided guidance on accommodating religious dress at schools, some Muslim groups, including the Islamic Human Rights Commission, stated that it was inappropriate for the government to provide guidance that regulated Muslim communities in matters concerning the expression of their religious beliefs. Concerns were focused on guidance that school uniform policies could “restrict the freedom of pupils to manifest their religion” on the grounds of health and safety and the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The Muslim nongovernmental organization (NGO) Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks (MAMA) reported in 2011 that the members of a Muslim family in Leicester was forced to move after their car was vandalized, bricks were thrown in their window, and snowballs with rocks in them were thrown at their children. Three persons were convicted of racial offenses in the case, and sentenced to pay fines and do over 100 hours of community service. Islamophobia Watch, another NGO, reported that some victims were called “terrorist,” pushed, and spat on. One female Muslim student in Middlesbrough stopped wearing her hijab (headscarf) after someone tried to pull it off her head.

Members of the Muslim community complained that police targeted them disproportionately for suspicion, arrest, and “stop-and-search.” The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) continued to work closely with Muslim groups to address concerns about the way police treated Muslims. The IPCC publicized its services through advertisements, community meetings, and media coverage. Working with the NGO Faith Matters, the Metropolitan Police Service set up a helpline for victims of anti-Islam crime. Advocates, including Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters and founder of MAMA, said that it was important to record faith-based abuse and vandalism against members of the Muslim community to prove that it happens and to secure more attention from the government. Other groups, including Islamophobia Watch, Engage, and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, also monitored anti-Muslim incidents.

The suicide bombings carried out in London in 2005 by British Muslims revealed what some called an alarming network of Islamist terrorists and their sympathizers. Under the noses of British intelligence, London became the European hub for the promotion, recruitment and financing of Islamist terror and extremism - so much so that it has been mockingly dubbed 'Londonistan'. In the book of this name, Melanie Phillips pieced together the story of how Londonistan developed as a result of the collapse of British self-confidence and national identity and its resulting paralysis by multiculturalism and appeasement. The result is a climate in Britain of irrationality and defeatism, which somve fear threatens to undermine the alliance with America and imperil the defence of the free world.

Frustrated by the bruising that their community took after 24 UK-born Muslims were arrested in connection with a thwarted air terrorist plot, prominent British Muslims sent an open letter to PM Tony Blair 12 August 2006 blaming his policy on Iraq and the Middle East for fueling extremism and putting British citizens at risk. HMG reacted angrily to the letter; in a series of meetings with Muslim community leaders 14 August 2006, government ministers demanded that the Muslim community itself do more to root out terrorists in its midst. At the same time, officials held talks with leaders of seven UK localities where they judge unrest among Muslims may turn into street violence. Two British mosques had been set on fire since the story of the thwarted attacks broke, and UK police suspected revenge arson.

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Page last modified: 30-08-2012 16:44:18 ZULU