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Islam in the United Kingdom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Islam in the United Kingdom
London Central Mosque, Regent's Park. A prominent Islamic landmark in the capital city.
London Central Mosque, Regent's Park. A prominent Islamic landmark in the capital city.
Total population
2,516,000 (as of 2011) aged 3+[1]
Increase 3,372,966 (2017 estimation)[2]
Regions with significant populations
Greater London1,012,823
West Midlands376,152
North West England356,458
Yorkshire and the Humber326,050
Sunni Islam (75%), Shia Islam (5%), Ahmadiyya (1%), Others (19%)
Main: English, Urdu, Arabic, Kurdish
Others: Punjabi, Sylheti, Gujarati, Bengali, Turkish, Somali, Persian

Islam is the second largest religion in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with results from the United Kingdom 2011 Census giving the UK Muslim population in 2011 as 2,516,000, 4.4% of the total population.[1] The vast majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom live in England: 2,660,116 (5.02% of the population). 76,737 Muslims live in Scotland (1.45%), 45,950 in Wales (1.50%). London has the greatest population of Muslims in the country.[3][4][5] The majority of Muslims in United Kingdom adhere to Sunni Islam,[6] while smaller numbers are associated with Shia Islam.

During the Middle Ages, there was some general cultural exchange between Christendom and the Islamic world, however, there were no Muslims in the British Isles (a few Crusaders did convert in the East, such as Robert of St. Albans). During the Elizabethan age contacts became more explicit as the Tudors made alliances against Catholic Habsburg Spain, including with Morocco and the Ottoman Empire. As the British Empire grew, particularly in India, Britain came to rule territories with many Muslim inhabitants; some of these, known as the lascars are known to have settled in Britain from the mid-18th century onwards. In the 19th century, Victorian Orientalism spurred an interest in Islam and some British people, including aristocrats, converted. Marmaduke Pickthall, an English Muslim convert, provided the first complete English language translation of the Qur'an in 1930.

Under the British Indian Army, a significant number of Muslims fought for the United Kingdom during the First World War and the Second World War (a number of whom were awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest honour). In the decades following the latter conflict and the Partition of India in 1947, many British Asian Muslims (from what is today Pakistan, Bangladesh and India) settled in Britain itself. To this day British Asians constitute the majority of Muslims in Britain in terms of ethnicity,[7][8] although there are significant Turkish, Arab and Somali communities, as well as up to 100,000[9] native British converts (i.e. - English, Scots, Welsh and Irish people). Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United Kingdom and its adherents have the lowest average age out of all the major religious groups.[10] Between 2001 and 2009, the Muslim population increased almost 10 times faster than the non-Muslim population.[11]

Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic terrorism, and radicalization in local mosques has been a significant national issue in UK.[12][13][14][15][16]


Early history

The earliest evidence of Islamic influence in England dates to the 8th century, when Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia, minted a coin with an Islamic inscription, largely a copy of coins issued by a contemporary Muslim ruler, Caliph Al-Mansur.[17] In the 16th century, Muslims from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia were present in London, working in a range of roles, from diplomats and translators to merchants and musicians.[18] See Islam in England for more information on Muslims in England prior to the United Kingdom's founding in 1707.

Interactions under British Empire

Bengal (now Bangladesh and West Bengal), an affluent province of Mughal India with a Muslim majority and Hindu minority, was conquered by the British East India Company at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The wealth of Bengal directly contributed to the Industrial Revolution in Britain,[19][20][21][22] with the capital amassed from Bengal used to invest in British industries such as textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution and greatly increase British wealth.[19][20][21] With the establishment of British India, the British Empire ruled over a large Muslim population.[23][24][25]

In South Asia, specifically, the British ruled over one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.[26] Upon coming into contact with such a population, the British Empire forged a uniquely Muslim identity for the local believers. This was, in part, due to the way the British periodized South Asian history into an “ancient” Hindu one and a Muslim “medieval”one. Under the system, the British period was classified as “modern.”[27] Debate rages on concerning the utility and legitimacy of these labels themselves. Problems with these labels range from the connotations coupled with the word ‘medieval’ to the implications related to equating colonization and modernization. The term medieval itself is quite controversial. Historians writing in journals relating to the time period have asked whether the term is a “tyrannous construct” or an “alien conceptual hegemony.”[27] This is because the label was originally developed during the study of European history to mark the period in between the fall of the Roman Empire and the fall of Constantinople.

Such classifications done by the British throughout their long rule paved the way for a more cohesive Muslim identity. In the eighteenth century, this seemed unlikely. Muslims who hailed from Afghan, Turk, Persian, or Arab roots did not find their Muslim identities especially salient. Mughal courts divided not into Hindu or Muslim factions but Persian and Turkish ones. Converts to the religion outside of courtly life, the majority of the Muslim population in the Subcontinent, too were more focused on their regional and lingual cultural identities-whether that be Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi, or, Gujarati.[28]

The first group of Muslims to come to the UK in significant numbers, in the 18th century, were lascars (sailors) recruited from the Indian subcontinent, largely from the Bengal region, to work for the East India Company on British ships, some of whom settled down and took local wives.[29] Due to the majority being lascars, the earliest Muslim communities were found in port towns. Naval cooks also came, many of them from the Sylhet Division of the Bengal Presidency in British India (now in Bangladesh). One of the most famous early Asian immigrants to England was the Bengali Muslim entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomet, a captain of the East India Company who in 1810 founded London's first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostanee Coffee House.[30]

Between 1803 and 1813, there were more than 10,000 lascars from the Indian subcontinent visiting British port cities and towns.[31] By 1842, 3,000 lascars visited the UK annually, and by 1855, 12,000 lascars were arriving annually in British ports. In 1873, 3,271 lascars arrived in Britain.[32] Throughout the early 19th century lascars visited Britain at a rate of 1,000 every year,[31] which increased to a rate of 10,000 to 12,000 every year throughout the late 19th century.[33][34] A prominent English convert of the 18th century was Henry Stanley, 3rd Baron Stanley of Alderley, who became a Muslim in 1862. Although not a convert himself, the Victorian Age adventurer, Sir Richard Francis Burton visited Mecca in disguise, documented in The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. At the beginning of World War I, there were 51,616 South Asian lascars working on British ships, the majority of whom were of Bengali descent.[35] In 1932, the Indian National Congress survey of 'all Indians outside India' (which included modern Pakistani and Bangladeshi territories) estimated that there were 7,128 Indians living in the United Kingdom.

By 1911, the British Empire had a Muslim population of 94 million, larger than the empire's 58 million Christian population.[25] By the 1920s, the British Empire included roughly half of the world's Muslim population.[24] More than 400,000 Muslim soldiers of the British Indian Army fought for Britain during World War I, where 62,060 were killed in action.[36] Muslim soldiers of the British Indian Army later fought for Britain against the Nazis in World War II,[37] where Muslim soldiers accounted for up to 40%[38] of the 2.5 million troops serving the British Indian Army.[39] David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1916 to 1922, stated: "we are the greatest Mahomedan power in the world and one-fourth of the population of the British Empire is Mahomedan. There have been no more loyal adherents to the throne and no more effective and loyal supporters of the Empire in its hour of trial." This statement was later reiterated by Gandhi in 1920.[23] Winston Churchill also stated in 1942: "We must not on any account break with the Moslems, who represent a hundred million people, and the main army elements on which we must rely for the immediate fighting".[38]

Marmaduke Pickthall authored an English language translation of the Qur'an in 1930.
Marmaduke Pickthall authored an English language translation of the Qur'an in 1930.

The Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking was the first purpose-built mosque, built in 1889. In the same year Abdullah Quilliam installed a mosque in a terrace in Liverpool, which became the Liverpool Muslim Institute.[40][41] The first mosque in London was the Fazl Mosque established in 1924, commonly called the London mosque. There were a number of prominent native converts to the religion during this time, including Marmaduke Pickthall, who authored in 1930 an English language translation of the Qur'an entitled The Meaning of the Glorious Koran: An Explanatory Translation. A few other aristocratic British converts included Sir Archibald Hamilton, 5th Baronet, Rowland Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron Headley, St John Philby and Zainab Cobbold (the first Muslim woman born in Britain to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca).

Immigration and post-World War II

Muslim mass immigration to Britain began after World War II, as a result of the destruction and labour shortages caused by the war.[42][43] Muslim migrants from former British colonies, predominantly India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh,[42] were recruited in large numbers by government and businesses to rebuild the country.[44] Large numbers of doctors recruited from India and Pakistan, encouraged by health minister Enoch Powell in the early 1960s, also played a key role in the establishment of the NHS health service.[45]

British Asian Muslims faced discrimination and racism following Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech and the establishment of the National Front in the late 1960s. This included overt racism in the form of Paki bashing, predominantly from white power skinheads, the National Front, and the British National Party, throughout the 1970s and 1980s.[46] Drawing inspiration from the Indian independence movement, the black power movement, and the anti-apartheid movement, young British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi activists began a number of anti-racist Asian youth movements in the 1970s and 1980s, including the Bradford Youth Movement in 1977, the Bangladeshi Youth Movement following the murder of Altab Ali in 1978, and the Newham Youth Movement following the murder of Akhtar Ali Baig in 1980.[47]

Martin Lings, an English Muslim scholar, published a significant biography of the Prophet Muhammad in 1983 entitled Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. The publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses in 1988 caused major controversy. A number of Muslims in Britain condemned the book for blasphemy. On 2 December 1988, the book was publicly burned at a demonstration in Bolton attended by 7,000 Muslims, followed by a similar demonstration and book-burning in Bradford on 14 January 1989.[48] The growing number of Muslims resulted in the establishment of more than 1,500 mosques by 2007.[49]


Muslim population of England and Wales
1961 50,000—    
1971 226,000+352.0%
1981 553,000+144.7%
1991 950,000+71.8%
2001 1,600,000+68.4%
2011 2,706,066+69.1%
2017 3,372,966+24.6%
[50][51][citation needed]

The Muslim population of England and Wales has grown consistently since World War II. Sophie Gilliat-Ray attributes the recent growth to "recent immigration, the growing birth rate, some conversion to Islam".[52]

Census Year Number
of Muslims
Population of
England and Wales
(% of population)
per mosque
1961 50,000 46,196,000 0.11[50] 7 7,143
1971 226,000 49,152,000 0.46[50] 30 7,533
1981 553,000 49,634,000 1.11[50] 149 3,711
1991 950,000 51,099,000 1.86[50] 443 2,144
2001 1,600,000 52,042,000 3.07[50] 614 2,606
2011 2,706,000 56,076,000 4.83[51] 1,500 1,912
2017 (estimation) 3,373,000[2] 5.17
Muslim population in English local authority areas, 2011   0.0%–0.9%   1%–1.9%   2%–4.9%   5%–9.9%   10%–19.9%   20% and more
Muslim population in English local authority areas, 2011
  20% and more

According to recent projections the Muslim population in the UK in the year 2050 is likely to number around 13 million.[53]

Ethnic composition of British Muslims (2011 Census)[51]
Ethnic composition of British Muslims (2011 Census)[51]

The top 20 local authorities in England and Wales with the highest percent of Muslims in 2011[54] were:

Several large cities have one area that is a majority Muslim even if the rest of the city has a fairly small Muslim population. In addition, it is possible to find small areas that are almost entirely Muslim: for example, Savile Town in Dewsbury.[55]

Anwar Choudhury has been UK Ambassador to Peru and Bangladesh.
Anwar Choudhury has been UK Ambassador to Peru and Bangladesh.
The East London Mosque was one of the first in Britain to be allowed to use loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan.[56]
The East London Mosque was one of the first in Britain to be allowed to use loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan.[56]

Initial limited mosque availability meant that prayers were conducted in small rooms of council flats until the 1980s when more and larger facilities became available. Some synagogues and community buildings were turned into mosques and existing mosques began to expand their buildings. This process has continued down to the present day with the East London Mosque recently expanding into a large former car park where the London Muslim Centre is now used for prayers, recreational facilities and housing.[57][58] Most people regard themselves as part of the ummah, and their identity is based on their religion rather than their ethnic group.[59] Cultural aspects of a 'Bengali Islam' are seen as superstition and as un-Islamic.[59]

The 2001 census recorded that there were 179,733 Muslims who described themselves as 'white'.[citation needed] 65% of white Muslims described themselves as "other white", and would likely have originated from locations such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Adygea, Chechnya, Albania, Turkey, Bulgaria, the region of East Macedonia and Thrace in Northern Greece, and the Republic of Macedonia.[original research?] The remainder of white Muslims are converts and mostly identified themselves as White British and White Irish.

Islam is the third-largest religious group of British Indian people, after Hinduism and Sikhism.[60] 8% of UK Muslims are of Indian descent,[citation needed] principally those whose origins are in Gujarat, West Bengal, Telangana and Kerala. Gujarati Muslims from the Surat and Bharuch districts started to arrive from the 1940s when India was under British colonial rule, settling in the towns of Dewsbury and Batley in Yorkshire and in parts of Lancashire.

South Asian


The single largest group of Muslims in the United Kingdom are of Pakistani descent. Pakistanis from Mirpur District were one of the first South Asian Muslim communities to permanently settle in the United Kingdom, arriving in Birmingham and Bradford in the late 1940s. Immigration from Mirpur grew from the late 1950s, accompanied by immigration from other parts of Pakistan especially from Punjab, particularly from the surrounding villages of Faisalabad, Sahiwal, Sialkot, Jhelum, Gujar Khan and Gujarat, in addition to from the north-west Punjab including the chhachhi Pathans and Pashtuns from Attock District, and some from villages of Ghazi, Nowshera and Peshawar. There is also a fairly large Punjabi community from East Africa found in London. People of Pakistani extraction are particularly notable in West Midlands (Birmingham), West Yorkshire (Bradford), London (Waltham Forest, Newham and Redbridge), Lancashire/Greater Manchester, East Midlands/Nottingham and several industrial towns such as Luton, Slough, High Wycombe and Oxford.


The British Bangladeshi community in London
The British Bangladeshi community in London

People of Bangladeshi descent are the second largest Muslim community (after Pakistanis), 15% of Muslims in England and Wales are of Bangladeshi descent, one of the ethnic groups in the UK with the largest proportion of people following a single religion, being 92% Muslim.[61] The majority of these Muslims come from the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh, mainly concentrated in London (Tower Hamlets and Newham), Luton, Birmingham and Oldham. The Bangladeshi Muslim community in London forms 24% of the Muslim population, larger than any other ethnic group.[62] Other smaller Bangladeshi Muslim communities are present in Newcastle upon Tyne, Bradford, Manchester, Sunderland, Portsmouth, and Rochdale. There are groups which are active throughout Bangladeshi communities such as The Young Muslim Organisation. It is connected to the Islamic Forum Europe, associated with the East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre – all of which have connections with the Bangladeshi political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.[citation needed] Other groups also attract a few people, the Hizb ut-Tahrir – which calls for the Khilafah (caliphate) and influences by publishing annual magazines, and lectures through mainly political concepts,[63] and the other which is a movement within Sunni Islam is the Salafi – who view the teachings of the first generations as the correct one,[64] and appeals to younger Muslims as a way to differentiate themselves towards their elders.[57][65] Other large groups include another Sunni movement, the Barelwi – mainly of a Fultoli movement[citation needed] (led by Abdul Latif Chowdhury in Bangladesh), and the Tablighi Jamaat – which is a missionary and revival movement,[66] and avoids political attention. All these groups work to stimulate Islamic identity among local Bengalis or Muslims and particularly focus on the younger members of the communities.[58][67][68] Sylhet Division, which is where majority of the British Bangladeshi community hail from, is considered the Spiritual capital of Bangladesh. Shah Jalal, also known as Hazrat Shah Jalal, arrived to Sylhet with many of his disciples from Yemen to spread Islam to Sylhet and then to the rest of present-day Bangladesh. Shah Jalal was responsible for the Conquest of Sylhet against Raja Gour Govinda and hence, many Sylhetis now follow Islam. Shrines for many of these "Hazrats", or Saints, are spread throughout Sylhet. Another famous saint is Shah Poran, who was very close to Shah Jalal. Many mosques opened by the British Bangladeshi community are often named after these Saints. The British Bangladeshi community has held a strong point in Islam, often opening mosques, one of them being the East London Mosque and Brick Lane Masjid, as well as opening madrassas, Islamic TV Shows on TV Channels, such as Channel S, Quran Contests and Islamic Trivia shows, etc.


There are large numbers of Gujarati Muslims in Dewsbury, Blackburn (including Darwen), Bolton, Preston, Nottingham, Leicester, Nuneaton, Gloucester and London (Newham, Waltham Forest and Hackney).[citation needed]

Middle Eastern


A Turkish girl in London.
A Turkish girl in London.

The Turks in the United Kingdom represent a unique community in the country because they have emigrated not only from the Republic of Turkey but also from other former Ottoman regions; in fact, the majority of British Turks are Turkish Cypriots who migrated from the island of Cyprus from the British colonial period onwards. Turks have also migrated from Arabic-speaking countries (such as Algeria,[69] Iraq,[70] and Syria) as well as the Balkans (including Bulgaria,[71] Greece,[72] and Romania[71]). A report published by the Home Affairs Committee in 2011 claimed that there was 500,000 British Turks,[71] made up of approximately 150,000 Turkish nationals, 300,000 Turkish Cypriots, and the remainder from other countries.[73]

The Turkish Cypriots first began to migrate to the United Kingdom in 1917.[74] At the time, the British Empire had already annexed Cyprus and the residents of Cyprus became subjects of the Crown. Migration continued through the 1920s;[75] during the Second World War, the number of Turkish run cafes increased from 20 in 1939 to 200 in 1945 - creating a demand for more Turkish Cypriot workers.[76] However, due to the Cyprus conflict, many Turkish Cypriots began to leave the island for political reasons in the 1950s,[77] with the numbers increasing significantly after the Intercommunal violence of late 1963. With the subsequent division of the island in 1974 (followed by the declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983) an economic embargo against the Turkish Cypriots by the Greek Cypriot controlled Republic of Cyprus, caused a further 130,000 Turkish Cypriots to leave the Island for the United Kingdom.[78][79]

Migrant workers from the Republic of Turkey began to arrive in large numbers in the 1970s, followed by their family members in the late 1970s and 1980s.[80] Many of these workers were recruited by Turkish Cypriots who had already established businesses such as restaurants.[81] These workers were required to renew their work permits every year until they became residents after living in the country for five years.[80] By the 1980s, intellectuals, including students, and highly educated professionals arrived in the country, most of which received support from the Turkish Cypriot community.[82] Mainland Turks settled in similar areas of London in which the Turkish Cypriots lived in; however, many have also moved to the outer districts such as Enfield and Essex.[80]

Turkish-speaking Muslims have also come to Britain from other parts of the former Ottoman Empire. From Arabic-speaking countries, there are several thousand Algerian Turks in England,[69] In addition, according to a publication by the International Organization for Migration, the Iraqi Turkmen form one of "the three main ethnicities" within the British Iraqi community.[70] According to the Home Affairs Committee report, from the Balkans, there is an increasing number of Bulgarian Turks and Romanian Turks.[71]

Academic sources suggest that 50 to 70 percent of people from Turkey are Turkish Kurds.[83][84] Furthermore, in recent years, there has been a growing number of ethnic Turks with German, or Dutch citizenship immigrating to Britain.

The Turkish community have established several mosques in the country. The first was Shacklewell Lane Mosque, established by the Turkish Cypriot community in 1977.[85] There are numerous other Turkish Mosques in London, mainly in Hackney, including the Aziziye Mosque[86] and Suleymaniye Mosque.[87] Notable Turkish mosques outside London include Selimiye Mosque in Manchester, Hamidiye Mosque in Leicester, and Osmaniye Mosque in Stoke-on-Trent.[88]


The UK has a significant Iraqi Kurdish population. Academic sources indicate that 65-70% of people originating from Iraq are Kurdish Iraqis.[89] Nearly all Iraqi Kurds are Muslims.[90][91]

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Iraqi Kurds make up the largest group of Kurds in the country, exceeding the numbers from Turkey and Iran.[92]


Aside from North African Arabs, often referred to as Maghrebis (mentioned below), people of Arab origin in Britain are the descendants of Arab immigrants to Britain from a variety of Arab states, including Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine. Most British Arabs are Sunni Muslim, although some – such as those of Iraqi and Lebanese origin – are Shi'ite. A smaller number belong to one of the Eastern Christian denominations, such as Coptic Orthodox and Maronite or Syriac Orthodox Arabs from the Levant and Egypt. The main Arab Muslim communities in the UK live in the Greater London area, with smaller numbers living in Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. There are also sizable and very long-established communities of Muslim Yemenis in the United Kingdom in among other places Cardiff and the South Shields area near Newcastle.

North African both Berbers & Arabs from the Maghreb (English: western) Although data is scarce, Maghrebis make up a substantial community in Europe and the United Kingdom. Britain has far fewer of Maghrebis than France, The Netherlands or Spain, where the majority of Muslims are Maghrebi.[93]

The 2001 UK Census recorded 32,236 Iraqi-born residents,[94] and the Office for National Statistics estimates that, as of 2009, this figure had risen to around 65,000.[95] According to estimates by the Iraqi embassy, the Iraqi population in the UK is around 350,000–450,000.[96]



Somali women at a Somali community gathering event in London
Somali women at a Somali community gathering event in London

The United Kingdom, with 43,532 Somalia-born residents in 2001,[97] and an estimated 101,000 in 2008,[98] is home to the largest Somali community in Europe. A 2009 estimate by Somali community organisations puts the Somali population figure at 90,000 residents.[99] The first Somali immigrants were seamen and traders who arrived in small numbers in port cities in the late 19th century, although most Somalis in the UK are recent arrivals. Further more Somali European such as from Holland or Denmark have been emigrating in recent years.[99] Established Somali communities are found in Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and London, and newer ones have formed in Leicester, Manchester and Sheffield.[100][101][102][103]


A 2009 government paper estimated the Nigerian Muslim community as 12,000 to 14,000.[104] The community is concentrated in London.

Nigerian Muslims in the UK are represented by several community organizations including the Nigeria Muslim Forum.[105]


Demographics of British Muslims (JPR), 2017[106]
Non-denominational Sunni
Other Sunni
Other form of Islam

An August 2017 survey by the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation found that among British Muslims, 75% were Sunni and 8% were Shia.[107] A September 2017 survey by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) found that among British Muslims, 77% were Sunni, 5% were Shia, 1% were Ahmadiyya, and 4% were members of other denominations. 14% of British Muslims said they didn't know or refused to answer the survey.[108]


In 2015, The Economist stated that were 2.3 million Sunnis in the UK.[109]

Among British Sunnis in 2017, 66.7% were just non-denominational Sunni, 5.9% were Barelvi, 5.0% were Salafis, 4.1% were Deobandi, and 18.3% adhered to another Sunni Islam denomination.[110]

The majority of British mosques are Sunni, including Deobandi, Barelvis and Salafi. In 2010 the affiliation of the mosques was: 44.6% Deobandi, 28.2% Barelvi and other Sufi, 5.8% Salafi, 2.8% Maudoodi-inspired; of the remainder many were part of other Sunni traditions or unaffiliated, while 4.2% were Shi'a (4%). The majority of mosque managers are of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, with many Gujarati, and fewer Arab, Turkish and Somali managed entities.[111]


In 2015, The Economist stated that were 400,000 Shias in the UK.[109]

Shia mosques are usually Twelvers but also cater for Zaydis and the 50,000-strong Ismaili community;[112] they usually include facilities for women. Various Shia mosques include the Husseini Islamic Centre in Stanmore, Harrow which acts as one of the main Shia Muslim mosques in Britain as well as Masjid-e-Ali in Luton, one of the largest Imam Bargha/community centres in the UK. Others include Al Masjid ul Husseini in Northolt, Ealing, and Imam Khoei Islamic Centre in Queens Park, Brent. Across the country Manchester, Birmingham and London have the most Shia residents.


The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (AMC) established itself in the UK in 1912 and is thus the longest standing Muslim community in the UK. The UK and worldwide headquarters of the AMC are currently situated on the grounds of 'The London Mosque' (Masjid Fazl), London's first Mosque (1926), in the Southfields area of South-West London. The AMC also has the largest Muslim youth organisation, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya) in the UK (membership of 7,500) and the largest Muslim women's organisation, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women's Association (Lajna Imaila), in the UK (membership of 10,000).[113]


Position in society

Poverty and wealth

According to analysis based on the 2011 census, Muslims in the United Kingdom face poor standards of housing, poorer levels of education and are more vulnerable to long-term illness,[116] and that Muslims in the UK had the highest rate of unemployment, the poorest health, the most disability and fewest educational qualifications among religious groups.[117] The figures were, to some extent, explained by the fact that Muslims were the least well-established group, having the youngest age profile.[117]

Conversely, it was estimated in 2008 that there were approximately 10,000 Muslim millionaires in the UK.[118] There are 13,400 Muslim-owned businesses in London, creating more than 70,000 jobs and representing just over 33 per cent of Small to Medium Enterprises in London.[119]

Law and order

The proportion of Muslims in the UK prison population rose from 8% in 2002 to 15% in 2016.[120] A 2010 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons stated that 30% of the Muslim prisoners interviewed had converted to while in prison, some of whom were "convenience Muslims" who adopted the religion in order to get benefits available only to Muslims.[121]


In 2011, 24.0 per cent of British Muslims had degree level qualifications, compared to 27.2 per cent of the population as a whole.[116] 25.6 per cent of Muslims had no qualifications, compared to the national average of 22.7 per cent.[116] In 2006, it was found that approximately 53% of British Muslim youth chose to attend university.[122] This was higher than the figure for Christians (45%) and the non-religious (32%) but lower than for Hindus (77%) and Sikhs (63%).[122]

There are around 140 Muslim faith schools in the UK, twelve of them being state-funded.[123] In 2008, 86.5% of pupils attending Muslim schools achieved five GCSEs, compared to a figure of 72.8% of Roman Catholic schools and 64.5% of secular schools.[124]

In 2016, Tauheedul Islam Girls' High School in Blackburn with Darwen was ranked first in the Government's new Progress 8 league table, with Tauheedul Islam Boys' High School coming in second place.[125] Some Islamic schools have been accused of promoting extremist versions of Islam.[126]

In 2018,the Crown Prosecution Service brought its first prosecution in England & Wales against an unregistered school, the Islamic faith school Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in Southall, London where nearly 60 children aged 5–11 were being taught.[127][128][129] Head teacher Beatrix Bernhardt and director Nacerdine Talbi were convicted as running a school not registered with the Department for Education violates the Education and Skills Act 2008. They received fines and a curfew.[130]

Islamic scholars and leaders

Several notable Muslim religious leaders and scholars are based in the UK, including:


Sadiq Khan the current Mayor of London, was elected in 2016.
Sadiq Khan the current Mayor of London, was elected in 2016.
Pola Uddin, Baroness Uddin was the first Muslim female to sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Pola Uddin, Baroness Uddin was the first Muslim female to sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Muslims are playing an increasingly prominent role in political life.[131] Fifteen Muslim MPs were elected in the June 2017 general election,[132] and there are nineteen Muslim peers in the House of Lords.[citation needed]

The vast majority of British Muslims vote for the Labour Party,[133] however there are some high-profile Conservative Muslims, including former Minister for Faith and Communities and former Co-Chairman and the Conservative Party Sayeeda Warsi,[134] described by The Guardian as a 'rising star' in the Tory party.[135] The Guardian stated that "The treasury minister is highly regarded on the right and would be the Tories' first Muslim leader." Salma Yaqoob is the former leader of the left-wing Respect Party.[136] Sayeeda Warsi, who was the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet, was appointed by David Cameron in 2010 as a minister without portfolio. She was made a senior minister of state in 2012. In August 2014 she resigned over the government's approach to the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict.[137]

Muslim political parties in Britain have included the People's Justice Party (UK), a Pakistani and Kashmiri party that won city council seats in Manchester in the 2000s,[138] and the unsuccessful Islamic Party of Britain, an Islamist party in Bradford in the 1990s.[139]


There are several Islamic television channels operating in the UK, including British Muslim TV, Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International (MTA International),[140][141] Ummah Channel,[142] Ahlebait TV, and Fadak.

British Muslims are represented in various media positions across different organisations. Notable examples include Mehdi Hasan, the political editor of the UK version of The Huffington Post[143] and the presenter of Al Jazeera English shows The Café and Head to Head,[144] Mishal Husain, a British news presenter for the BBC, currently appearing on BBC World News and BBC Weekend News, Rageh Omaar, special correspondent with ITV and formerly Senior Foreign Correspondent with the BBC and a reporter/presenter for Al Jazeera English,[145] and Faisal Islam, economics editor and correspondent for Channel 4 News.[146]


According to one survey from 2006, around 81% of Muslims think of themselves as Muslim first. Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries also tend to think of themselves as Muslim first rather than identifying with nation states (for example 87% of Pakistanis identify themselves as Muslim first rather than Pakistani).[147] However around 83% of Muslims are proud to be a British citizen, compared to 79% of the general public, 77% of Muslims strongly identify with Britain while only 50% of the wider population do, 86.4% of Muslims feel they belong in Britain, slightly more than the 85.9% of Christians, 82% of Muslims want to live in diverse and mixed neighbourhoods compared to 63% of non-Muslim Britons.[148] In polls taken across Europe 2006, British Muslims hold the most negative view of westerners out of all Muslims in Europe, whilst overall in Britain 63% of British hold the most favourable view of Muslims out of all the European countries (down from 67% the year before).[149]

On religious issues a poll reported that 36% of 16- to 24-year-olds believe if a Muslim converts to another religion they should be punished by death, compared to 19% of 55+ year old Muslims. A poll reported that 59% of Muslims would prefer to live under British law, compared to 28% who would prefer to live under sharia law. 61% of respondents agreed with the statement that homosexuality is wrong and should be illegal.[150][151][152] This appeared to be borne out by a Gallup poll in 2009 of 500 British Muslims, none of whom believed that homosexuality was morally acceptable.[153] Such polls suggest that British Muslims have strongly conservative views on issues relating to extra-marital and/or homosexual sexual acts compared with their European Muslim counterparts – who are markedly more liberal.[153] However, a poll conducted by Demos in 2011 reported that a greater proportion of Muslims (47% – slightly higher than the 46.5% of Christians who agreed with the statement) than other religions agreed with the statement "I am proud of how Britain treats gay people", with less than 11% disagreeing.[154][155][156] On 18 May 2013, just as the bill to legalise same-sex marriages was being prepared to pass into law, over 400 leading Muslims including head teachers and senior representatives of mosques across the country, published an open letter opposing the bill on the grounds that "Muslim parents will be robbed of their right to raise their children according to their beliefs, as homosexual relationships are taught as something normal to their primary-aged children".[157]

A 2013 survey indicated that immigrants from Muslim countries were perceived as integrating less well into British society than immigrants from other countries were.[158] Another poll revealed that 28% of British Muslims hoped that Britain would one day become an Islamic state, while 52% disagreed, and 20% did not venture an opinion either way.[159]


Public demonstration in the United Kingdom for Sharia, October 2009
Public demonstration in the United Kingdom for Sharia, October 2009

Although sharia is not part of the British legal system, several British establishment figures have supported its use in areas of dispute resolution in Islamic communities. For example, in February 2008 Rowan Williams the Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Church of England) lectured at the Royal Courts of Justice on Islam and English Law.[160] In this lecture he spoke of the possibility of using sharia in some circumstances.

[...] it might be possible to think in terms of [...] a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that 'power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents'

Several months later, Lord Phillips, then Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales supported the idea that sharia could be reasonably employed as a basis for "mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution", and explained that "It is not very radical to advocate embracing sharia law in the context of family disputes, for example, and our system already goes a long way towards accommodating the archbishop's suggestion."[161]

In March 2014, The Law Society issued guidance on how to draft sharia-compliant wills for the network of sharia courts which been established to deal with disputes between Muslim families.[162] The guidance was withdrawn later in 2014 following criticism by solicitors and by Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary.[163]

In 2016-2018 an independent panel commissioned by the UK government investigated the practices of sharia councils operating in England and Wales. The councils have no legal status and no legal jurisdiction in the UK. Estimates for their number range between 30 and 85. The investigation found that most people consulting the councils are women seeking an Islamic divorce. The review concluded that "there is unanimous agreement among the sharia councils themselves that discriminatory practices do occur in some instances within the councils in England and Wales" and made legislative and administrative recommendations to remedy the abuses. The panel was not aware of any sharia councils operating in Scotland.[164]

Extremist ideology

In June 2017, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, said that difficult conversations are needed, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology.[12][13] Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat, foreign affairs spokesman has said that Saudi Arabia provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, espousing a very hardline Wahhabist interpretation of Islam.[14]

Political scientist Olivier Roy argues that the majority of Islamic terrorists are radicals first and are drawn to fundamentalist Islam as a result,[15] whereas fellow political scientist Gilles Kepel argues that terrorists are radicalized by Salafi ideology before choosing violence.[16] Roy has also argued that the burkini bans and secularist policies of France provoked religious violence in France, to which Kepel responded that Britain has no such policies and still suffered several jihadist attacks in 2017 while there were no major attacks in France.[16]

Some preachers in London's mosques look for Muslim boys who lack clear direction, and set them on the path to radicalisation and terror.[165]

According to Gilles de Kerchove in 2017, the UK had the highest number of Islamist radicals in the EU numbering between 20-25,000. Of those, 3000 were considered a direct threat by MI5 and 500 were under constant surveillance.[166] Among those known to security services but not considered an immediate threat were the terrorists of three ISIS-linked attacks in 2017 which killed 35 victims in the UK.[166]

Henry Jackson Society report

In July 2017, a report by the Henry Jackson Society, which was commissioned by the UK government, said that Middle Eastern nations are providing financial support to mosques and Islamic educational institutions, which have been linked to the spread of extremist material with "an illiberal, bigoted Wahhabi ideology".[167][168] The report said that the number of Salafi and Wahhabi mosques in Britain had increased from 68 in 2007 to 110 in 2014.[169]


The British media has been criticised for propagating negative [stereotypes of Muslims and fueling anti-Muslim prejudice.[170] In 2006, British cabinet ministers were criticised for helping to "unleash a public anti-Muslim backlash" by blaming the Muslim community over issues of integration despite a study commissioned by the Home Office on white and Asian-Muslim youths demonstrating otherwise: that Asian-Muslim youths "are in fact the most tolerant of all" and that white British youths "have far more intolerant attitudes," concluding that intolerance from the white British community was a greater "barrier to integration."[171][172] Another survey by Gallup in 2009 also found that the Muslim community feels more patriotic about Britain than the general British population,[173][174] while another survey found that Muslims assert that they support the role of Christianity in British life more so than Christians themselves.[175] A survey by ICM Research found that 52% of the Muslims said they believe homosexuality should be illegal which contrasted with the non-Muslim public at 22%.[citation needed] In January 2010, the British Social Attitudes Survey found that the general British public "is far more likely to hold negative views of Muslims than of any other religious group," with "just one in four" feeling "positively about Islam," and a "majority of the country would be concerned if a mosque was built in their area, while only 15 per cent expressed similar qualms about the opening of a church."[176]

There has also been discrimination by orthodox Sunni Muslims against Ahmadiyya Muslims. In 2014, on the 125 anniversary of the establishment of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Community published an advertisement in the Luton on Sunday. Following a written complaint from Dr Fiaz Hussain, co-ordinator of the Preservation of Finality of Prophethood Forum (PFPF), stating that the Ahmadiyya community should not be called "Muslim" because it rejected some of the basic principles of Islam,[177] the paper received a delegation of 'Community Leaders' and shortly afterwards printed an apology disassociating itself from the Ahmadiyya advertisement.[178] Tell MAMA responded by identifying attempts to intimidate or discriminate against Ahmadiyya Muslims "as anti-Muslim in nature".[179] A survey conducted in 2017 revealed widespread opposition to Muslim immigration across UK. 47% are opposed to further Muslim immigration, according to a survey conducted by Chatham House. Furthermore, 55% of Britons believe there is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society, according to a YouGov poll. Various other surveys have also shown that such attitudes amongst all European citizens.[180]


There have been cases of threats,[181] one alleged fatal attack,[182] and non-fatal attacks on Muslims and on Muslim targets, including attacks on Muslim graves[183] and mosques.[184] In January 2010, a report from the University of Exeter's European Muslim Research Centre noted that the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes has increased, ranging from "death threats and murder to persistent low-level assaults, such as spitting and name-calling," for which the media and politicians have been blamed with fueling anti-Muslim hatred.[185][186][187] However, Met Police figures showed an 8.5 per cent fall in anti-Muslim crimes between 2009 and 2012, with a spike in 2013 due to the murder of Lee Rigby.[188]

Hard-line groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir use accusations of islamophobia to sillence legitimate debate about extremism. While they in general are opposed to Western-style human rights, they use human rights to promote an Islamist ideology.[189]


The emergence of the English Defence League has resulted in demonstrations in English cities with large Muslim populations.[190][191][192][193][194] The EDL is a right wing, anti Islam[191][192][195][196][197] street protest movement which opposes what it considers to be a spread of Islamism, Sharia law and Islamic extremism in the United Kingdom.[198][199][200][201][202] The EDL has been described by The Jewish Chronicle as Islamophobic.[203] The group has faced confrontations with various groups, including supporters of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Anonymous, of which the latter has also harassed Muslims as well.[204][full citation needed][205][206]

Notable mosques

Jamea Masjid in Preston, known for its architectural design
Jamea Masjid in Preston, known for its architectural design
The London Central Mosque located in London, and built in 1977
The London Central Mosque located in London, and built in 1977

See also



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Further reading

  • Koenig, Matthias. "Incorporating Muslim migrants in Western nation states—a comparison of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany." in Marian Burchardt & Ines Michalowski, eds., After Integration (Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, 2015) pp. 43–58.
  • Lewicki, Aleksandra, and Therese O’Toole. "Acts and practices of citizenship: Muslim women’s activism in the UK. "Ethnic and Racial Studies 40#1 (2017): 152-171.
  • Lewicki, Aleksandra. Social Justice Through Citizenship?: The Politics of Muslim Integration in Germany and Great Britain (Springer, 2014).
  • Lewis, Valerie A., and Ridhi Kashyap. "Piety in a Secular Society: Migration, Religiosity, and Islam in Britain." International Migration 51#3 (2013): 57-66.
  • Model, Suzanne, and Lang Lin. "The cost of not being Christian: Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in Britain and Canada." International Migration Review 36#4 (2002): 1061-1092.
  • Peach, Ceri, and Richard Gale. "Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs in the new religious landscape of England." Geographical Review 93#4 (2003): 469-490.

External links

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