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Islam in the United Kingdom

05 July, 2014 14:20
Islam in the United Kingdom


Prior to the end of the Second World War, there had for some time been a small Islamic presence in Britain. Britain’s colonial heritage meant that it had had some amount of contact with the religion of Islam for several centuries. During the nineteenth century the Islamic presence in Britain expanded, as foreign workers arrived in Britain’s seaport cities as a source of cheap labor. Some were Muslim, and this lead to the emergence of small Muslim communities in cities such as London, Liverpool and Woking. This resulted in the construction of Britain’s first all-purpose Mosque, built in Woking in 1889.1 It was in the years following the end of World War II, however, that the majority of Muslim immigration to Britain occurred. This was an era of decolonization. Following the partition of India, many Muslims from South Asia (the majority of whom were from Pakistan) arrived in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s. After the war, Britain was in the process of rebuilding its devastated economy and infrastructure, and so it benefited profoundly from this source of cheap labor. Ikhlaq Din has challenged the suggestion that “many Pakistanis who came to the United Kingdom…[were] reluctant migrants”.2 Instead he contends that for many of these people, “England was vilayat, ‘a place of dreams’”.3 He supports this by pointing out that many of the Pakistanis who came to the UK “belonged to the lower castes…and had little opportunity to better themselves back in Pakistan”.4 Although the majority of South Asian Muslims to arrive in Britain after the war were Pakistani, a small amount of Indian Muslims also arrived, and they were followed by a wave of new Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh during the 1980s. Some East African Asian Muslims also arrived in Britain during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a result of ‘Africanization’ policies in countries which had been affected by British colonial influence. East African Asian Muslims from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda all settled in Britain at this time. The 2001 census revealed that there are roughly 1.6 million Muslims currently living in Britain, 2.7% of the overall population. This population is “a fast growing and young population”,5 with 60% being below 30 years old. The cities with the largest Muslim populations are: London (607,000), Birmingham (140,000), Greater Manchester (125,000), Bradford (75,000) and Kirklees (39,000).6 Although roughly 50% of Muslims living in Britain are of either Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, Britain’s Muslim community is ethnically diverse: “Britain’s Muslims are of varied ethnic backgrounds: two thirds are of South Asian origin but about 8 per cent are of African origin and about 12 per cent are white”.7

Labor Market 

The unemployment rates for Muslims living in Britain are disproportionately high. In its 2004 Annual Population Survey, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in Britain found that unemployment rates for Muslims were higher than those for people from any other religion, for both men and women.8 In 2004, 13% of Muslim men in Britain were unemployed, which was over three times the rate for Christian men (4%). Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 years old were found to have the highest unemployment rates− 28%, compared to 11% for Christian males from the same age group. The ONS survey also revealed that “men and women of working age from the Muslim faith are…more likely than other groups in Great Britain to be economically inactive, that is, not available for work and/or not actively seeking work”. In Birmingham (the British city with the largest Muslim population outside of London), Muhammad Anwar has noted that there exists a strong correlation between the areas of Birmingham where the city’s Muslims are most concentrated, and the areas of Birmingham which contain the city’s highest unemployment rates.9 Nevertheless, we should note that the extent to which unemployment and religious identity are linked remains unclear. As the Open Society Institute’s 2004 report Aspirations and Reality: British Muslims and the Labour Market states:
The extent to which religion is a driver for labour market outcomes is not yet known. This is a significant knowledge gap and further analysis is needed to improve our understanding of the British Muslim group as a whole.10

We should also note that there is significant diversity within the Muslim community with regards to unemployment rates. For instance, levels of unemployment among young British Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are significantly higher than those among young British Muslims of Indian descent. Nevertheless, on the issue of unemployment, many have concluded that significant discrimination towards Muslims still exists in Britain.11 For instance, in 2004 a BBC investigation found that “candidates with English-sounding names were nearly three times as likely to get [a job] interview as those with names indicating that they might be Muslim.”12


The 2001 census revealed that 51% of Muslim households in the UK are owner occupiers, compared with 69% of households nationally. Out of this 51%, two thirds are likely to own their home with a loan or mortgage.13 As Tufyal Choudhury writes, “Muslims in the UK are disproportionately represented in the most deprived urban areas”.14 In the case of the majority of Muslim immigrants to the UK, this disadvantage began immediately upon their arrival in Britain in the decades following the end of the Second World War. Institutional discrimination meant that many Muslims suffered acute disadvantage in the housing market.15 Indeed, it was not until the late 1960s that the Local Authority housing sector began accepting applications from ethnic minorities, and even then “minority ethnic applicants were offered a very limited range of local authority housing options, which brought them a disproportionate share of poor accommodation on the least popular estates”.16 Muslims in the UK are also disproportionately likely to live in poor quality accommodation. The 2001 Census showed, for instance, that “Muslims have the highest percentage of households with the highest rating of overcrowding when compared to all religious groups, and more than four times the national figure”, and that “Muslim households are the least likely [when compared to all religious groups] to have central heating in their homes”.17) Indeed, a report issued by the Islamic Human Rights Commission in 2001 argues that in the city of Oldham (which famously experienced some of Britain’s worst ever race riots in May 2001), “the predominantly Muslim Asian community…suffers disproportionately”.18 The report notes that “thirteen per cent of Oldham’s housing stock is “statutorily unfit for human habitation and a further 28% are in serious disrepair,” and suggests that “according to Oldham Council, the principal victims of these poor conditions are the predominantly Muslim Asian community.” Deborah Phillips has questioned the common assumption that Muslims living in the UK choose to ‘cluster together’ and self-segregate.19 She argues that: Segregated patterns of living have not necessarily arisen through the minority ethnic choice implicit in discourses of self-segregation. Given ethnic inequalities in access to power and resources, the sustained patterns of settlement in deprived inner-city living are more likely to reflect the choices of white, non-Muslim people and institutions.20 In an earlier article Phillips had suggested that “The fear of racial attack remains a pervasive force for clustering”.21) In conclusion, structural injustices, institutional discrimination, racism (whether real or perceived, or both), and many other factors have meant that Muslims tend to fare relatively badly in the UK housing market. Furthermore, it should be noted that “disadvantage arising from exclusion in the housing market was reinforced by the weak position of the minority ethnic groups in the labor market”.22


The OECD collects data on education from various statistical agencies within the country, the majority of which comes from census data from the year 2000. The OECD classifies educational achievement using the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED): ISCED 0/1/2: Less than upper secondary; ISCED 3/4: Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary; ISCED 5A: “Academic” tertiary; ISCED 5B: “Vocational” tertiary; ISCED 6: Advanced research programs. 0-2 are considered low, 3-4 as medium, and 5 and above are considered high. This data is not reported by religion, but does have country of origin as reported by the respondent. It is thus possible to construct an approximate picture of the educational achievement of the population in the country with ancestry from predominately Muslim countries. One significant problem is that some countries, such as India and Nigeria, have large Muslim populations but the immigrant population cannot be readily classified as predominately Muslim or non-Muslim. As such, the educational data is split by predominately Muslim origin, predominately non-Muslim origin, and a separate category for those whom classification would not seem justified. Proportions are for all reported data, individuals with no reported ancestry or education are excluded.
Educational Achievement using the International

Standard Classification of Education (ISCED)

                               High                       Medium                       Low
Muslim                    27%                             19%                       54%
Non-Muslim           21%                             29%                       51%
Indeterminate        35%                             20%                       45%

Church and State

The Anglican Church has been the established church for centuries, and the head of state (currently Queen Elizabeth II) is also the head of the Anglican Church. However, there is religious freedom in the UK and generally good relations between the state and religious minorities. Queen Elizabeth II is known in the UK as “Defender of the Faith”, though the next in line to the throne, Prince Charles I, has said he would adopt the title “Defender of the faiths”. This has been criticized by Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury.23) The tremendous public import of the Rushdie Affair created the conditions for a critique of public culture. Like the race riots in 1958 and 1981, or Enoch Powell’s famous “rivers of blood” speech in 1968, the Rushdie affair was a milestone in the evolution of race relations in the UK. Until that point, the debate about how multiculturalism is best achieved had been mainly led by members of the majority population, while minorities were mainly passive. Before the Rushdie affair, “integration” had been seen to mean, in effect, “assimilation” (that is, the adjustment of minorities to the dominant society). After the Rushdie affair, however, it came to be seen more as a mutual process, where the majority population would also have to adapt to a certain extent. Until 2008, the UK had a centuries old ‘blasphemy law’, the purpose of which was to protect the “tenets and beliefs of the Church of England”.24) This law had come under attack in recent years, with some Muslim leaders arguing for it to be extended so as to afford the same kind of protection to all religions. Other groups, such as the National Secular Society, argued that the laws should be abolished altogether. In May 2008, the UK Blasphemy laws were abolished by Act of Parliament. There is an ongoing debate within the UK today about British identity and the future of multiculturalism. There is disagreement over the role Islam and other religions should play in public life, and also on the extent to which the UK can now be described as a ‘secular’ society. In 2000 the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain published a report (which later became known as the Parekh report, the Commission having been chaired by Lord Parekh) which suggested that “the national story and national identity” needed to be rethought.25) The report and its possible future implications caused some controversy within the UK. There are various examples one could cite of tensions regarding the future of multiculturalism in the UK. Most notably, the current Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams recently sparked a vicious debate by suggesting that some aspects of Shari’a Law could perhaps be incorporated into UK law. The comments seem to have been meant as a well-meaning gesture of accommodation, but they received widespread criticism. Williams himself argued that he had been misrepresented.26) There has also been recent controversy in the UK over proposals to build a mosque near the site of the 2012 London Olympics. The Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat would finance the mosque’s construction. It was first reported that the Abbey Mills mosque would be the biggest mosque in Europe and the UK’s largest religious building, although these reports may have been exaggerated.27) The close historic relationship between the Anglican Church and the state in the UK may actually benefit Muslims in some respects. Fetzer and Soper have argued that in the UK, “the existence of a religious establishment implicitly aids Muslims”.28 They highlight that when Muslims in the UK recently pushed for state funding of Muslim schools, it was in fact the Anglican Church that used its position of privilege to help give them an audible voice.

Muslims in Legislatures

In the elections of May 2005, there were 48 Muslim candidates from the three major parties. However, only four were victorious. This lead to suggestions that the main political parties in the UK were unwilling to put forward Muslim candidates in seats they believed to be winnable.29) All four MPs are from the Labour Party, with Shahid Malik MP and Sadiq Khan MP having been newly elected in 2005, and Mohammad Sarwar MP and Khalid Mahmood MP having been re-elected. In the European Parliament, there are two Muslim members, Syed Kamall and Sajjad Karim. There are also several Muslim members of the House of Lords: Baroness Paula Uddin, Lord Nazir Ahmed, Lord Patel of Blackburn, Baroness Kishwar Falconer and Lord Amir Bhaita. Other Muslims prominent in political parties are Sayeeda Warsi (Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party) and Fiyaz Mughal (Liberal Democrat). Recently announced Britain’s most powerful Muslim Woman, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi is one of the most well known British Muslim politicians. As member of David Cameron’s shadow cabinet she is Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action. Prior to that she was Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party. Mrs Warsi was born in Dewsbury in 1971 to Pakistani parents. She was educated at Birkdale High School and Dewsbury College, and then at the University of Leeds where she read law (LLB). She attended the York College of Law to complete the Legal Practice Course and then trained with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Home Office Immigration Department. After qualifying as a solicitor, Mrs Warsi worked for John Whitfield, the last Conservative Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, at Whitfield Hallam Goodall Solicitors; she then went on to set up her own specialist practice George Warsi Solicitors in Dewsbury. In 2007, Mrs Warsi was awarded life peerage, since bearing the title Baroness Warsi, of Dewsbury in the county of West Yorkshire, and is now a member of the House of Lords. She is committed to issues of ethnic minority rights, having been an executive member of the Kirklees Racial Equality Council and representing the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust’s Racial Justice Committee at national conferences. Mrs Warsi has also worked on a research project on forced marriages for the Ministry of Law in Pakistan. Recently she sparked a debate on religious marriages in the UK that are not officially registered and pave the way for polygamy. She was the first politician to demand the government take action to prevent this process. In 2007, together with Lord Ahmed of the Labour Party she travelled to Sudan and successfully urged President Omar al-Bashir to release English teacher Gillian Gibson, who had been jailed for naming a teddy bear ‘Mohammed’. Being the youngest member of the House of Lords, Mrs Warsi has also faced criticism of lacking experience or sometimes being “opinionated purely for the sake of it”. Other criticism has also addressed her support for introducing an immigration quota and her opposition to sexual education in schools. On the other hand, with a working class background and a straight career to the top, Mrs Warsi’s political freshness and frankness can also be a merit. Often referred as one of the raising stars of the Conservative Party, her political career is likely to have just begun.30 31 32

In the 2010 elections, the number of Muslim MPs has doubled to eight. Three women entered parliament as the first female Muslim MPs. Six of the elected are members of the Labour party and two are Conservatives, being the first Conservative Muslim MPs.

Of the four Muslim MPs who won in the previous elections – Sadiq Khan, Khalid Mahmood, Mohammad Sarwar and Shahid Malik – the former two got reelected, Mohammed Sarwar got replaced by this son Anas, and only Shahid Malik lost his seat. The three other Muslim Labour MPs are all female: Yasmin Qureshi, Shabana Mahmood and Rushnara Ali.

The first Muslim MPs to enter parliament for the Conservative Party are Sajid Javid and Rehman Chisti.

The new Cabinet has only one Muslim minister, but it is the first female Muslim. Sayeeda Warsi, who is also a peer and a member of the House of Lords, became the Conservative Party’s chairwoman and minister without portfolio in the new coalition government. During the Conservative’s opposition, Warsi was the shadow minister for community cohesion.

Sadiq Khan (was Minister of State for Transport)             Labour           since 2005
Khalid Mahmood                                                                      Labour          since 2001
Anas Sarwar                                                                              Labour          since 2010
Yasmin Qureshi                                                                        Labour          since 2010
Shabana Mahmood                                                                   Labour          since 2010
Rushnara Ali                                                                              Labour          since 2010
Sajid Javid                                                                              Conservative   since 2010
Rehman Chisti                                                                        Conservative   since 2010

In the 2010 elections, the number of Muslim MPs has doubled to eight. Three women entered parliament as the first female Muslim MPs. Six of the elected are members of the Labour party and two are Conservatives, being the first Conservative Muslim MPs.

Of the four Muslim MPs who won in the previous elections – Sadiq Khan, Khalid Mahmood, Mohammad Sarwar and Shahid Malik – the former two got reelected, Mohammed Sarwar got replaced by this son Anas, and only Shahid Malik lost his seat. The three other Muslim Labour MPs are all female: Yasmin Qureshi, Shabana Mahmood and Rushnara Ali.

The first Muslim MPs to enter parliament for the Conservative Party are Sajid Javid and Rehman Chisti.

The new Cabinet has only one Muslim minister, but it is the first female Muslim. Sayeeda Warsi, who is also a peer and a member of the House of Lords, became the Conservative Party’s chairwoman and minister without portfolio in the new coalition government. During the Conservative’s opposition, Warsi was the shadow minister for community cohesion.

Sadiq Khan 

Born 1970 in London, studied law, trained as a human rights solicitor. Entered the parliament in 2005 and in 2009 he became the first Muslim in cabinet as Minister of State for Transport. In 2010 re-elected as MP and became Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. Labour since 2005

Khalid Mahmood 

Born in 1961, trained as an engineer. 1990-1993 Birmingham City Councillor. Entered the parliament in 2001, failed to be re-elected in 2005, but won his seat back in 2010. Labour 2001-2005 since 2010

Anas Sarwar 

Born in 1983, trained as a dentist. One of the youngest MPs. His father became the first Muslim MP in Britain in 1997. Labour since 2010

Yasmin Qureshi 

Born in 1963 in Gujrat, moved to Britain in 1972, qualified as a barrister. Was the Head of the Criminal Legal Section of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Director of the department of Judicial Administration in Kosovo. She served as the London Mayor’s Human Rights advisor and entered parliament in 2010 as one of the three first female Muslim MPs. Labour since 2010

Shabana Mahmood 

Born in Birmingham, she was educated at Oxford and worked as a barrister. In 2010 she entered the parliament as one of the first three Muslim women to become British MPs. Labour since 2010

Rushnara Ali 

Born in Bangladesh, moved to Britain at age of seven, grown up in London’s East End, educated at Oxford. She had jobs in Parliament, the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office before being elected one of the first female Muslim MPs in 2010. Labour since 2010

Sajid Javid 

Born in the UK, studied economics and politics, worked as a banker. He was elected as one of the first two Muslim MPs of the Conservative Party in 2010. Conservative since 2010

Rehman Chisti 

Studied law and worked as a barrister before pursuing a political career. Along with Sajid Javid he is the first Conservative MP of Muslim background. Conservative since 2010.

` First Muslim woman mayor, Navida Ikram, mother of three, was born in the UK and, apart from some years she spent in the Punjab as a treenager, lived in Bradford for most of her life. She studied psychology and sociology and already served as deputy Lord Mayor of Bradford since 2009. As the Daily Mail reports, Ikram is particularly keen to focus on community cohesion in Bradford during her time as Mayor.3334

Muslim Organizations 

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is the primary representative organization for Muslims in the UK, with a network of at least 380 smaller organizations. It was founded in 1997 after a meeting of a number of Muslim organizations and is associated with about 70% of Muslims in Great Britain. It is composed of national, regional, and local organizations organized into geographical zones. There are several more academic and elite organizations which also play important roles in the UK. The Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR) was founded after September 11th and works in lobbying and research. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) works to empower Muslims at the grassroots. The Islamic Cultural Centre, which includes the London Central Mosque, was established in 1944 and maintains a board of trustees of prominent Muslims, local and international. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the UK and Eire organizes student groups, and the Islamic Mission pursues education and other charity work across the UK. In 1884, the organization Islamic Relief was founded in Birmingham, UK. In recent years (particularly in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings) the government has sought to engage with ‘representative’ Muslim organizations such as the MCB. However, questions have been raised about the extent to which such organizations are in fact representative of the UK’s (incredibly diverse) Muslim community. The problem is that the government “does not know how far [these representative]…organizations…can reach out to, let alone influence, the sections of the Islamic community who are susceptible to [extremism].”35

Islamic Education

Research by the Muslim Council of Britain found that Muslims identified access to quality education as the issue most important to them; it was more important than all other issues combined. For young Muslims the education system is their earliest and most significant point of contact with the wider community. The messages that the school system provides in respecting and accommodating their needs will be a vital influence on their attitude to integration and participation in society. The majority of Muslims continue to be educated in non-Muslim State schools and many Muslim community organizations have expressed concern about the ability of these schools to meet the needs of Muslim pupils. English is the main medium of instruction in schools in all parts of the United Kingdom except in Wales, where the medium of instruction is English or Welsh. Over 500 primary and secondary schools in Wales use Welsh as their medium of instruction, and local education authorities are required to prepare Welsh language education schemes, setting out their plans for providing education through the medium of both languages. Culturally specific education is also offered in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In the government’s view, a good command of English is essential to ensure pupils are able to fully participate in the opportunities schools have to offer. The main responsibility of maintaining the mother tongue remains with the minority communities, although local education authorities are able to support ethnic minority communities to set up supplementary schools, which provide education in the evening or on Saturdays, to maintain linguistic and cultural traditions. The diversity of the UK’s Muslim communities means that there is no single “community language” in which education should be delivered. Thus, access to primary, secondary and tertiary education in a single minority language is not a specific concern of Muslim communities, although it may be an issue for particular Muslim communities that are also minority linguistic communities such as the Bangladeshi or Turkish communities. The more important issue for Muslim communities is access to classes for learning Arabic. Schools are required to offer pupils the option of studying an official EU language, but it is left to their discretion to offer other languages. Learning Arabic might be an option but the availability of such classes is dependent upon circumstances and resources. Many Muslim children will learn to read Arabic in order to read the Qur’an, irrespective of its availability as a curriculum option. Such classes take place in mosques but the quality of the language tuition is unregulated. Religious communities have a right to establish their own independent schools, although such schools must be registered with the Registrar of Independent Schools and must meet certain minimum standards. In England and Wales, there has traditionally been State funding for Church of England, Catholic and Jewish faith schools. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, there has traditionally been State funding for Catholic schools. Since 1997, the Labour government has extended this funding to other minority faith schools, including Muslim schools. At present there is State funding of seven Muslim schools, among them: Al Furqan School in Birmingham, Islamia School in London and Feversham College in Bradford. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that there is a “significant interest” among about 30 of England’s 120 independent Muslim schools to enter the state sector, and the government has indicated that the number of faith schools in the UK could increase in the coming years.36 Proposals to increase the role of faith schools in the State education sector have generated much debate. Some are worried about the consequences of having an increased number of faith schools in the UK.37) The Commission for Racial Equality has expressed concern that single faith schools could damage multiculturalism, and the Cantle Report cautioned that the funding of faith schools would increase social segregation between different minority communities. One response to this is a proposal by faith communities for “multi-faith” schools that would appreciate faith but would not be targeted at a particular faith. In January 2008, a House of Commons select committee raised concerns about the government’s proposals to increase the number of faith schools in the UK.38) These proposals remain a lively topic of conversation in the UK today. The Government remains committed to increasing the role of faith schools in the State sector but has said that new faith schools will have to “demonstrate how they will be inclusive and work in partnership with other schools.” The Government recently rejected a proposal in the Cantle Report that at least 25 percent of the intake in a faith school reflect the other cultures and ethnicities within the local area, but they want to “encourage all schools to ensure that their intake reflects the local community in all their diversity.” There are currently two institutions dedicated to the training of imams, the Muslim College in London which was established in 1981, and the Markfield Institute of Higher Education in Leicestershire, with an ambitious set of courses which was established in 2000. 

Security, Immigration and Anti Terrorism Issues

The UK is a party to the Framework Convention on National Minorities, and proclaims an integration policy based on valuing and promoting cultural diversity. As Muslims navigate integration into British society, so they challenge the wider society to change and adapt to ensure that society is inclusive of their distinct cultures and values. Muslims generally enjoy the right to practice their religion. However, certain obstacles arise from the many social practices that are structured around basic Christian assumptions, which accommodate the needs of Christians but not of other minority faith communities. The United Kingdom is a party to most international instruments requiring respect for and protection of minorities. The major exceptions remain the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ratification of an international treaty does not lead automatically to its incorporation into domestic law, although the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) gives effect in domestic law to some of the rights in the ECHR. The constitutional structure adds to the complexity of the framework for minority protection. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own legal regimes, and devolved administrations can develop their own equal opportunities policies, although all are bound by the devolution legislation to refrain from acting in any way that is incompatible with the ECHR. Religion and religious discrimination also have a different meaning and resonance. In Northern Ireland and Scotland religious discrimination is usually understood to refer to sectarian tensions between the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities. This affects the attitude towards issues raised by the Muslim community. For example, in Scotland faith-based schools are seen, by some, as part of the problem in terms of the sectarian divide: “people think that the solution is to treat everybody the same: it’s not to have different services, not to have different schooling, or to meet the needs of Muslims.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations on the UK’s fifth periodic report has said that the UK should take steps “to ensure that all persons are protected from discrimination on account of their religious belief.” The most immediate pressure for amendments to existing legislation and policy for tackling discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief comes from the European Union. In 2003, Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 were introduced. The new legislation has made it a positive duty on public authorities to promote equality and eliminate unlawful discrimination. These duties apply to procurement, grant and subsidy, licensing, and franchising functions. They require employers to take responsibility for achieving equality through developing equal employment and pay equity plans. The Association of Muslim Lawyers (UK) has acknowledged that the regulations “afford some protection from religious discrimination in the work place.”39 In the United Kingdom, the Terrorism Act of 2000 superseded the existing anti-terrorism laws, namely the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act of 1996. Association with proscribed groups, including participation in forums in which these groups were also involved was to be considered a criminal offence. More specific law enforcement powers were similar to provisions that had existed under UK law prior to the act. Police were entitled to the powers of arrest and search without warrant for those they considered as possible terrorists. A separate legal system for terrorism offences was affirmed. This includes special ongoing courts without access to jury trial, as the United Kingdom had been using in Northern Ireland. Access to lawyers was restricted relative to other offences, and interrogation rules were relaxed. Virtually all of the proscribed domestic groups were associated with the conflict in Northern Ireland, while most of the international groups were Islamic to some degree. With the decline of the threat from Northern Ireland and the increase from Islamic terrorism, this emphasis has shifted. In November 2001, the UK published a new Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill on November 13, 2001.40 This bill was largely aimed at addressing the problems of terrorism from international sources, and thus differentiated between that associated with Northern Ireland, and that associated with Islamic radicalism. For instance, the law allowed the indefinite detention of foreign nationals whom it was not considered safe to deport to their country of origin. Although certification of such status is left entirely with the Home Secretary, it can be appealed to a special immigration commission. Since the passage of the act, at least 500 individuals have been detained, although the vast majority have been ultimately released. Further provisions allowed the freezing and confiscation of funds associated with terrorism or proscribed groups, limited the disclosure requirements for anti-terrorism investigations and placed the discretion with the prosecuting authorities. Individuals are required not only to refrain from association with suspected terrorists and proscribed organizations, but also are required to report any suspicions to the law, with criminal penalties for those who do not comply. Legal authorities may detain and interrogate individuals in anticipation of violence rather than in response to the action. The state is now allowed to compel communications companies to retain information regarding the action of suspects. Further aspects of the act concern the use and transportation of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, new licensing requirements for the keeping of pathogens or toxins, and increases in the penalties for crimes associated with aviation security. In 2006, more controversial legislation was introduced by the government. The original draft of the Terrorism Act (2006) would have allowed those suspected of terrorist involvement to have been detained for up to 90 days without trail. This was a particularly controversial area of the proposed legislation, and although it was supported by the police and by Tony Blair’s government, it was widely criticized by MPs on the grounds that it undermined Britain’s historic commitment to civil liberties. Although the act was passed, this part of the bill was famously rejected by the House of Commons on 9th November 2005. Tony Blair had told Parliament earlier that day that “sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing.”41) It was Blair’s first defeat in the House of Commons since becoming Prime Minister. The government did, however, manage to extend existing legislation, meaning that terrorist suspects could, with the passing of the 2006 Terrorism Act, be held for a maximum of 28 days without trial. At the time of writing, Gordon Brown’s government is trying to get another Counter Terrorism Bill through the Commons, which is again proving unpopular with many MPs. The new bill may aim to extend, under certain circumstances, the amount of time a terrorist suspect can be held without charge to 42 days.42) A study by the Institute of Race Relations suggests that some of the new anti-terrorism statutes have been used overwhelmingly against Muslim defendants. Of the hundreds of arrests only a handful have to this date led to convictions. There has also been a tendency to extend the anti-terrorism laws to cover routine criminal acts and immigration violations committed by Muslims. Of the cases reviewed, one in eight was a Muslim arrested for terrorism violations and turned over to the immigration authorities without any prosecution for the alleged initial offences. Several Muslims have been arrested for crimes such as credit card fraud due to the expanded police powers provided by the anti-terrorism statutes. The increase in the number of Asians stopped and searched has also been disproportionately high in recent years. In London, there have been major reported increases in the number of Asians who are being stopped and searched. In 2003, it was reported that nationally, Asians were now 2 and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than Whites.43 However, the government has claimed that it will not pursue selective policies against Muslims in response to the July 7 attacks. On July 7th 2005, four British-born44 Muslims bombed the London Underground. 52 people were killed. The ringleader of the attacks seems to have been Mohammed Sidique Kahn, one of the four bombers. He lived in the Beeston area of Leeds, and only months before the 7/7 attacks had been a teaching assistant at Hillside Primary School. After the attacks a video was aired on the Arabic television channel Al-Jazeera, where Kahn explains his motives.45 It is likely that British involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were among the causal factors which lead to the bombings. Many also argue that a wider sense of disillusionment with British society (and specifically with the place of Muslims within it) may also have been to blame. In the wake of the London bombings, two major reports were issued: the Report of the Official Account of the London Bombings in London on 7th July 200546 and the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Report into the London Terrorist Attacks on 7 July 2005.47) The former concluded that “the extent of Al Qaida involvement is unclear” and also that “it remains unclear whether others in the UK were involved in radicalizing or inciting the group, or in helping them to plan and execute [the attacks]”. Two weeks after the 7/7 bombings, on July 21st 2005, there were four more attempted bomb attacks on London’s transport network, although these failed. In August 2006, British authorities foiled another major terrorist plot, where the apparent plan was to blow up aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean during flights between the UK and the US. It seems that those involved had planned to use liquids in order to do this.48) After the bombings of the subway in London, the government introduced a number of new anti-terrorism measures, most notably the Terrorism Act of 2006 (see above). The UK deported at least 500 suspected extremists in the weeks following the attacks. British intelligence has also begun to establish internal security units to monitor Muslims suspected of sympathy towards Al Qaeda. An ongoing controversy has developed over the new policy of ‘shoot-to-kill’ terrorism suspects by UK police. This has been fuelled by the mistaken killing of a Brazilian immigrant in a case in which the London police department has been severely criticized for its policies and openness to public inquiry. On June 11, Gordon Brown’s government passed a controversial measure that would allow terror suspects to be held 42 days without charge. The previous measure allowed for 28-day detainment without charge. In 2006, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act49) was passed by parliament. The majority of the act is now in force in the UK, and while it affords Muslims in the UK protections they did not previously possess, it also makes it illegal to say or write things with the intention of stirring up religious hatred. In 2007, Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal (who is thought to have been an influence on one of the four London bombers) was deported from the UK for seeking to incite racial hatred.50) The United Kingdom has had more experience with immigration than most other European countries. In absolute rather than proportional numbers, the United Kingdom takes in more asylum seekers than any other country in the world (ENAR Untied Kingdom Shadow Report, 2003). Most are judged eligible for financial support, but new restrictions and tighter enforcement begun in the last few years has rapidly increased the numbers considered ineligible. In 2003, the government proposed its fifth asylum Bill in eleven years, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatments and Claimants, etc) Bill. This bill increases penalties for asylum seekers without proper papers, gives new police and enforcement powers to immigration officers, introduces electronic tagging for asylum seekers, extends the list of ‘safe countries’ and removes a number of appeal rights. Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, now refuses financial support to asylum seekers who don’t apply within three days of their entry into the country. This has had serious impacts on the health and well-being of asylum seekers.51 Immigration remains a hot topic of debate in Britain. Recent waves of Eastern European integration from the new EU member states have re-focused attention on this issue. There is also certain level of unease throughout much of Europe about the possibility of future Turkish membership of the EU, a country whose population is predominantly Muslim. In many respects, laws relating to immigration in the UK have been tightened in recent years, and the government still has plans to introduce controversial I.D. cards.52)

Bias and Discrimination 

In the United Kingdom, South Asian Muslims encounter bias in the ‘old’ (i.e. pre-1992) universities. The chance of a white applicant being offered admission was almost a third higher than for an equivalently qualified Pakistani or Bangladeshi.53 In secondary schools, these students perform worse on average and end up with fewer qualifications.54 In the United Kingdom, anti-Muslim sentiment, while problematic prior to September 11th, seems to have worsened. Assaults, arsons, and other violence seem to have been highest immediately after the attacks, but have stayed high since.55 A 2004 survey by the IHRC showed 80% of Muslims saying that they had experienced discrimination because of their faith, up from 45% in 2000 and 35% in 1999. The IHRC attributed these changes both to increased hostility and an increasing awareness of discrimination among Muslims. After the July 2005 bombings in London, bias crimes increased greatly in London. Scotland Yard reported 269 crimes in the three weeks following the attacks, while only 40 had been recorded during the same period one year earlier. In England and Wales, Muslims represent 7.71 % of the inmate population, but they only account for 3 % of the whole population.56 At the same time, the Report of the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry (published 29 June, 2006) found that the race equality measures implemented in December 2005 are meeting their targets, making British prisons safer from anti-Muslim discrimination. Note also that there are significant variations within the Muslim inmate population. 74 % of South Asian and Chinese prisoners are Muslim, but they only make up about 29 % of the total Muslim prison population.57 The 2006 Equality Act58) banned discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief or sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services, the management of premises, education and the exercise of public functions. The Act was supported by the Muslim Council of Britain, although some Muslims (as well as the Catholic Church in England) criticized some parts of the act relating to banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.59 Most controversially, the act meant that Catholic adoption agencies could no longer refuse applications from gay couples wanting to adopt children.

Islamic Practice

There are more than 500 mosques in the UK with official registration, which gives tax benefits and the right to perform recognized marriage ceremonies. There is at least that number of unregistered mosques as well. Of the some 1,000 clerics, only about 30 were trained in the United Kingdom. Islamic burial practice has not been impeded, and there are sections in public cemeteries for Muslims as well as several that are wholly Muslim. The headscarf in schools has come up for debate in the UK, but the decisions from the state have determined that banning it would constitute discrimination. However, in 2004, a high court in Luton dismissed a complaint from a Muslim girl who had not been allowed to attend her school wearing the jilbab, a full-length dress that covers all of the body except the face and the hands. The judge found the school policy, which allowed a uniform which included the hijab, to be reasonable. The decision was overturned on appeal on the grounds that the uniform policy had insufficient justification for such restrictions. Nevertheless, in 2006 the House of Lords then overturned this decision.60 In 2006, the ex-foreign secretary Jack Straw MP sparked controversy in the UK by suggesting women who wear veils over their face can make community relations harder.61) Halal slaughter is allowed in Britain. There has been some controversy, but the government has determined that banning the practice would not be consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. With regards to the public perception of Islam in the UK, in 1997 a major report created by the Runnymede Trust explored anti-Muslim sentiment in the United Kingdom. It was from this report that the term ‘Islamophobia’ is generally seen as originating.62) Survey work published in 2005 by a team from St. John’s College shows that British teenagers are increasingly likely to hold negative attitudes towards Muslims and to sympathize with far right political organizations such as the National Front.63)

Media Coverage and Intellectual Discourse 

In (Mis)Representing Islam: the racism and the rhetoric of British broadsheet newspapers, John E. Richardson argues that “the reporting of the broadsheet press is dominated by racist assumptions and outputs”.64 In his research (which was collected systematically over a period of several months, and which paid detailed attention to dominant reporting patterns) Richardson found that “the Muslim-ness of certain countries [was] persistently backgrounded or absent from reporting” (as was the case with Indonesia, for example, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world) whereas “the Muslim-ness of certain other countries was persistently foregrounded”.65 He also contends that “the more ‘ordinary’ political decisions of Muslim nations are…not understood in relation to their Islamic-ness.”66 Richardson found that many portrayals of British Muslims “are based on a ‘White fantasy’ regarding the rights and abilities of ‘White’ society to regulate the parameters of British society− to include or exclude”.67 Elizabeth Poole has argued that “A crisis of national identity and a defensive construction of a common national culture to provide stability and certainty…excludes Muslims from Britishness”.68 She argues that “press coverage of British Islam represents a project intent on ‘cultural closure’”69[ and that such “patterns of representation…legitimise current social relations of dominance, power structures and therefore continuing patterns of discrimination”.70 Indeed, many scholars have noted that in the UK, ‘Britishness’ often tends to be tacitly associated with ‘Whiteness’, meaning that some British Muslims (as well as other British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds) have perhaps found it hard to maintain a strong sense of British identity. Poole also stresses the tendency to homogenize Muslims in the UK, arguing that the “mainstream press displays a high degree of homogeneity in themes associated with Islam”.71 She notes the “absence of diversity in media images of Islam”.72

Political Discourse 

Although the political discourse in the United Kingdom has generally maintained a tolerant tone, the British National Party (BNP) has developed an increasingly anti-Muslim message. Over the last few years, it seems to be increasing in popularity. However, support for the party still hovers somewhere around 5%. In the May 2008 local elections, the BNP won a seat in the London Assembly, gaining 5.3 per cent of the vote.73) The 2005 elections in the United Kingdom were an interesting test case for Muslim political power in an environment of heightened political interest. Muslims were overwhelmingly opposed to participation in the war on Iraq, and were heavily courted as a potential swing vote by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. In an east London district populated largely by South Asian Muslims, the former Labour MP George Galloway unseated a popular Labour candidate by stridently emphasizing his opposition to the Iraq war. In the end, though, it appears that the Muslim vote in the UK did manage to affect several races, but was not decisive from a national perspective.74) The invasion of Iraq was highly unpopular in the UK. After the London bombings, many questioned whether the government’s decision to join with the United States in the invasion of Iraq may have contributed to the problem of radicalism. A memo endorsed by Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, supported this view. The Federation of Islamic Student Societies took a poll in August 2005 among Muslim students and found 95% opposed to British foreign policy and 66% believing that the invasion of Iraq contributed to the problem of domestic terrorism. On 5th April 2007, the government announced a new action plan to step-up work with Muslim communities to isolate, prevent and defeat violent extremism,75) and announced that it was making available £5m in 2007-8 to support priority local authorities in their work to tackle violent extremism in their communities.76) In her first major speech on counter terrorism in January 2008, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith talked of “violent extremism” (as opposed to “Islamic extremism”) and stressed that terrorist acts were in fact “anti-Islamic”.77) This shift in the language the UK government uses to talk about terrorism highlights the ever-evolving nature of the government’s counter terrorism policies. Muslims in the UK tend to be better represented at the local level: “Britain’s party system and parliamentary style of government empowers organized groups at the local level”.78 

Recent Immigrant Legislation

In March 2006, the UK government introduced the Immigration, Asylum, and Nationality Act 2006. The early sections of the Act are concerned with appeals and impose new restrictions on the right to appeal against adverse Home Office asylum or immigration decisions. Of these the most significant is section 4 which restricts the right of appeal against refusal of entry clearance. There will no longer be a right of appeal against refusal of entry clearance as a student. The Act also increases the powers of immigration officers, customs and police to obtain information, including fingerprints and other biometric information, and to search arriving passengers. The police now have the power to require advance information about passengers and crew or freight of ships and aircraft arriving, expected to arrive, leaving or expected to leave the United Kingdom. The Act allows the Home Secretary to deprive an individual of British citizenship or of the right to live in the United Kingdom if he or she is satisfied that deprivation of citizenship or right of abode is conducive to the public good. Whereas before the Act, citizens of Hong Kong were freely allowed to register as British Overseas Citizens, now they cannot do so unless the Home Secretary is first “convinced of their good character.” In 2008, a report commissioned by Gordon Brown on British citizenship79) suggested that school-leavers should be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country to promote a better sense of belonging among British teenagers.80) The report also suggested establishing a “Britishness” public holiday. The report is part of ongoing plans by the UK government to introduce a new Citizenship and Immigration Bill.81) If introduced, the bill would aim to simplify existing immigration legislation, and would mean that new immigrants to the UK would be required to take language tests.

Recent Legislation on Islam

The legal status of Islamic dress in schools was clarified by the Shabina Begum case in May of 2004 (Begum v. Denbigh High School, 2004 EWHC 1389), where the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords ruled that freedom to manifest religious beliefs was not absolute, and could be restricted. Begum, a 15-year-old Muslim girl who wished to wear the jilbab instead of her school uniform, lost a lawsuit against her school (Denbigh High School) and was required to wear the school uniform or the school’s pre-ordained alternative for Muslim girls, the salwar-qamis. Begum’s representatives then appealed the decision to the High Court of England and Wales, which upheld the decision of the House of Lords to require Begum to wear standard school dress. 


1. See Joel S. Fetzer and J. Christopher Soper, Muslims and the State in Britain, France, and Germany, Cambridge 2005, p. 26 ]↩[
2. Ikhlaq Din, The New British: The Impact of Culture and Community on Young Pakistanis, Aldershot 2006, p. 20 ]↩[
3. Ibid., p. 34 ]↩[
4. Ibid.. In terms of what has been said thus far, care should be taken not to assume that the terms ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Muslim’ are necessarily synonymous with one another. ]↩[
5. See Gillian Peele, ‘The Politics of Multicultural Britain’, in P. Dunleavy et al. (eds.), Developments in British Politics 8, p. 198. ]↩[
6. See ibid., p. 197 ]↩[
7. Ibid. ]↩[
8. See (accessed April 13th 2008). ]↩[
9. See M. Anwar, ‘British Muslims: Socio-Economic Position’, in Mohammad Siddique Seddon, Dilwar Hussain and Nadeem Malik (eds.), British Muslims: Loyalty and Belonging, Leicestershire 2003, p. 63 ]↩[
10. See, pp.8-9 (accessed April 13th 2008). ]↩[
11. See in particular the report issued in 2004 by the Open Society Institute on this topic: ibid. ]↩[
12. See (accessed April 13th 2008). ]↩[
13. See (accessed May 14th 2008). ]↩[
14. (accessed May 14th 2008). ]↩[
15. See Phillips, D., ‘Black Minority Ethnic Concentration, Segregation and Dispersal in Britain’, Urban Studies Vol. 35 (1998), No.10, pp. 1681-1702. ]↩[
16. Ibid., p.1684 ]↩[
17. (accessed May 14th 2008 ]↩[
18. (accessed May 14th 2008). ]↩[
19. See also Ludi Simpson’s 2003 article on racial segregation, available at (accessed May 14th 2008). ]↩[
20. Phillips, D., ‘Parallel Lives? Challenging Discourses of British Muslim Self-Segregation,’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space Vol. 24 (2006), p. 30 ]↩[
21. Phillips, D., ‘Black Minority Ethnic Concentration, Segregation and Dispersal in Britain’, Urban Studies Vol. 35 (1998), No.10, p. 1684. When considering the relevance of this idea to the current subject under discussion, we must remember that considerable ethnic variation exists among Muslims living in the UK− in a 2007 survey, for instance, 49% of Pakistani’s said they felt racial prejudice had gotten worse over the last five years, compared with only 34% of Indians. See (accessed May 14th 2008 ]↩[
22. Ibid., p. 1685. ]↩[
23. (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
24. See (accessed May 19th 2008 ]↩[
25. See (accessed May 19th 2008 ]↩[
26. See (accessed May 19th 2008 ]↩[
27. See (accessed May 19th 2008 ]↩[
28. Fetzer and Soper, Muslims and the State, op. cit., p.60 ]↩[
29. See (accessed May 19th 2008 ]↩[
30. Sayeeda Warsi’s website: ]↩[
31. Sayeeda Warsi’s Biography at Brand Republic: ]↩[
32. BBC 4 Interview with Sayeeda Warsi: ]↩[
33. Daily Mail- ]↩[
34. Yorkshire Post – ]↩[
35. Dunleavy, Developments, op.cit., p.210 ]↩[
36. See (accessed 19th May 2008). ]↩[
37. (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
38. See,,2234164,00.html (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
39. (accessed 19th May 2008). ]↩[
40. Kundnani, Arun. “Stop and Search: Police Step up Targeting of Blacks and Asi.” IRR March 26 2003. ]↩[
41. (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
42. See (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
43. Kundnani, Arun. “Stop and Search: Police Step up Targeting of Blacks and Asi.” IRR March 26 2003. ]↩[
44. (accessed 19th May 2008). ]↩[
45. See (accessed 19th May 2008). ]↩[
46.Accessibleat (accessed 19th May 2008). ]↩[
47. (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
48. See (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
49. (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
50. (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
51. (ENAR United Kingdom Shadow Report, 2003. ]↩[
52. (accessed 19th May 2008 ]↩[
53. Modood & Shiner, 2002. ]↩[
54. See the Guardian, ‘British Muslim Series’, July 17th 2002. ]↩[
55. IHF, 2005.] There have been problems with attacks on asylum seekers and increasing Islamophobia. Up to a third of Muslims say they or their family members have been victims of hostility. ((ENAR United Kingdom Shadow Report, 2003. [↩]
56. 2002 Prison Statistics and 2001 Census. [↩]
57. J. Beckford et al, 2006. Muslims In Prison, pp. 30, 72. [↩]
58. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
59. See (accessed 20th May 2008). [↩]
60. (accessed 20th May 2008). [↩]
61. (accessed 20th May 20th [↩]
62. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
63.,5500,1450551,00.html?gusrc=rss (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
64. John E. Richardson, (Mis)Representing Islam: The racism and rhetoric of British Broadsheet Newspapers, Norwich 2004, p. xvi [↩]
65. Ibid., p. xvii [↩]
66. Ibid., p.230. See also Elizabeth Poole, Reporting Islam: Media Representations of British Muslims, London 2002, p.99 [↩]
67. Ibid., pp.152-3 [↩]
68. Poole, Reporting Islam, p.22 [↩]
69. Ibid., p.186 [↩]
70. Ibid., p.259 [↩]
71. Ibid., p.99 [↩]
72. Ibid., p.54 [↩]
73. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
74. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
75. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
76. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]

77. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
78. Fetzer and Soper, Muslims and the State, op. cit., p.12 [↩]
79. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
80. (accessed 20th May 2008 [↩]
81. 20th May 2008 [↩]


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