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Muslims in Britain: What figures tell us

Mosque in Birmingham Image copyright Getty Images

Dig beneath the surface of a report on how the Muslim population of England and Wales behaves and you will gain an intriguing insight into a community of 2.7m.

Of these Muslims 47% are UK born, 68% are ethnically Asian and 33% are aged 15 and under; these are some of the headline findings of a new report by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) that has analysed census data in a bid to provide a fuller and more nuanced picture of Muslim Britain.

The report aims to be a "frank snapshot" of the state of British Muslim life and brings together statistics from the 2011 census of England and Wales to explore the demography of British Muslims, inequality, education, health and the role of women among other issues.

It shows that the Muslim population is relatively young - 33% were aged 15 or under in 2011, compared to 19% of the population as a whole. Of school age children, 8.1% are Muslim.

"We had this data but no one really analysed it," says Dr Sundas Ali, lead analyst on the report. She says that a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the British Muslim population was really lacking.

"The issue of Muslims is so topical," she said. "Everyone wants to know more about the community, what they do, how they live, what their aspirations are, and this data provided that opportunity."


British Muslims in numbers

  • 2.7m Muslims in England and Wales - 4.8% of population
  • 33% aged 15 or under
  • 68% of Asian descent
  • 8% are of white ethnicity
  • 47% born in Britain, 36% in the Middle East and Asia
  • 6% say they are struggling to speak English
  • 37% of Muslims live in London
  • 20% are in full-time employment (compared to 35% of the general population)

The report shows that while 47% of Muslims in England and Wales were born in the UK, 73% state their only national identity is British, and only 6% of Muslims say they are struggling to speak English.

Support for the research was provided by the race equality think tank the Runnymede foundation, whose director Omar Khan argues the report is important in making it clear to the public that Muslims do not have a problem with "British values" or identifying with Britain.

"It nails some significant myths about Muslims," said Mr Khan, "The number of Muslims - which is often exaggerated, how proud Muslims are to be British, how well they fit in and the narrative around British values. They're proud to call themselves British, don't have allegiances to other countries in any major way and they don't have any confusion around where their identity lies."

The report also found that 26 parliamentary constituencies have a Muslim population of 20% or more - a statistic that is "something to note" according to report authors in the upcoming election. Authors say they want the report to be as much a resource for the Muslim community as for politicians and academics.

"It asks the Muslim community to reflect within itself," argues Dr Ali, "We do tell Muslim mosques and charities, that 'these are the problems, these are the social realities and you need to do something about it'. It's not a document complaining to the government just about what they need to do, it's targeting a number of people including Muslim civil society."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption After leaving school, only 29% of Muslim women aged 16-24 are employed

Dr Ali said there were many positives from the report "but also many challenges". 46% of the Muslim population lives in the 10% most deprived local authority districts in England and this has increased since the 2001 census.

In terms of education, Muslim communities in 2011 are doing comparatively better than in 2001 but lag behind Sikhs and Hindus. Looking at Muslims over the age of 16, 24% have qualifications of Level Four and above (degree level). For the general population this is 27%, for Hindus 45% and Sikhs 30%.

There are 329,694 Muslim full-time students - 43% of them female and 57% male.

One of the areas of concern the report highlights is how well these qualifications turn into employment, particularly for females. 29% of Muslim women between the ages of 16 and 24 are in employment, compared to approximately half the general population. For the ages group 25 - 49 the numbers show 57% of Muslim women in employment compared with 80% of women overall.

This raises a number of questions that were posed at the report's launch as areas that need extra exploration - why are educated Muslim woman not carrying on into employment? Possible reasons cited being cultural influences encouraging them to have a family and stay at home, racism and prejudice in the workplace and/or their qualifications not being from institutions of a high enough standard to appeal to employers. The report notes that Muslim students are less likely to attend Russell Group universities.

"This addresses many of the social issues that are always in the media and being discussed," added Dr Sundas Ali. "Now we have the hard facts, let's do something about it."

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