Muslim integration 'easier in Scotland than England'

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Muslim women
Image caption,
Some Scots felt the wearing of the veil suggested Muslims were not integrating

Integration is easier for Muslims in Scotland than in England, new research has suggested.

The poll, for the British Council Scotland, also found six out of 10 Scots believed Muslims were integrated into everyday Scottish life.

However, it also found that Scots have a less favourable opinion of Muslims than other religious groups.

And those who responded felt one of the barriers to adapting to Scottish life was the country's drinking culture.

Muslim participants frequently cited Scottish people's relationship with alcohol, in terms of integration and more generally as most Muslims do not drink alcohol.

As most social events in Scotland were seen to revolve around drinking alcohol, many Muslims felt they could not often fully integrate.

This was seen by both as a major practical barrier in the integration of Muslims into Scottish life.

The research aims to tackle the growing mistrust between Muslim communities and wider society.

Two-thirds (65%) of respondents had a favourable opinion towards Muslims - three times as many as those with an unfavourable opinion (21%). However, Muslims were viewed less favourably than any of the other religious groups asked about.

The survey, carried out by Ipsos Mori, also found that 46% of those questioned think that Muslims living in Scotland were loyal to the country while 33% thought they were not.

A total of 66% of Scots thought the attempted bombing of Glasgow Airport in July 2007 had made people in Scotland less tolerant of Muslims, while 48% thought Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more Muslims came to live there.

Most of the 1,006 respondents, both Muslims and non-Muslims, felt the process of integrating was easier in Scotland than England.

This was partly because the number of Muslims living here was smaller but also due to less fear of terrorism and the particular features of Scottishness, with Scots seen as typically very friendly, sociable, humorous, honest, open and straightforward.

There was a strong feeling among Muslims that integration in Scotland was largely one-way - with Muslims making the effort to adapt to Scottish life.

However, among non-Muslim Scots, the dominant view was that that Muslims have to make more of an effort to interact and should completely adopt Scottish customs.

Factors such as speaking in their own language and wearing traditional dress - particularly the veil - were seen as evidence that they were not integrating.

However, there was a strong view among all groups that younger generations of Muslims and non-Muslims were more integrated than previous generations.

'Tolerant nation'

British Council Scotland director Paul Docherty said: "It has often been claimed that Scotland is a more tolerant nation than many of its European counterparts and we thought that this was an important question to examine.

"We hope that the research provokes debate that help develops greater understanding between communities. We are pleased the results suggest that integration in Scotland is easier than other European countries.

"We also hope that the research demonstrates the positive aspects of Scotland to international audiences who may look to Scotland as an economic and cultural partner."

Rowena Arshad, director of the centre for education for racial equality in Scotland (Ceres), said: "The finding that 65% of survey respondents have some degree of favourability towards Muslims is, to some extent, reassuring, regarding the future of Scottish 'community relations'.

"Scotland is a small country but, as the research shows, there is potential that it is not a country of small minds.

"As education and the media were cited as key influencers, it is worth exploring how these areas could be better harnessed to enable integration and to develop citizens able to process information in a critical manner."

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