Qari Asim: Muslims are not a '˜nation within a nation'

THE Channel 4-commissioned ICM poll What British Muslims Really Think has generated considerable debate this week with Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, saying the results showed that Muslims were a 'nation within a nation' on many issues.

Leeds imam Qari Asim.
Leeds imam Qari Asim.

Such sensational comments have detracted from some of the key findings of a poll limited to those Muslims living in areas where more than 20 per cent of residents share their faith. The poll raises important questions and challenges for those, like myself, who feel confident that Muslims do want to integrate and are working to promote better integration.

Any community living in relative isolation and in social deprivation is likely to have less liberal and more conservative views compared to those living in a more diverse and inclusive environment.

The findings have triggered much debate, focusing on the apparent alarming social conservatism of the British Muslim community. However, when considered in the context of other polls involving other religious groups, the results do not appear hugely out of sync.

Just over half of Muslims polled did not believe that homosexuality should be legal. These findings seem to be consistent with a YouGov poll earlier in the year which found a large proportion of Evangelical Christians (52 per cent) saying that same-sex marriage was “wrong”. Similarly, surveys undertaken by Linda Woodhead, professor of religion at Lancaster University, in 2013 suggested that all those who believe in God are more likely to have conservative views on homosexuality.

Another eye-catching headline was that 39 per cent of those polled agreed that wives should obey their husbands. Perhaps the focus should be on the 61 per cent who disagree with this proposition, bearing in mind that it was not uncommon for traditional wedding vows to contain a commitment from the wife to “love, honour and obey” her husband.

Another alarming headline has been that only one in three Muslims (34 per cent) would contact the police if they suspected someone close to them was getting involved in terrorism.

What this week’s analysis fails to highlight is that only 30 per cent of the survey’s “control” group – randomly-selected people of all faiths or none – would contact the police given the same circumstances.  

This does not necessarily show that Muslims are more sympathetic towards terrorism, rather that there is a general reluctance to report close family members to the police. Other polls have found that 94 per cent of British Muslims would contact the police if they knew someone was planning an act of violence.

The ICM/Channel 4 poll is complex in what it reveals. On the basis of this survey of selective areas, it is wrong to assume that the Muslim community would rather have its own nation within Britain.

Some 88 per cent of those surveyed said Britain was a good place for Muslims to live in, and 78 per cent would like to integrate into British life on most things, apart from Islamic schooling and some laws.

This should be nothing too controversial, given that other faith communities are also protective over the religious education of their children and take into consideration elements of legal religious rulings in certain matters, such as inheritance and divorce.

A large majority (91 per cent) of the British Muslims who took part said they felt a strong sense of belonging in their local area, higher than the national average of 76 per cent.

Further, more Muslims felt they can influence decisions affecting Britain than non-Muslims, suggesting their belief in democracy and trust in the political system. It is perhaps because of this belief that we have dozens of Muslim councillors across Yorkshire, as well as two Muslims amongst the MPs representing the region.

British Muslims make up around five per cent of the population, distributed unevenly around the country. This is a poll of 1,081 British Muslims living in areas with a comparatively high Muslim population, known to suffer higher than average levels of deprivation. The views of those polled, while not to be ignored, do not represent the majority of Muslims living in integrated communities.

What the poll reveals is that there is a level of social conservatism amongst some groups of Muslims, but the overwhelming majority of even the most conservative of groups demonstrates a strong sense of belonging to Britain.

Qari Asim MBE is an imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds. He can be followed on Twitter via @QariAsim