England’s Muslim population passes three million for the first time
Categories: Latest News
Tuesday January 28 2020
Newly released figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the Muslim population of England has increased by around 16% in five years, from 2.7 million in 2011 to 3.1 million in 2016. This means Muslims now make up 5.6% of England’s population.
The positive contributions of these growing Muslim communities in the UK should not be underestimated. They contribute over £31 billion to the UK economy and wield an incredible spending power of £20.05 billion, while also donating more than £100 million every year to charity (placing them as the greatest givers to charity amongst all social groups). Furthermore, as of September 2016, 29,200 Muslims were known to be employed in NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups in England, with Muslims constituting 4% of the 730,000 staff who revealed their religion. Over 31% (9,200) of the 29,200 Muslim staff were employed in specialist positions, such as doctors, contrasted with a general NHS rate of 10%. Moreover, Muslim doctors formed 15% of the 61,900 doctors who disclosed their faith.
Nonetheless, despite the growing Muslim population and their many contributions, members of Muslim communities are overwhelmingly perceived in a negative light. Over a third of Britons have been reported to believe that Islam is a threat to the “British way of life”, while a poll conducted by the advocacy organisation Hope Not Hate found 35% of British people saw Islam as being incompatible with British values.
The growing Muslim population should, in theory, counter negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims because it presents more opportunities for members of other communities to interact with members of Muslim communities. However, the fact that these beliefs persist suggests it is due to the Islamophobic rhetoric which continues to dominate the public sphere; the public is more likely to encounter negative news coverage of Muslims in the media than it is to encounter positive. Indeed, research shows that for every one neutral or positive mention of Muslims within print media, there are around 21 negative mentions.
Thus, at a time where misinformation and Islamophobic narratives are prevalent, there needs to be greater emphasis on recognising and promoting positive Muslim role models as a counter-narrative to the Islamophobic rhetoric.
A recent study produced by Stanford University has shown that the county of Merseyside has experienced a reduction in Islamophobic hate crime since Liverpool signed the Egyptian footballer Mo Salah. The study highlights how there was an 18.9% reduction in hate crimes across Merseyside, whilst Islamophobic tweets were halved. This suggests that his performances on the pitch helped reduce negativity surrounding Muslims, and challenged the associated stereotypes, ultimately highlighting how greater representation and doing away with negative portrayals have a positive impact for Muslim communities. This is particularly so in terms of humanising them and enabling familiarity between members of different communities.
The former Chief Prosecutor in North West England, Nazir Afzal, sets an excellent example of a Muslim who epitomises a passion for justice and community service. Afzal is well known for his outspoken views in favour of women’s rights and against forced marriage and honour killings. Perhaps Afzal’s most notable moment is being the lead prosecutor of the Rotherham abuse cases, something which notoriously tarnished the image of the Muslims via the media. However, Afzal, a practising Muslim, led the charge to justice and was firm in stating how there was neither a religious nor racial basis for grooming.
Afzal was quoted as saying “So I know that the vast majority of offenders are British white male,” he says, setting the number at somewhere between 80 and 90%. “We have come across cases all over the country, and the ethnicity of the perpetrators varies depending on where you are … It is not the abusers’ race that defines them. It is their attitude to women that defines them”.
Increasing normalised and positive media coverage of Muslims can also help encourage Muslims to identify and feel included within the national narrative. In his speech at Channel 4’s annual diversity lecture in the Houses of Parliament, actor and rapper Riz Ahmed addressed the need for more BAME representation in film and broadcasting. He warned that the widespread prevalence of underrepresentation and stereotyping within industry can lead to serious consequences for community cohesion as Muslims may feel disconnected and potentially seek to find acceptance and belonging within fringe narratives and alternative ideologies online. This highlights the importance of needing positive role models and representation in the media.
There are great things being done by Muslims across the country – both as individuals and communities – and it is important that such achievements are recognised and celebrated, particularly in media coverage. At MEND, we urge parliamentarians to support initiatives by the broadcasting industry to promote positive portrayals of Muslims in the media.