MUSLIMS IN UK: By Dr. Sa'idu Ahmad Dukawa

There are about 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, going by the 2001 census.  They constitute 2.7% of the total population of about 59 million.  The UK society is predominantly Christian (about 72%).  Muslims therefore constitute part of the ethnic/religious minorities.

According to Nielson (2000), four factors are responsible for the growth of Muslim population in UK, viz: the settlement of Muslim traders along British see Ports; migration of Muslim families to join the settlers; reproduction, which implies the settler/migrants giving birth to a generation of British-born Muslims; and the Commonwealth statute, which eases naturalization process.  Abbas (2004) adds another factor, which is that of the instability in parts of Muslim world (Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq), leading to high number of asylum seekers.  We must add to the list the high number of reverties, including those of white-British origin, whose number Ado-Kurawa put at 14,000 (Ado-Kurawa, 2004: 10).

The remaking of World order and the post 9/11 policies of Bush and Blair has combined to make life more difficult for Muslims in UK.  This can be seen in both British domestic and foreign policies including the policy of rethinking Islam.


Research has shown that Muslims in UK are living in some of the mainly inferior housing, have the poorest health, tend to significantly underachieve in Education, and are underemployed or, more likely.  Unemployed in the labour market when compared with their non-Muslim ethnic minority peers (Abbas, 2004:  26).  Muslim predicaments are attributed to a number of factors.  These include the initial structural distortions, in which they were isolated as settler communities, with minimal provision of infrastructure in their areas; Muslims were mostly employed in low cadre, declining industries, which easily leave them unemployed when they finally collapse.  School enrolment also tends to disfavour Muslims thus consequently compounding their employment problem.  The history of their children’s schooling is also checkered with struggles to assert their right to being, with regards to language, culture, assembly prayer, dress code, diet, extra curricular activities, co-education, and religious practice generally.  For instance, it has never been an issue when a Sikh wears turban, but it makes an issue when a Muslim wears hijab; a Hindu can be vegetarian and have his right to special meal respected, but a Muslim must struggle to get his right to Halal meat reluctantly given to him.

Although Muslim presence in the UK dates as far back as 1800s (Ado-Kurawa, 2004:  9), their political participation at public sphere came about as late as 1980s when some Muslims were elected as Local Government Area Councilors (Nielson, 2000).  A more active public articulation came about as a result of the Rusdie affair of 1989.  Political participation was however enhanced with the formation of Associations.  By 1997 there were no less than 250 Muslim Associations in UK (Nielson, 2000).  The new Labour Government of Blair gives the impression of religious tolerance thereby stimulating public articulation:


There have thus been many

instances where Muslim

organizations locally have

played an active part in

campaigns to get prostitution

removed from residential areas,

to defend schools against closure,

to protect the right to have

religiously acceptable food in

public institutions, to assert

the place of religion generally

in public life …(Nielson, 2000: 9)


Despite a couple of Race Equality Policies, ‘things are not working well because racism has been institutionalized’, observes the Stephen Lawrence Commission of Enquiry (2001: 1).  The Commission’s report observes a gross under representation of minority ethnic group in Decision-making positions.  It observes the unwillingness of the main Political Parties to recruit minorities for presentation into electoral positions.  It cites instances of institutional racism, viz:

-           non of the 11 Birmingham MPs is from a minority ethnic background;

-           no Police Officer of minority ethnic background is above inspector grade;

-           non of the 8 Cabinet Officers in the city council is from minority ethnic group;

-           only 2 out of 13 Executive Directors on the Board of Health Authority are of minority ethnic origin;

-           only 1 out of 10 Trust Chief Executives is of minority ethnic group.

It should be noted that ‘minority ethnic group’ refers to:

-                     Chinese

-                     Jews

-                     Hindus

-                     Sikh

-                     Black Caribbean

-                     Black Africans and

-                     Muslims

In this context Muslims are at the bottom of the ladder.  And the report did not mention how the Immigration and Prison service are staffed with the National Front members, who are extremists in terms of anti-Muslim sentiments.

Evidence of anti-Muslims and Islamophobia abound, and is on the increase, since 9/11.  Muslims under public and private sector employment have no right to take time off to attend Friday Prayer.  In the case of Ahmad vs. UK (1981), the European Commission on Human Rights passed that the London courts are right when they ruled that Iftikhar Ahmad had no right to leave the premises of the school he was teaching to attend Friday prayer. (Gleave, 1998:  164 – 180).

Similarly, no recognition is given to the Muslim Eid Festivals for we arrived UK only four days to ‘Eid-el kabeer’ 1425A.H., and found our course time-table to be full of activities on the Eid day.  It was only after a second thought when the programmes of the day were rescheduled.  But the same may not be the case with regards to regular students of the University.  People with religious identifiers (hijab, beards, etc) also face nerve-breaking scrutiny.  This was among the first impressions we received on arriving Heathrow Airport.  Among the course Participants are two Afghanis (who participated on the Governance and Shari’ah group), one with full beards while the other has his own modified.  Immigration officials requested the one with full beards to register with the Police on arrival at Birmingham.  The same was not requested of the one with modified beards.  The implications on the psyche of the person requested to report himself to the Police can best be imagined!

Several Muslims who confided on us also expressed the exceptional difficulties they face in getting jobs or in retaining them.  The general official anti-immigration sentiments, which could be seen displayed in public sign Boards and in statement of Politicians are also clearly anti Muslims:  an MP said it is not immigrants that they do not want but Muslim immigrants.  Among the hot issues under public discourse during the period of the course was the case of detention of 22 Muslims without trial for upward of 3 years.

This is fallout of anti-terror Policies, which tend to affect Muslims only.  BBC survey, quoted in the Muslim Weekly, (January, 28 – February, 3, 2005), reveals that many Muslim children believe that life in Britain has become more difficult in the last few years.  The report shows that Muslims are the victims of 22 of 44 prosecutions in the year to April, 2004.  Another interesting item in the report is the disappointment expressed by British Authorities when nearly seven out ot 10 Muslim kids identified themselves as Muslims first, British second.

The Government policy of multiculturalism requires Muslims to scrifice religious heritage in favour of nationalism (citizens are expected to be British first, Muslims/etc second).  This is probably why Tarik modood and Pnina Werbner are to argue in a forthcoming publication that multiculturalism is the political outcome of ongoing power-struggles and collective negotiations of cultural, ethnic and racial differences (Modood and Werbner, nd).  Pubic shift from Multiculturalism to War Against Terror further compounds confusions:

Blair’s dilemma was how to

balance bombing of Muslims

abroad with wooing them at

home. (Abbas, 2004: 32).

We now turn to see how Muslims in UK engage with British Foreign Policies.


In Islam, Muslims are bound into brotherhood and are enjoined to react to whatever happens to Muslims anywhere in the World.  Muslims in UK therefore necessarily suffer the pain of anti Muslim foreign policies of the UK. Muslims in UK cannot forget the role played by Lawrence Thomas Edward, the British soldier who coordinated revolt against the Ottoman Empire, in the establishment of Israel in Palestine.  Nor could the Muslims fail to see the dilly-dallying of UK authorities when it comes to dealing with foreign policy issues affecting Muslims and non-Muslims: the rights of non-Muslim minorities are always championed, those of Muslim minorities are always ignored.  Instances abound:

The persecutions of Muslims in Burma is of no interest to UK and the West, the Buddhist leader attracts greater attention.  The Chechen’s sufferings in the hands of Russia are of no interests, it is the Sudan that must respect the rights of minorities! Kashmir, with its numerous Muslim population, must remain under non-Muslim India; but East Timor, being non-Muslim, must be autonomous of Muslim Indonesia.  A comparative analysis, depicted in the following table, exposes the extent of double standards in the Foreign Policies of Western Countries:

Table 1:          A Comparative Analysis of Kashmir and East Timor:


























Source:  World Kashmir Freedom Movement, London, 2000 (unpublished).

As could be understood from the table above, the only factor why Kashmir did not enjoy the support of the West in her quest for autonomy is that it is a Muslim territory.  And it should be noted that the Kashmiris are only second to Pakistanis in the composition of Muslim population in UK.  Therefore the confusion they face in terms of being British-Muslims can best be imagined!

When General Maude entered Baghdad in 1917, he stated:

          “We came here as liberators, not as conquerors”.

But part of what followed included the destruction of Abu Hanifa Mosque and the burning of Awqaf library.  History repeated itself when the coalition forces (of Britain and USA) invaded Baghdad in the year 2002.  The ruin they brought is still ongoing.  Muslims receive information on daily basis on the in human treatments of their brothers and sisters in Gwantanamo – Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq.  The only solace that the UK society offers them is the freedom to organize and conduct public demonstrations against the war, which never stops the war anyway.


By far, the greatest war against Islam is the attempt to modernize it.  This is a future war that Muslims in UK, much more than any others, are going to face.  Some of the Resource Persons talked about this, without apology.  Haifa Jawad talked on the need to re-interpret Islamic injunctions regarding polygamy, inheritance, leadership and the law of evidence as they affect women – with a view to equating them with men (Jawad, 2005).  Tarik Ramadan talked in similar vain and added on the need to legalise marriage of Muslim Women to non-Muslim men, as well as on the need for ‘moratorium’ over corporal punishment and death sentences in Muslim World.  He also urged Muslims in Europe to assimilate into the European society (Ramadan, 2005).  Zaki Badawi wanted Muslims the World over to conform to modernity and to suspend any attempt that would lead to confrontation with the West until such a time when the Muslim World was strong enough (Badawi, 2005).

There are, however, other Muslims in UK who argue to the contrary.  Khurram Murad (1997) rejects the very basis upon which the West calls for rethinking Islam, viz, the challenges posed by modernity. According to him the changes caused by modernity are to be found in the scale and nature of technology and mastery over nature; in the form of organization and exchanges; in the scale of comforts of life and choices available to people; as well as in the quantum of knowledge of the physical world.  And Shari’ah does not limit all those.  What Shari’ah addresses, and has not changed over the centuries, include the tendency of human beings to be sinful: elements like pride, self-sufficiency, aggression, caprice, avarice, greed, hatred, etc have all increased.  Also the tendency to associate God with others has increased.  Crimes like theft, rape, murder etc have all increased.  And these are the concern of Shari’ah (Murad, 1997:  17 – 18).  He rightly argues that it should be the duty of human beings to change the circumstances that conflict with God’s will, rather than the other way round.

We may also pause to ask whether the distinction between men and women is peculiar to Muslim World, taking several factors into consideration:  for instance, men outnumber women in every Western Parliament, Cabinet and Public Service; men excel over women in the field of philosophical theorizing, scientific discoveries and technological innovations.  For example, there are only two women in Michael H. Hart’s (1992) publication, “The 100: a ranking of the most influential persons in history”, and there is no woman in will Durant’s (2002) publication, “The Greatest Minds and Ideas of all Time”.  Could all these be by accident or by design?  None of these authors is a Muslim; they are all Westerners. 

 Another illustration is in the Western style of protocol in which women are recognized before men in public gatherings.  But this is more than out weighted in other contexts in which women are given the second position, thus: boys and girls, he or she, his or her, husband and wife, sons and daughters, father and mother brother and sister, uncle and niece, etc.  Besides, it is conventional, the World-over, whether in times of peace or war that women, children and the aged are given special concessions. 

 What do they have in common?  Why can’t we remove women from this categorization?  The only likely explanation is either they are given concessions out of respect or because of their relative weakness when compared to adult male segment of the population.  But I don’t think there is any culture in the world that demands its elders to respect its children, whereas every culture has sympathy for children – obviously because of their relative weakness.  Muslims must therefore continue to uphold the injunctions of their religion without apology.

We should also ask a few questions on the call on Muslims to assimilate into European society: first, how feasible is it; when to be a Muslim is to forgo all that clash with Islamic values, and many western values are the opposite of Islamic values?  Second, how justifiable is it, while westerners retain their “Westerness” in Muslim lands, somebody requests the Muslims to abandon their “Muslumness” in Western countries?  Besides, the citizen laws of France and Germany specifically provide that people may not be subject to the laws of their country of residence, but rather their country of origin (Boyd, 2004), Third, how do we categorize those who attempt to Westernise but are rejected by the West (because of barriers erected by the West)?  And fourth, is the call to westernize consistent with the principle of multiculturalism?  I think the answer to all these questions is in the negative.  Thus the only logical conclusion is that the call is an attempt to tame Islam and subjugate it to Westernization.

Tarik Ramadan based his call on moratorium against capital punishment on five grounds, viz:

(i)      capital punishment tends to affect women and the poor the most;

(ii)      those affected are not given a chance to obtain legal council;

(iii)     poor countries that apply capital punishment face ‘the mobilization of international campaigns…’, which is not the case when it comes to rich countries applying similar punishments;

(iv)     after all, opinion differs among the Ulama on most of these issues; and

(v)     Third World Countries, of which Muslim countries are part and parcel, hardly have a system that guarantees equality before the law (Ramadan, 2005A).


One can clearly see that Ramadan’s call cannot hold ground because of several reasons.  For one thing, the reasons given for the moratorium have nothing to do with the nature of the law but with inability of some societies to apply the law appropriately.  Moreover, the call did not portray any evidence to suggest that the eventual abrogation of the law could lead to better society in terms of crime prevention and control.  Neither Ramadan, nor any proponent of abrogation, suggests something better, in place of capital punishment.  The call is simply like the proverbial ‘throwing away the water together with the baby because the bath – water is contaminated’. 

 Furthermore, the call did not take into cognizance the current political climate in the World in which the powers that be appropriate the right to hunt for their assumed enemies and to mete out capital punishment on such ‘enemies’ without trail, let alone giving them access to legal council.  In addition, no mention is made on the countries with the highest number of legal executions (China and USA) with a view of urging them to rethink on the ‘inhuman’ act, further confirming that the call is targeted on Muslim World exclusively, as it is conspicuous in the title of his paper. 

This means it is not the sanctity of human life that is under consideration but it is Islamic values that are under attack.  Further confirmation to this is the fact that no reference is made to the number of lives lost as a result of IMF/World Bank Policies, which are by far greater than those lost in legal executions.  Finally, the call for moratorium on capital punishment does not consider the law of revenge that is likely to replace the law of capital punishment in the event of heeding to the call, in which case more lives would be lost (in revenge) instead of the ‘life for life’ which is the textual teachings of both Islam and Christianity (Qur’an, 5:45; Exodus, 21: 23 – 25).

Zaki Badawi’s call on Muslims to suspend confrontations with the West is perhaps the most misplaced.  For it suggests that the Muslims are confrontational, of which they are not.  Muslims in UK are the most peaceful and law-abiding when compared to other ethnic/religious minorities.  By way of extension, Muslims the World-over are more at the receiving end of confrontation:  they had their societies colonized; they were conscripted two times to fight European civil wars (WW I & WW II); they had one of their religiously significant lands (Palestine) confiscated; they are now experiencing a re-colonization of their lands through pre-emptive wars, etc.  Also to say that anybody should shun confrontation until such a time when he is ready is to suggest that confrontation is desirable at a point in time, whereas it is not desirable at any point in history.

All said however, many Muslim intellectuals including those we critique in this article are doing well in the area of interfaith dialogue.  The outreach undertaken by Islamic institutions in Leicester and London, among other places, is crucial to the survival of Islam in the intellectual sphere.  Muslims outside Europe would be happier to see these intellectuals devoting their energy towards Islamising modernity rather than modernizing Islam.  The UK authorities on the other hand should not curtail the freedom of choice, which is the bane of their society to the right to be only, but should extend it to the duty to let others be as well.


It is obviously clear from the foregoing discussions that Muslims the World-Over are at the receiving end in a process of remaking the World order.  Muslims in UK cannot be an exemption.  As a matter of fact, they face double tragedy:  they are living in a society that sees no need for Islam in public space, thus they cannot help on harsh policies such as those denying public servants and other employees time to observe Friday Prayers in congregation; they cannot shape Education Curriculum to serve their needs; they suffer harassments from time to time; they have to put a fight to gain concessions on their dress code, religiously legal food, among others, whereas their non-Muslim contemporaries get their rights without having to suffer similar difficulties.

The post 9/11 situation and the War on Terror have made matters worse for Muslims in UK: they are more vulnerable to harsh policies and laws; although Muslims in UK are law-abiding, they face the highest rate of prosecutions and detentions without trial.  Above all, they will be faced with greater pressure to modernize Islam with the current call to rethink Islam.

There is the need for Muslims in UK to continue the good works they are doing of portraying the good image of Islam in terms of their living style and in the area of interfaith dialogue.  While the West tries to modernize Islam, Muslims should try to Islamize modernity.  In this regard, one would like to identify with Khurram Murad’s plea that any fresh thinking of Islam, which Muslims should accept, should be genuinely Islamic, coming from genuinely Islamic persons and institutions, who have both sound knowledge and sound piety.  This has always been the case and should not cease to be the case.



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