The Muslim population in London is one of the largest of all major European cities. After Christianity, Islam is the second largest religion practiced in London; according to the 2001 census, 607,000 people in the city identified themselves as Muslims, or 8.5% of the general population of approximately 7,172,000. In comparison to national demographics, this number reveals the significance of giving accurate understanding of Muslims in London. While 14% population of the UK’s population lives in London, nearly 40% of Muslims in England and Wales live in London. ((MOL 18.))
The UK census taken in 2001 was the first to ask respondents to voluntary denote their religion. The responses found 323,000 Muslims in inner London (11.7% of the population), and 284,000 Muslims in outer London (6.5% of the population). The borough with the highest proportion was found to be Tower Hamlets, comprising 36.4% of the population. Newham has the second largest Muslims population, with more than 24.3% identifying themselves as Muslims. Other boroughs with a significant Muslim population (over ten percent) include the following: Hackney, Brent, Waltham Forest, Camden, Haringey, Redbridge, Ealing, and Westminster. ((MOL 18-20.))
In contrast to the 1991 census, the 2001 census enabled respondents to self-define their ethnic group. The data finds that London’s Muslim population is more diverse than the rest of UK, where 84% are of south Asian origin. In London, However, 58% of Muslims are of south Asian background (Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, or “other Asian”), almost 20% identified themselves as white, slightly more than 13% as black, and just under 5% identified their ethnic background as either Chinese, mixed, or other. ((MOL 20-21.))
London’s Muslims originate from several countries and regions. The largest proportion of London’s Muslims, 39%, were born in the UK – compared to 46% in greater England in Wales. Approximately 8% were born in other parts of Europe, 14% in Africa, 9% in the Middle East, 13% in Bangladesh, 3% in India, 10% in Pakistan, and 4% from the rest of the world. ((MOL 24-25.))
The diversity of London’s Muslim population is reflected in the range of languages spoken in the respective varied Muslim communities. From data of over 850,000 schoolchildren, a study of languages spoken by London’s schoolchildren estimated the total number of speakers in the following languages in the capital: 155,700 Punjabi speakers, 136,500 speakers of Urdu/Hindi, 136,300 speakers of Bengali/Sylheti, 73,900 Turkish speakers, 53,900 Arabic speakers, 22,343 Somali speakers, and 6,800 Kurdish speakers. While this linguistic diversity does not correlate to religious adherence, it is critical when taking into consideration some of the linguistic challenges experienced by many transnational families, including many Muslim families. ((Multilingual Capital, in MOL 33.))
In Britain, Muslims are one of the few religious groups with higher numbers of men than women. In London, there are 310,477 Muslim men and 296,606 Muslim women; this gender profile may be attributed to patterns of migration history where it may be common for men with families to immigrate alone, and family following at a later date. ((MOL 35.))
Age structures of a population is important when determining the resources and services needed by parts of the population. According to the data revealed in the 2001 census, in comparison with other religious groups in London and in Britain as a whole, Muslims have the youngest age profile; almost one third of Muslims are aged 0-15 years, and 17% are 16-24 years old. In contrast however, London’s Muslim population is older than that of Muslims in the rest of England and Wales (though still younger than the general population). Around one fifth of London’s Muslims are between the ages of 40-64 years old. ((MOL 35-36.))
Of the over three million households in London, 172,776 have a ‘household reference person’ who is Muslim. Of London’s Muslim, fewer own their homes and a higher percentage live in socially rented housing than the general population. Almost 38% own their homes, in comparison with 56% of households in the general population. 56.7% of Muslims in London rent their housing either socially or privately, while 4.5% indicated living rent-free. ((MOL 65-67.))
The 2001 census includes an ‘occupancy rating’ which indicates overcrowding or under-occupancy in housing situations. In London, 42% of Muslim households are considered overcrowded (72,000 households) – almost 11% of Muslim households in London have more than 1.5 people per room, compared with 2% of the general population. The most pressing case of overcrowding is in Tower Hamlets, where 62% of Muslim households are overcrowded. Data also found that on both a local and national level, Muslim children live in worse housing conditions than other children. Muslim households in London are slightly more likely to share amenities, and have central heating in their accommodation than other households; having central heating, however, does not always means that it is affordable. ((MOL 69-71.))
Employment and Economic Activity
Despite London’s rapid economic growth, large areas of disadvantage and deprivation remain in parts of London home to many Muslims, mainly of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin. Barriers to employment for Muslims in London include discrimination by employers, lack of accessible childcare, lack of suitable skills and training, and costs pertaining to travel and housing. In addition, higher education qualifications are often prerequisites for employment – it has been estimated that by 2010, 46% of London’s jobs will require degrees as a minimum qualification. Muslims who are recent arrivals from non-English speaking countries may lack linguistic proficiency affecting the employment prospects. The DfES (Department for Education and Skills) is among the groups working to improve the basic skills conducive to employment prospects, including addressing the linguistic barriers and training for working-age Muslims. The age structure of the Muslim population and number of young Muslims in London means that in the near future, a considerable proportion of the working age population in London will be Muslim. ((MOL 49-50.))
The highest proportion of children growing up in “workless households” are from Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups; 40% of Bangladeshi, and 30% of Pakistani children in London are growing up in workless households, compared to 20% of white children. These percentages of “workless households” are the highest in all of Britain. ((EMED, in OSI 219.))
For households with children, the lack of affordable and accessible childcare, culturally and religious sensitive to Muslim families, poses a barrier to employment – highlighted as a problem for many Muslim women. The 2001 census shows that Muslims are more likely to be economically inactive than other religious groups in London, and Muslim women have higher levels of economic inactivity than women of other faith groups. However, Muslim women who are economically inactive are more likely to be students (41%) than their peers in the general population (31%). ((MOL 49-53.))
The occupation categories of employed London Muslims aged 16-74 is divided as such: 16% managers and senior officials, 13% in professional occupations, 11% in associate professional and technical occupations, 12% in administrative and secretarial occupations, 9% in skilled trades, 6% in personal service occupations, 13% in sales and customer service, 8% in process, plant and machine operations, and 13% in elementary occupations. In comparison to the general population, Muslims are more likely to work in sales, customer service, and elementary occupations – these occupations are often at the lower end of wage scales, sometimes offering very little prospects for advancement. ((MOL 56-57.))
The issue of education is critical for the future of young Muslim in London, as economic growth demands high-level skills to provide labor for high-value sectors of the economy. Educational attainment often correlates to socio-economic factors. According to data from the 2001 census, Muslims aged 24 years or younger achieve higher levels of qualifications than older Muslims. However, London Muslims aged 16-24 had lower levels of qualifications in comparison to the general population in the corresponding age bracket. 17% of young Muslims aged 16-24 in London had no qualifications, compared to just 13% of the general population. 21% of young people in the general population had levels four or five qualifications, compared to 14% of Muslim young people in London. In inner London, 37% of young Muslims had either no, or level one qualifications – compared to 25% of young people in the general population of inner London. The gap continues to widen when analyzing higher levels of qualifications. ((MOL 41-42.))
Muslim schools are those establishments that are created and maintained by Muslims to educate pupils in line with Islamic teachings. The debate around Muslim-only schools and other faith-based schools, continues to generate deliberations both in and outside of Muslim communities. The debate concerns the ability for faith-based schools to receive state (and tax-generated) funding; however, schools may only do so after proving they have qualified staff, facilities, and teaching curriculum. Of the over 120 Muslim schools in Britain, at least 37 are in London. Parents and community provide the funding for the majority of these schools, while the Waqf Al-Birr Educational Trust and the UK Islamic Waqf have made financial contributions to others. ((Ansari, in MOL 45.)) Some Muslim parents and communities have concern that mainstream schools are unable to fulfill the desired path of learning; concerns include the underachievement of Muslim pupils, lack of appropriate facilities and curriculum, policies that may be insensitive to Islamic belief, and the increase of exclusionary feelings among Muslim students. ((MOL 44-45.))
Discrimination and negative attitudes towards Islam can manifest in the experience of mainstream education of Muslims in London. For example, 32% of 110 polled Muslims in Hackney aged 15-25 surveyed by the North London Muslim Housing Association reported poor performance in school was sometimes attributed to the lack of familiarity and sensitivity of teachers concerning Islam. In addition, many reported that expectations concerning their achievement were low, and they were not encouraged to perform well. The FOSIS (Federation of Students Islamic Societies in UK and Ireland) cites reported incidents of verbal and physical abuse, threats, and alienation. ((MOL 46.))
In London, 88% of Muslims say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. This figure stands in stark contrast in comparison to 36% of the general population. These numbers do not reflect a correlation between religious and national identity; in polling where London Muslims were not forced to choose between religious and national identity, they tended to associate themselves with both.
These results are in contrast with how the general public in the United Kingdom perceives Muslims’ degree of loyalty; when asked directly whether they think Muslims living in the UK are loyal to the country, between 35% and 45% of the UK responded positively. However, the overwhelming majority, 74% of London Muslim residents themselves, maintained that Muslims are loyal to the country. ((GWP 2))
On questions of morality, London Muslims tend to be more socially conservative than the general public. For example, just 4% of Muslims in the capital city believe that homosexuality is acceptable. Concerning abortion, 10% believe that abortion is morally acceptable. ((GWP 2007.))
Asked whether or not violence is an acceptable moral response for a noble cause, based on a five-point scale, 81% of Muslims in London chose a low rating of either one or two. These numbers reveal the important step of dispelling common misconceptions on both sides in order to achieve greater understanding. Moreover, 69% of Muslims London feel that fellow Muslims should be more involved in the politics of their country, compared to the actuality of involvement today. ((GWP 2007.))
There are over a hundred mosques in London, with a mosque in nearly every borough. Focus groups conducted by the Greater London Authority in 2004 found that proximity and available access to mosques and other community facilities were of high importance to Muslim communities. The importance of the accessibility of facilities was also reinforced by the Housing Corporation which found that distance from the mosque and the availability of Islamic schooling were key issues for many Muslims in the choice of housing; 50% of respondents said that their religious lives were affected by their housing situations. ((MOL 71.))
The distribution of the main mosques in London is uneven, which reflects the distribution of the Muslim population in the city, with a high concentration located in East London and in the inner boroughs. However, the distribution of mosques in the city does not reflect such other trends including mosques centered around places of work, where people may worship in boroughs where they work rather than where they live. ((MOL 71.))
A 1997 report by the LPAC (London Planning Advisory Committee) found that there were only seven years of space available for burials in inner London, and up to 18 years in some outer London boroughs. While cremation has been a process to alleviate pressure from the limited space, it is forbidden in Islam – only a burial is allowed. ((MOL 72.))
A concern for others and spirit of charity are among essential principals in the religious life of Muslims. As such, Muslim communities have invested heavily in building their own voluntary and community organizations. The Muslim Directory lists over 250 Muslim charities and welfare organizations in London, including some 30 women’s projects. ((MOL 77.))
London Muslims have taken an active role in contributing to London’s cultural life. Some of the world’s leading qaris – Quran reciters – find their home in London. During the month of Ramadan, leading qaris from around the world lead the night prayers in many of London’s mosques. The London Islamic Cultural Centre in Regents Park hosts qaris from Al-Azhar in Cairo each year. In addition, there are number of memorization competitions for boys and girls organized by a number of London-based organizations such as the Amal Trust in West London. ((MOL 78.))
Nasheeds, or spiritually uplifting songs praising God and the prophet Muhammad are another important Islamic artistic genre. Production and distribution companies in London which often seek to showcase such talent include Meem Music, and Audio of Mountain Light. Nasheeds are popular in celebration of the birth of the prophet Muhammad, which is celebrated in numbers London mosques. ((MOL 79.))
VITA (Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts) is a department of the Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture based on London, attracting both Muslim and non-Muslim teachers and students. Projects by VITA include the Muslim Prayer Space for the Millennium Dome in 1999, and the Souk during Islam Awareness Week for the recent Shakespeare and Islam Season at the Globe Theatre. ((MOL 80.))
Data shows divide between the British secular mindset and London Muslim opinion on the display of religious symbols. Veiling of the face is a divisive subject; 55% of the overall UK population felt that removing the face veil is necessary to integrate members into society, compared to 13% of Muslims residing in London. With regard to whether or not London Muslims have a favorable opinion of the government, 64% of Muslims responded affirmatively – significantly more than the overall public, with a 36% general approval of the country’s institutions. ((GWP 2007.))
Muslims have been actively involved in London politics for several decades. Muslim mayors and mayoresses in London have included Karamat Hussain (1981, Brent), Saleem Siddiqui (Hackney, 1995 and 2001), and Lal Hussain (2000, Sutton). Despite active Muslim representatives in politics, in 2006 the Department of Constitutional Affairs reported that a large number of Muslims were not registered to vote. The report found that 18% of London’s Muslims (approximately 60,000 people are not on the electoral register even though they are eligible to vote. ((Department of Constitutional Affairs, in MOL 76.))
Leading up to the 2005 General Election, the MCB (Muslim Council of Britain) produced an initiative called ‘Electing to Deliver – Working for a Representative Britain’ and introduced a ‘Muslim vote card’ to increase Muslim awareness of the importance of voting. The MCB estimated that five of the ten constituencies with the largest Muslim vote were in London – specifically, in Bethnal Green and Bow, Poplar and Canning Town, East Ham, Ilford South, and West Ham. ((MOL 76.))
The first survey of Muslim councilors was conducted in the year 2000. Of the 217 Muslim councilors in the UK, 63 represented the London boroughs. The 2005 General Election saw the election of four Muslim MP’s, including Syed Kamal, Conservative MEP for London. ((Muslim News, in MOL 67.))
Public Perception and Community Life
The impact of the multifaceted international factor can be complex; many refugees who arrived in Britain are Muslim, and the discrimination that asylum seekers and refugees face, often take on racial, cultural, and religious dimensions. Islamophobia, or fear and hostility towards Islam and Muslims, can take on many forms. Many Muslims experience discrimination in employment opportunities, stereotyped media portrayals, police intimidation, harassment involving both physical and verbal assaults, property damage, and attacks on mosques. ((MOL 93-94.))
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act of 2000 ensures that religious and ethnic groups are recognized in the act to address religiously aggravated and hate/faith crimes. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act became law in February 2006, and was intended to outlaw religious hatred in the same way that hate crimes are prohibited under the law. According to the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service), the total number of reported faith hate crimes in London was 537 between 2004-2005. Between 2005-2006, there were 1,006 reported incidents; the upsurge has been attributed in part to the July 7 2005 London bombings, and a strong backlash shortly after the bombings. ((MOL 84.))
The Mayor of London has sought to maintain a constant dialogue with London’s Muslim communities. Following the July 2005 bombings, the Mayor’s Office convened a series of meetings with leading Muslim individuals and organizations to hear their concerns. Campaigns such as the Trafalgar Square vigil, One London, and Everyone’s London were launched to send a message of unity among all London’s inhabitants. ((MOL 97.))
A 2002 survey of attitudes concerning British Muslims found that 84% of people were open to living together, and that 79% were not completely in favor of Muslims giving up their way of life. However, 84% also responded affirmatively that they “tended to be more suspicious of Britain’s Muslims since September 11th“ 2001. Approximately two thirds of the respondents admitted a lack of knowledge of Islam, and little to no first hand contact with Muslims. ((YouGov; in MOL 97.))
“Attitudes towards British Muslims.” YouGov on behalf of the Islamic Society of Britain, 2002.
Department of Constitutional Affairs. Muslims encouraged to vote. Government Office for London website, 16 February2006. H Ansari, ‘The Infidel Within’, Muslims in Britain since 1800, CHurst and company, 2004.
Eds. P Baker and J Eversley, Multilingual Capital – The languages of London’s schoolchildren and their relevance to economic, social and educational policies, 2000.
Ethnic Minority Employment Division. Department for Work and Pensions. 2004.
Gallup World Poll. ThinkForum: Muslims in Europe. Muslims in Berlin, London, and
Paris: Bridges and Gaps in Public Opinion. The Gallup Organization. Princeton, NJ. 2007.
Gallup World Poll. “Values Questions Set European Muslims Apart.” Zsolt Nyiri. 2007. Available at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/27397/Values-Questions-Set-European-Muslims-Apart.aspx
Gallup World Poll. “Muslims in Europe: Basis for Greater Understanding Already Exists.” Zsolt Nyiri. 2007. Available at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/27409/Muslims-Europe-Basis-Greater-Understanding-Already-Exists.aspx
Mayor of London. “Muslims in London.” Greater London Authority. October 2006. Available at: http://www.london.gov.uk/gla/publications/equalities/muslims-in-london.pdf
Open Society Institute, European Union Monitoring and Advocacy Program. Muslims in the UK. 2004. Available at: http://www.eumap.org/topics/minority/reports/britishmuslims
The Maternity Alliance, Experiences of Maternity Services: Muslim Women’s Perspectives, 2004.
The Muslim Directory, published by MDUK. Available at: http://www.muslimdirectory.co.uk/
DfES – Department for Education and Skills
FOSIS – Federation of Students Islamic Societies in UK and Ireland
LPAC London Planning Advisory Committee
MCB – Muslim Council of Britain
MOL – Mayor of London
MPS – Metropolitan Police Service
OSI – Open Society Institute
VITA Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts