British Muslims: a community in denial?

14 December 2016

Tim Dieppe comments on a Policy Exchange survey of British Muslims which is the largest survey of Muslims in Britain to date.

The think tank Policy Exchange commissioned ICM to conduct the most extensive survey to-date of British Muslim opinion. The results were published earlier this month in a report titled “Unsettled Belonging”. This poll surveyed over 3,000 respondents, which compares to the poll of 1,000 Muslims carried out by ICM last year for Channel 4. A number of interesting insights emerge from this poll.

Conspiracy Theories

The single most remarkable and alarming finding from this survey was that 96% of Muslims believe that al-Qaeda was not responsible for 9/11. When asked who was responsible, 52% said they did not know, 31% said the American government, 7% said Jews, and 6% other. Only 4% accept that al-Qaeda was responsible. This looks like denial to me. Most Muslims are peace loving and want to believe that their religion is too. A story that enables them not to have to face up to the reality of violence being carried out in the name of Islam is psychologically attractive. This will not change the truth that Islam does motivate acts of terrorism. In fact, nearly 30,000 terrorist attacks have been carried out by Islamic terrorists since 9/11. Today Christians are the most persecuted group in the world, and most of that persecution occurs from Muslims in Islamic controlled areas. Islam continues to be a very intolerant religion. This shocking levels of acceptance of conspiracy theories needs to be challenged. There is a strong case for education including some teaching about conspiracy theories and showing children how to fact check on the internet.


This survey found levels of support for violence in political protest or terrorist actions markedly lower than the previous ICM survey found, and even lower than for the general population. Only 2% sympathised with terrorist actions. Of course, it only takes a minority to commit terrorist actions, and the survey may be concealing a “shy sympathy”. We do know that some 850 people have travelled from the UK to support or fight for jihadist organisations. Also, MI5 are monitoring some 3,000 suspects who they believe are willing to carry out terrorist attacks in Britain. This month, the head of MI6 said that terrorism is the “most immediate threat to UK” and that the scale of the terrorism threat to the UK is “unprecedented.” The report notes that in 2014/15 there were more terrorism-related arrests than in any year since the turn of the century.

In the light of this, it is surprising that as many as 26% of Muslims said that “extremist views do not exist”, with another 18% saying that they exist “but are very rarely heard”. It seems then, that a large portion of the Islamic community are in denial about this problem. One could even ask have they ever even read the Qur’an in a language they understand, or about the life of Muhammad? There is no question that Muhammad advocated violence and regarded women as inferior to men. It is worth noting that there was considerable support in the Muslim community for government action to ‘prevent’ violent extremism.


Integration has received a lot of attention in the media, particularly following the Casey Review. A slight majority of respondents (53%) said that they wanted to “fully integrate with non-Muslims in all aspects of life.” 37% wanted to integrate “on most things”, while 6% preferred “a separate Islamic life as far as possible”, and 1% wanted a “fully separate Islamic area in Britain, subject to Sharia Law and government.” From a population of 2.7m Muslims, that would make 189,000 who want strong separation. The report notes that more religiously devout Muslims were more likely to prefer separation. 43% said they would support the introduction of Sharia law, broadly defined, with 16% strongly supporting this. In this context, it is notable that only 4% said they use Sharia banking, which demonstrates a strong lack of support for this in the Muslim community.

The survey found that a slight majority (53%) of Muslims were born outside the UK, whereas 93% had parents born outside the UK. As the report states: “The British Muslim population, it would appear, is at tipping point in terms of being predominantly UK-born population.” When it comes to education, 53% agreed that they preferred to send their children to schools with strong ‘Muslim values’, though 69% favoured a common national curriculum to enhance social cohesion. 44% agreed that schools should be able to insist on “a hijab or niqab” as part of the uniform, with 32% disagreeing. Such face veils clearly form a barrier to integration in society and are symptomatic of an unequal perspective of gender.


The report argues that levels of political engagement amongst Muslims are higher than for the general population, and finds that only 20% of Muslims prefer to engage authorities through a Muslim specific organisation. When this 20% was asked which Muslim organisation they would choose to help represent them, the largest preference was for the Islamic Foundation (19%), followed by the British Muslim Forum (15%), with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) taking only 9%. Remember this is 9% of 20% thus accounting for only 2% of the sample population. The report therefore strongly argues that the MCB has no claim to represent a significant portion of Muslims in this country. To be fair to the MCB, this seems somewhat disingenuous to me. It appears that only the 20% who said they prefer to engage authorities with a Muslim specific organisation were asked which organisation they would choose to represent them. Surely the whole population should have been asked which organisation they would choose, to justify a claim that the MCB (and other similar organisations) only represent a minority of a minority. Furthermore, the MCB describes itself as an “affiliate-based body of mosques, charities and schools” without individual membership. This survey even found that 54% of Muslims supported the idea that Muslim organisations should represent the Muslim community on economic and social issues, with only 13% opposed to the idea. Therefore, only asking 20% which Muslim organisation they would choose to represent them does not allow the other 80%, most of whom do not oppose Muslim organisations, to express their opinion. I am not a fan of the MCB, but to make a headline out of them only representing a minority of a minority seems unfair to me. It is also significant that 71% of Muslims agreed that the local Mosque represented their views.


Who can blame large portions of the Muslim population for being in denial about what their religion teaches and what it has resulted in? The only way to counter such denial is with the truth. Whilst the internet may lend legitimacy to conspiracy theories, and enable their fast and effective propagation, it also means that facts can effectively be referenced, and that the Qur’an and Hadith are freely available in multiple languages. More and more Muslims are realising that Islam is not as peaceful or tolerant as they were led to believe. Much of this is happening as a result of people asking questions about how Islamic the Islamic State is, or whether sharia law allows freedom of religion, for example. All of us quite naturally prefer to believe things that we already agree with. Muslims need to be boldly confronted with the truth about their religion. To allow people to remain in denial is unloving and uncaring. The truth will set them free.

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