British Muslims’ social attitudes are not so different after all

How widespread among Muslims is support for sharia? Answer: not as widespread as you might assume, if the conclusions of a survey commissioned by the Policy Exchange are to be believed.

In Unsettled Belonging: A survey of Britain’s Muslim communities, Martyn Frampton and David Goodhart look at a survey of about 3,000 British Muslims held in conjunction with ICM. They conclude that, though there is a relatively large level of support among British Muslims for the implementation of elements of sharia, but the nature of that support is quite “soft”:

“Whilst a plurality of people expressed a preference for such measures ‘in the abstract’, they were far less forthcoming in supporting them ‘in reality’”.

“Respondents were asked about sharia in the broadest sense – and in that context, perhaps the most significant thing is that a majority of Muslims did not express a view in support and only 16% ‘strongly supported’ its introduction.”

And younger Muslims were much less likely than older ones to endorse the idea. Just over a third of those in the 18-24 age-bracket supported such measures, compared to nearly half of those aged 55 and over. The report notes that the results “mark something of a divergence” from the results of a Policy Exchange poll in 2007, which showed that younger respondents were more likely to favour sharia law.

Perhaps most tellingly, the report concludes that

“it is clear that only a minority of British Muslims (just 20%) see themselves as being represented by those organisations that claim to speak for their community. Moreover, within that cohort, there is no single group that can plausibly claim to speak for more than 20% of people who are so-minded. In each case, therefore, supporters represent a fraction of a fraction of the wider community. Putatively national representative organisations are no such thing. Groups like the Muslim Council of Britain enjoy the support of between 2 to 4% of Britain’s Muslims – and when one goes outside London, that level of support is vanishingly small” [emphasis in original].

On extremism, the authors argue that Government must not simply look to “gatekeeper” Muslim organisations, such as the Muslim Council of Britain to deliver or represent the views of what is, in reality, a very diverse sub-group of the general population:

“British Muslims have fundamentally secular interests and priorities, and they should not be left hostage to the whims of groups that do not speak in fact for them.”

On the vexed question of Government intervention to tackle extremism, the report argues that the authorities must be clear about separating those activities that aim to promote social cohesion and those that are designed to prevent terrorism. In particular:

“The Government should not be ‘spooked’ into abandoning, or apologising for, the Prevent agenda. Our survey shows that Muslim communities are generally relaxed about government intervention to tackle extremism – and are actually supportive of traditional ‘law and order’ policies more broadly.”

In short, the report concludes that Britain’s Muslims broadly share the same views as the rest of the population. Despite their greater religiosity and social conservatism, their lifestyles are largely secular with only limited interest in sharia finance or separate religious education.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "British Muslims’ social attitudes are not so different after all" in Law & Religion UK, 3 December 2016,


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