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Islam in Britain - Challenged and Opportunities

summer 1996

From Isa Masih - summer 1996 - Islam in Britain - Challenged and Opportunities [pp4-5]

This article was adapted from the ISIC Bulletin, June/July 1996There has been a Muslim presence in Britain since the early nineteenth century, but the Muslim community only began to increase significantly in the 1950s and 1960s, with the arrival of large numbers of workers from the Indian sub-continent. About half of the current 2 million Muslim population was born here, so there is an increasing tendency to communicate in English, thus indigenising Islam. This offers both opportunities and challenges.

About three-quarters of the Muslims in Britain are from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, with the remainder coming from a wide range of African, Middle Eastern and other Asian countries. In the past decade, about 10,000-20,000 ethnic Britons, predominantly middle-class women, have converted to Islam.

Social cohesion

Most British Muslims live in urban areas, and are disproportionately affected by falling educational and health standards and unemployment. However, their strong community ties and religious values create a social cohesion which contrasts with the individualism of mainstream British society. A combination of snobbery, racial prejudice and complacency mean that many Muslims feel estranged from the Caucasian majority.

Until the 1980s, Islam was characterised by poor organisation, little money and a lack of confidence. Now, there are in excess of 4,000 Muslim organisations: some are political, some are concerned with da’wa (Islamic mission), others with education and charity. Many international Islamic groups have bases in London, and the UK is increasingly a communications centre for radical Islam.

Radical Islam

Radical Islam with its fervour, commitment and brotherhood appeals to, and provides an identity for, a section of the Muslim community which rejects the UK’s increasing secularisation. Groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Parliament urge Muslims to make their primary loyalty to the umma (world-wide Muslim community) rather than a nation-state such as Britain.

Because Islam does not distinguish between the sacred and the secular, Muslims have a socio-political agenda which is not only ‘religious’. Initially quiescent, and prepared to accept the status quo, as they grow in confidence, so their demands gradually increase. Islamic education for Muslim children will lead to calls for grant-aided Muslim schools and ultimately an Islamic syllabus.

Muslims vote overwhelmingly (over 90%) for Labour, and although there are currently no Muslim Labour MPs, about 35 marginal Labour constituencies depend on the strength of the Muslim vote. There are many who would like to see British family law in partiular based more on Shari’ah (Islamic Law).


Slowly and subtly, it is becoming more difficult to express even valid criticism of Islam. By calling such criticism Islamophobia, Muslims are capitalising on our fear of political incorrectness and beginning to define the intellectual agenda. Elsewhere there is an attempt to ‘revise’ history by concentrating on the good in Islam, drawing attention to ‘Christian misdemeanors’ (eg Bosnia and the Crusades) while ignoring Muslim persecution of Christians from the seventh century to the present day.

Shield of faith

However, it is essential that we view such changes not as a threat so much as a challenge. Britain is not a Christian country, and our primary aim as Christians must be to see Muslims won to Christ. The foil to Islam’s rapier, is not Western culture, most of which is thoroughly godless. Rather it is the shield of faith. Christ defeated Islam, and all ‘other gospels’ at the cross, and one day all Muslims will bow at his feet. Let’s pray that many of them will do so as his loving disciples; and that we, by God’s grace, will be able to play our part in making our Lord and Saviour known to them.

More from Isa Masih: summer 1996

  • Editorial
  • Surging Interest in Bible Vs Qur'an
  • Islam in Britain - Challenged and Opportunities
  • Kalim Siddiqui Dies
  • Myths About Muslim Witness
  • More like Apollos
  • Into Debate - Christian Suspicions Unfounded
  • Latest Internet Action
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