Muslim Integration Issues In British Society


This article examines the emergence of Islamic ethnic groups in the UK and the integration of Muslims into British society. The First World War became the catalyst for a new migration wave. The state needed cheap labor. The search for better social and economic conditions by people from the Commonwealth countries was soon suspended. The stagnation of the British economy caused high unemployment. The number of subjects of non-British origin was increasing exponentially. In the second half of the 20th century, the proportion of political refugees increased. The presence of many religious movements and organizations can be explained by the diverse ethnic composition of Muslims in Great Britain. In the UK, it's not just Muslims who are integrating into British society. The indigenous local population is adapting to the new conditions. The social and political structure of the state is changing: Sharia legal proceedings have been legalized; Islamic symbols are displayed in public space; Islamic banking is successfully functioning, etc. Conflicts between native inhabitants of Great Britain and Muslims demonstrate the unreliability of the state policy of multiculturalism. The big problem – terrorism – has revealed new painful foci. When British society is faced with the negative consequences of immigration, it ceases to distinguish between the specialist immigrant, the refugee immigrant and the terrorist immigrant. Ethnic composition of Muslims and their positioning is a historical response to Britain's colonial conquests. For the new subjects of the British crown, religious identity is more important than ethnic one.

Keywords: Great Britain, Muslims, immigration, multiculturalism, "melting pot"


In the second half of XX – early XXI centuries. Islam is becoming the fastest growing religion in Britain. Peach (2006), in his analysis of the 2011 census, writes:

Religious belief and observance among British Muslims is stronger than that of other religious groups in the UK. Modoud and others emphasize that Muslims place religion above nationality when it comes to identity. There is evidence that the younger generation overcomes regional differences in religious traditions brought to this country by their parents, so Muslim ethnogenesis can emerge. (p. 31)

London has become the new center of the world with its own characteristics in the course of several centuries. At the height of its power, the British Empire included 45 countries in both hemispheres and on all continents. After World War II, the empire ceased to exist, and the Commonwealth of Nations, consisting of 15 countries, emerged. Great Britain went from power to influence.

Problem Statement

The European Union's open-door policy has complicated the ethno-confessional landscape. In the UK, the second largest and fastest growing religion is Islam. The starting point for the beginning of mass migration was the post-war period (since 1945). Western countries needed manpower to rebuild their economies.

The economic crisis in 1973–1974 contributed to the tightening of UK immigration laws. However, these actions did not give the desired results. The bulk of migrants are from South Asia and North Africa. The British Isles are becoming synonymous with economic opportunity or political asylum for them.

The experience of Great Britain demonstrates the ambiguity of the implementation of diametrically opposed approaches to the integration of Muslims – multiculturalism and assimilation.

Research Questions

To indicate the reasons for the growth of the Muslim population in Great Britain from the middle of the XX – beginning of the XXI century.

  • How did the Muslim communities adapt to the social, political and cultural conditions in the UK?
  • What is the reason for the radicalization of the country's Islamic youth?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose is to identify the main stages of mass Muslim migration to the UK; to consider the ethnic and confessional identity of the country's Muslims; to study the forms of participation of Muslim communities in the social and political life of Great Britain.

Research Methods

Basic research methods:

  • Historical and genetic method (allowing to consider the origin of the Muslim communities in Great Britain, to determine the cause-and-effect relationships
  • The method of analysis (which made it possible to streamline the extensive factual material concerning the problems investigated in the work).


After World War II, the sun was down and the British Empire fell apart. 50s of the XX century became the apogee of the period of Muslim immigration to the UK. The process was facilitated by the 1948 British Citizenship Act. It implied that the citizens of the former colonies (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, Union of South Africa, Pakistan, India, Ceylon and Southern Rhodesia) retained the status of British subjects. Of course, this was accompanied by a sharp increase in the flow of migration of Muslims from Pakistan and India.

Legislative acts were not adopted out of sentimental feelings towards the dominions. Economic reasons were at the head. The country needed an influx of labor migrants.

The response action was the 1968 Commonwealth Immigration Act. According to the document, the migrant had to "be born in the United Kingdom, or obtain citizenship of the United Kingdom, or become a citizen of the United Kingdom and the colonies, being adopted in the United Kingdom ..." (Legislation, 1968). However, migrants in the UK saw not only prohibitions, but also opportunities. They have begun to actively exercise the right to family reunification.

The most severe regulation was the 1971 Immigration Act. The new law established the "right to inhabit". This meant that restrictions were lifted from migrants if they could prove the presence of relatives – British citizens (Legislation, 1971).

The 2009 law on borders, citizenship and immigration was in the direction of tightening. Now, only after eight years of legal stay in the UK, it was possible to obtain citizenship. The 2014 Immigration Act affected landlords. The fine was introduced for them if their tenants are not allowed to live and work in the UK (BBC News Russian, 2015).

New measures to regulate migration have not stopped the growth of the Muslim population:

1981 – 1.11 % (553 thousand people);

1991 – 1.86 % (950 thousand people);

2001 – 3.07 % (1.6 million people);

2011 – 4.83 % (2.706 million people).

According to the 2011 Census of England and Wales (ONS, 2011), Islam is the largest non-Christian religious group (2.7 million = 4.8 % of the population). London has the largest percentage of Muslims (12.4 %).

In 2011, there were 3,832 Muslims living in Northern Ireland (0.21 %). In ten years, the Islamic population has increased by 0.1 %. Most of them are from Asia (Nisra, 2011).

In Scotland, Muslims make up 45 % of the total number of non-Christians. In 2011, their number is 76,737 people (1.45 % of the population) (Scotlandscensus, 2011).

The largest Muslim communities are located in the economic centers of the country. Mostly they are immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. More than 50 ethnic groups live in the UK. They are native speakers of over a hundred languages.

For example, Somalis are one of the oldest African communities in the UK. They specialized in dockwork. The first sailors from British Somalia came in the 19th century. Somalis belong to the “visible” group of Muslims. This means that they stand out in terms of their appearance among the European population.

In turn, Turks belong to less “visible” groups (Hussain, 2008). They appeared in Great Britain much later, in the 1920s. XX century. The Turkic-speaking community consists of Turkish Cypriots, mainland Turkish residents and Kurds. Mainly they got jobs in the textile industry and the production of footwear, public catering.

Among ethnic groups, the Arab community is considered influential. These are representatives of the countries belonging to the League of Arab States. These are Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and others.

In confessional terms, most of the Muslims are Sunnis. Shiites immigrated mainly from Iraq and Iran.

About 500 thousand people adhere to the Barelvi group. This is a traditionalist trend in Islam. It is widespread among South Asians. The adherents consider themselves the most consistent Sunnis (Kotin, 2008).

As supporters of the Hanafi madhhab (school of law), they observe the basic norms of Islam. A third of the mosques officially registered in Great Britain (500 out of 1500) are controlled by adherents of this movement.

“Reaction to the superstitions and prejudices of traditionalists” – this is how Kotin (2008) describes modernist movement of deobandi. The adherents include Malays and Pashtuns, Gujarat Indians. Deobandi followers consider themselves to be reformers in Islam. In British society, a contradictory attitude has developed towards them. This was facilitated by an investigation report in The Times in 2007. The author calls the movement "ultra-conservative and the one that generated the Taliban in Afghanistan" (Norfolk, 2007).

An important place among Islamic organizations is held by the "Conversion Movement" ("Tablighi Jamiat"). Among the followers are Moroccans and Algerians. It is classified as a religious reformist movement. The organization has a strict teacher-student hierarchy, as well as the practice of dhikr.

The Islamic Committee (Jamiat-e-Islami) consists of fundamentalists. Its main proclaimed goal is to help Muslims preserve their religious and cultural identity. First-generation immigrants are the most supportive (Kotin, 2008).

The creation of ethnically related communities supports cultural norms, and emerging problems are addressed together. But this voluntary segregation has a downside. The host society may have a negative attitude towards such ethnic and religious enclaves. This leads to self-isolation, the formation of radical views, especially among Muslim youth. Only a constructive dialogue between the state and moderate Muslims can stop the radicalization of behavior.

In 1066, the troops of the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, crossed the English Channel. The Battle of Hastings was a turning point in English history. For the first time a foreigner became king. The vector of the state's development has changed, and the focus on continental Europe has increased. The French population grew in England.

In 2016, history almost repeated itself. The Labor Party candidate, son of Pakistani immigrants Sadik Khan, was elected mayor of London. He became the first Muslim to be the head of the capital of a country in the European Union. During the election campaign, Sadiq Khan positioned himself as mayor for all residents of the city on the River Thames, regardless of their origin: “I am a Londoner. I am European. I am British. I am English. I am Muslim. I am Asian. I am Pakistani” (Piper, 2016).

Of course, not all new subjects of the British Crown show such high rates of social advancement. But the UK government is taking steps to include representatives of the Muslim community on the political and economic agenda.

As mentioned earlier, the Muslim community is very diverse. Each ethnic group has its own organization, professes a certain trend in Islam, defends its interests. Diversity, in this case, becomes an obstacle to the creation of a single organization that will represent the interests of the Muslim population in the government.

A task of paramount importance for politicians is to show the immigrant youth successful examples, the opportunity to participate in public affairs, to protect their interests in the legal field. Such measures help to reduce the participation of Muslim youth in extremist groups.

Problems arise in the process of integrating Muslims into British society. It is noteworthy that many scholars believe that Muslims should be specifically integrated into European society. The experience of other islanders – the inhabitants of Japan, who followed the principle of "Eastern morality – Western technique" will be useful.

Integration is not a local issue in the UK. A survey conducted among the local population of European countries showed that the markers are the same everywhere. Non-Muslim Europeans consider the presence of the Muslim community a threat to their national identity. First, because of the Muslim reluctance to integrate. Second, the cultural difference between Christians and Muslims is too great. Thirdly, Muslims lead an isolated way of life, create a kind of "ghetto". The respondents ranked economic difficulties in last place (Lianov, 2012).

Consideration of the socialization of Muslim women in modern Great Britain deserves special attention. For the first generation of migrant women, the social position in their historical homeland and in the new country did not differ dramatically from each other. The position of women was also dictated by the restrictions in the choice of employment. Employers offered jobs in the metal and textile industries. Physical labor was needed here.

The next generation of migrants, who were born and educated in the UK, could find better employment. However, the transition from patriarchy is slow. Studies show that compared with representatives of other faiths, the percentage of working Muslim women is lower (Abbas, 2005).

The employment of a Muslim woman, like any job seeker, depends on the availability of professional competencies and the level of proficiency in English. Many women work in fields such as business, politics, science, journalism and entertainment.

After the tragic events of July 7, 2005 in the London Underground, the British government launched an anti-radical and anti-terrorist strategy. As part of the program, Muslim women were given jobs. Thus, Muslim women are gradually entering the public space.

Education is key to the successful integration of Muslims into British society. It is the school that becomes the main institution where links are established between various social groups. Education determines future improvement in the quality of life. In the UK, students may attend a public school, a Muslim private school or a publicly funded school.

In the UK, it's not just Muslims who are integrating into British society. The indigenous local population is adapting to the new conditions. The social and political structure of the state is changing: Sharia legal proceedings have been legalized; Islamic symbols are displayed in public space; Islamic banking is successfully functioning, etc.

Muslim organizations succeeded in including the question of religious affiliation in the 2001 census questionnaire, and in achieving the adoption of a number of laws prohibiting discrimination and establishing equality.

The Labor Party was a supporter of the policy of multiculturalism in Great Britain. Key ideas during the period of Labor's stay in power (1997-2010) – equalization of rights and preservation of the identity of immigrants. Under Labor, the Civil Rights Act was passed to protect ethnic minorities.

In 2010, the Conservatives came to replace the Labor Party. They have always advocated a tougher approach to immigrants – the concept of assimilating Muslims in order to strengthen national unity. In 2011, the new leader D. Cameron announced the collapse of the policy of "state multiculturalism" and considered it necessary to "abandon the passive tolerance of recent years in favor of a much more active and strong liberalism" (BBC News Russian, 2011).


Muslims in the UK often face prejudice and manifestations of Islamophobia and racism. “Everyday racism” is characterized as the incorporation of racism into everyday life situations through cognitive and behavioral practices (Richardson, 2004).

The media have become the disseminators of the main prejudice that Islam is a monolithic religion. The British media are actively promoting the topic of a sharp increase in the number of the Muslim population. The reader – listener – viewer is told about the mistakes of politicians defending the idea of multiculturalism, the refusal of Muslims to integrate, and the radicalization of Muslim youth.

Neither multiculturalism nor assimilation is a universal remedy for the integration of the Muslim population. Immigrants should become aware of the need to respect the culture, history and lifestyle of the host country. Non-Muslims – to respect the specifics of Muslim religious life. Understanding and tolerance must be mutual.


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Tsarikaeva, O. K., Koybaev, B. G., Lolaeva, D. T., & Revazov, V. C. (2021). Muslim Integration Issues In British Society. In D. K. Bataev, S. A. Gapurov, A. D. Osmaev, V. K. Akaev, L. M. Idigova, M. R. Ovhadov, A. R. Salgiriev, & M. M. Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Knowledge, Man and Civilization, vol 107. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1605-1611). European Publisher.