The Muslim population in Britain has grown by more than 500,000 to 2.4 million in just four years, according to official research collated for The Times.
The population multiplied 10 times faster than the rest of society, the research by the Office for National Statistics reveals. In the same period the number of Christians in the country fell by more than 2 million.
Experts said that the increase was attributable to immigration, a higher birthrate and conversions to Islam during the period of 2004-2008, when the data was gathered. They said that it also suggested a growing willingness among believers to describe themselves as Muslims because the western reaction to war and terrorism had strengthened their sense of identity.
Muslim leaders have welcomed the growing population of their communities as academics highlighted the implications for British society, integration and government resources.
David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, said: “The implications are very substantial. Some of the Muslim population, by no means all of them, are the least socially and economically integrated of any in the United Kingdom ... and the one most associated with political dissatisfaction. You can't assume that just because the numbers are increasing that all will increase, but it will be one of several reasonable suppositions that might arise.”
Professor Coleman said that Muslims would naturally reap collective benefits from the increase in population. “In the growth of any population ... [its] voice is regarded as being stronger in terms of formulating policy, not least because we live in a democracy where most people in most religious groups and most racial groups have votes. That necessarily means their opinions have to be taken and attention to be paid to them.”
There are more than 42.6 million Christians in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics, whose figures were obtained through the quarterly Labour Force Survey of around 53,000 homes. But while the biggest Christian population is among over-70s bracket, for Muslims it is the under-4s.
Ceri Peach, Professor of Social Geography at Manchester University, said that the rapid growth of the Muslim population posed challenges for society. “The groups with the strongest belief in the family and cohesion are those such as the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. They have got extremely strong family values but it goes together with the sort of honour society and other kinds of attributes which people object to,” he said. “So you are dealing with a pretty complex situation.”
Professor Peach said that the high number of Muslims under the age of 4 — 301,000 as of September last year — would benefit Britain's future labour market through taxes that would subsequently contribute to sustaining the country's ageing population. He added, though, that it would also put pressure on housing and create a growing demand for schools. “I think housing has traditionally been a difficulty because the country is simultaneously short of labour and short of housing. So if you get people to fill vacancies in your labour force you also need to find places for them to live,” he said.
Muhammad Abdul Bari, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, predicted that the number of mosques in Britain would multiply from the present 1,600 in line with the rising Islamic population. He said the greater platform that Muslims would command in the future should not be perceived as a threat to the rest of society.
“We each have our own set of beliefs. This should really be a source of celebration rather than fear as long as we all clearly understand that we must abide by the laws of this country regardless of the faith we belong to,” he said.
The Cohesion Minister, Sadiq Khan, told The Times: “We in central Government and local authorities need to continue our work to ensure that our communities are as integrated and cohesive as possible.”
The total number of Muslims in Great Britain:
Source: Labour Force Survey