Why have British Muslims not integrated as much as other ethnic groups?


In this essay, I intend to investigate why British Muslims have not integrated into society to the same extent that other ethnic groups have, from an economic and social viewpoint. Then, I will look into ways as to how they can further their integration, and by doing so, they can reduce radicalisation and Islamic extremism. Finally, I will conclude on why they have not integrated compared to other ethnic and religious groups, and why doing so is so important, as well as commenting on which issue need the most attention to enable increased Islamic integration.



What does integrating into British society entail?

Before answering why Muslims have not integrated properly, it is important to understand that integrating into British society includes many different aspects. This includes views on social issues, willingness to interact with other ethnic groups (with people ethnically classified as white British included in that), and where Muslims stand compared to the British population as a whole on a number of economic standpoints. For example, for the last point mentioned, an article for the Telegraph arguing that the perceived lack of Islamic integration was due to economics and not values, (Kirkup, 2015), and found that 21.3% of British Muslims have never worked, while, for UK as a whole, it is only 4%. Another example is that 24% of Muslims have degrees, while for Britain as whole, it is 27.2%, while for another religious group, for example Hindus, 44.6% have degrees, nearly double the number of Muslims with degrees. Furthermore, it is important to define what properly integrating is. Is it embracing the culture, national pastimes and way of life? Is it being able to merge your own way of life with your adopted countries, without undermining either one? Alternatively, is it being able build a solid financial base that can be built upon in the future, and thus lead to climbing up the social ladder? In essence, it is a combination of all of these factors, and yet failure in any one of these factors, can mean a lack of integration, which, in turn, can lead to friction, hostility, and a lack of tolerance.



Economic Integration

There are several examples of British Muslims, first generation or otherwise, that have been successful financially or have been successful in being able to climb up the social ladder and make a name for themselves, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and businessman and entrepreneur James Caan good examples of this. However, for however many success stories there have been, there a many more which have not turned out to be as fruitful. An explanation for this can be seen clearly when looking at the data comparing British Muslims to the country as whole, as well as to other ethnic minorities. As I mentioned briefly above, the number of Muslims with degrees is below the number for Britain as a whole, while the number that have never worked is five times the amount for Britain as a whole. The rest of the statistics are not healthy reading either, (Kirkup, 2015), with 26% of Muslims have no qualifications, while for the UK overall it is 23%, while the number of Muslims in lower managerial, administrative, and professional jobs is just 10%, while for the UK as whole it is double that, at 20%. Some, while it has to be said not all, of these figures are for worrying reading, but perhaps the most worrying of all, is that 46% of Muslims in the UK live in the areas in the UK that are classified as the poorest and the most deprived 10%. That is nearly 1.25 million of the 2.7 million Muslims in the UK. This arguably gives the answer as to why less Muslims go to university and get degrees, and subsequently are in lower paid professions, achieving low levels of social mobility.



This is supported by the findings of a 2014 report by the University of Manchester, which were cited the Guardian (Sedghi, 2014), that among other areas, investigated the social mobility of ethnic groups by identifying the percentage who had moved up or down from the occupational class of their father. According to the report, 43% of white men and 45.3% of white women had moved up from their fathers’ occupational class. However, the figures for those from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background, where more than 90% of those are Muslim, are much lower. Just 34.3% of men and 27.6% of women had moved up from their fathers’ occupational class. The data suggests a lack of social mobility not only from Muslims once they have immigrated to the UK, but also from one generation to the next, compared to other ethnic groups. One reason for this is due to nature of employment for many in the Pakistani ethnic group. Of those who are self-employed, 53% work in the transport sector, as opposed to the national average of just 8%. This could suggest why many fail to climb up the social ladder, with many either following their fathers’ example, or taking over a family business.



Moreover, the circumstances in which many Muslims came to the UK as well as the nature of their employment pre and post migration compared to other ethnic and religious groups, such as Hindus that migrated from Uganda, can also explain this lack of social mobility. The circumstances have to be traced back over half a century ago, when many Pakistanis, with over 90% of these being Muslims, were invited by firms to fill worker shortages in the decades after World War II, with migration being made easier due to Pakistan being a member of the Commonwealth of nations. Many of these vacancies were in the northern mill towns of England, as well in industrial towns such as Luton and Bradford. The people that migrated were mainly factory workers of labourers, with few being so called lower white-collar workers. Thus, their main aim was to earn, and to provide for their families in the UK and in Pakistan. This mind set meant that growing economically and financially was not a priority, with a consequence of this being that less would be spent on education for their children, with only 53% of Muslim youths choosing to attend university, opposed to 77% of Hindus (Collins, 2011). Subsequently their poor education would lead to having a job that is similar in income to their fathers, as well as having to live in the same deprived areas in which they grew up in, leading to them staying in the same socio-economic group.



This is in stark contrast to Hindus who were forced out of Uganda in 1972, with 28,000 moved to the UK after Idi Amin’s ethnic cleansing laws. However, the circumstances of their initial migration to Uganda is markedly different to those faced by Muslims from Pakistan moving to the UK, with the Hindus’ circumstances helping them prosper and grow financially, something that was replicated in the UK. Whilst up 32,000 labourers moved to Uganda from India to construct the Ugandan Railway in the 1890s, more than 70% of them moved back to their homeland. Another Influx of migration cam in the 1920s, when the British Administration brought them over to serve in jobs of commerce and administration, with 50,000 being British passport holders. However, the British invested heavily in the mostly Hindu Asian minority, wanting to further their role in the economy, with many going on to own small businesses, become traders or work in the financial sector. The result of this was the Asian minority receiving a fifth of the national income, despite being only 1% of the entire Ugandan population, and feelings of discontent and Indophobia from the indigenous Ugandans.



The funding and support from the British government towards the Hindu community in Uganda is perhaps the one of if not the most crucial aspects as to why Hindus have been able to integrate economically compared to Muslims in the UK. Their higher levels of education and subsequent intent to go to university leads to better jobs that tend to have higher incomes. This gives them a solid foundation to which they can build upon once they have moved to UK, meaning that it easier for their offspring to not only achieve similar levels of success, but also to move up from the occupational class of their parents. Dissimilarly, the fact that many Muslim migrants are not secondary migrants, moving directly from Pakistan to the UK, means that they have missed out the step in which they are invested in, whether it be by  the state or by their own families. Thus, due to them being lower skilled workers with lower levels of education, they instead find themselves in a situation of consolidation. They must use their incomes in the present, not to invest in the future, as they cannot afford to. When taking into account the different circumstances of Hindus and Muslims coming to the UK, the lack of investment by the British government is not the Muslim migrants’ fault. The lack of investment by the British government in towns such as Oldham meant that there was a lack of growth and integration in the long term. The rushed nature of turning towns such as Oldham from cotton to mill towns meant that many Muslims who moved were subject to poor working conditions and poor living standards. The Government’s aim to continue with high levels of output overshadowed the need to help those who had moved to the UK, leading to not only a lack of social mobility but also cultural tensions, which came to a head in 2001 with the Oldham riots.  However, first generation migrants have also not been willing to sacrifice their own needs and their offspring’s immediate future by a lack of investment, something that would establish their families financially in the UK and integrate them into British society for years to come, but instead leads to a lack social mobility and consequently integration.



Social Integration

However, integration for Muslims is looked at rarely from an economic perspective, but from a social one. Muslims traditionally have much more conservative views than most, particularly on issues that the country as a whole is becoming more liberal one, such as same sex marriage or homosexuality. This stereotype is, unfortunately, seemingly backed up by evidence. In the Channel 4 documentary “what British Muslims really think” (2015), 52% of Muslims feel that homosexuality should be illegal. You wold be forgiven into thinking that views would be more liberal the younger the age is of those asked. However, this misconception, on the face of it at least, is not true. 35% of 18-24 year olds think it would be “cool” to have more than one wife, something that is acceptable in Islam (up to four are permitted) but is illegal in the UK. Moreover, 23% of Muslims would like to see sharia law and courts overrule the law of the land in some areas of the UK. That last statistic perhaps defines what many see to be a lack of integration between Muslims and British culture. An image of segregation and secluded communities are often painted, and in some areas, are actually a reality. For example, the book Medina in Birmingham Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, (Bowen, 2014) comments on the visit of the US state department’s senior advisor for Muslim engagement, Farah Pandith, to Leicester in 2007. The lack of integration of some Muslim communities in the city was described as ‘striking’ by Pandith. She also saw texts at a local bookshop, printed in English, ‘which seemed to segregate Muslims from their wider communities… playing up the differences between Islam and the other religions… and feeding hate of Jews to the young’ (p.27). Pandith’s observations define why Muslims seem to have not to have integrated into British society as well as other ethnic groups. Distancing themselves from any kind of relations with other groups, mean that they are often painting themselves as outsiders and self-righteous, further explaining as to why so many Muslims feel disillusioned with British life.



Additionally, another explanation as to why Muslims may find it difficult to integrate due to their social views is put forward in The Muslims are coming! Islamophobia, Extremism and the Domestic war on Terror (Kundnani, 2014). Kundnani comments on a point of view, which he refers to as “culturalism”, going on to say, “this approach… emphasizes what adherents regard inherent features of Islamic culture”. Culturalism entails the view that Islam fails to separate religion from the state, due to the prophet Muhammad being both a political leader and a prophet. Thus, Islamic culture is “antithetical to a modern, secular containment of its aspiration to impose itself on society”, with Islam’s failure to separate itself the political sphere meaning that “religious fanaticisms” are brought into the public realm, thus Islamism is a logical outcome. Despite also commenting on an alternate view, “reformism”, where the key belief being that religious fanaticism and Islamism is a result of a misinterpretation of Islamic teachings, the emphasis on culturalism and how it is starting to dictate anti-terror and integration policy highlights that more and more people are starting to take this view. Therefore the belief that Muslims cannot integrate, let alone try to become more integrated into British society, due to their faith, causes increased intolerance, and makes life more difficult for Muslims moving to the UK. A lack of help from either the local community or the government can cause tension and lack of social mobility, and subsequently a lack of integration. Evidence for this can be seen from the example given previously with the Oldham riots, and lack of investment by the British Government when Muslim migrants first started to come to the UK.



However, despite the evidence above may suggest, Muslim, despite not being as integrated as they could be, still do have a solid base in the UK that can be built upon. In terms of numbers, the only groups that are larger are Christians, and those who identify of having no religion. The fact that there are nearly 3 million Muslims and over 1500 mosques in the UK shows that more and more Muslims are willing to come to the UK and trying to integrate, and it also shows the immense diversity and tolerance of Britain as whole. What’s more, is that while Muslims lag behind the UK overall in a number of areas, such as those who have never worked and those in better paid jobs, they are very close in several others, such as the number with no qualifications and the number without a degree. Despite the fact that a large majority of the population is white, Christian and whose families have been in the UK a great deal longer than many Muslims in the UK, shows that Muslims are catching up with the UK as a whole remarkably quickly. One of those statistics, the number of Muslims with degrees, expected to rise quite significantly over the next decade or so, with nearly a third of British Muslims being 15 or under, meaning that more and more will be old enough to go to university. Additionally, according to research published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2013), as cited by Kirkup (2015), concludes, “much of the difference on socio-moral opinions was due to socio-economic disadvantage and high religiosity, both factors which predict social conservatism among all Britons and not just Muslims.” In other words, even though Muslims do tend to have more conservative views, such views are due to their socio economic disadvantage and their piety, something that does not only affect Muslims. The point raised not only provides an answer as to why Muslims tend to be more conservative, but also infers a solution that theoretically seems straightforward.



This can be linked to Kundnani’s analysis and comments on culturalism. The mixture of religion and politics, according to culturalists, makes it nigh on impossible for Muslims to integrate into British society. However, by abandoning the political arm by moving from Muslim countries to the UK, it thus becomes easier to integrate, due to the lack of collusion, as they have to follow the law of the land, which is above the law of religion. Whilst high religiosity may be one reason for more conservative views, the other reason, socio economic disadvantage, can be tackled and solved. This disadvantage can be seen as a second barrier to integration that has not yet been overcome. The first, the separation of religion and politics has been overcome, but the second cannot be solely left down to Muslims. The British people and the government need to make more of an effort to aid those who are able to come to the UK to integrate into British society, however a lack of input from both Muslims and the British government and public makes the situation worse and integration from both an economic and social aspect more difficult. This view is supported in British Muslims, Multiculturalism and UK Foreign Policy: ‘Integration’ and ‘Cohesion’ in and beyond the State (Brighton, 2007). It comments on Tariq Modood’s “two way” social interaction, where “members of the majority community as well as immigrants and ethnic minorities are required to do something; so the latter cannot alone be blamed for failing to or not trying to integrate”. The society that is being moves into has to take the lead as they are established; they have the institutions and the employers, however this does not mean that Muslims are excused from putting any effort into trying to integrate.



A solution would require heavy investment, but such a solution may be necessary to further the integration of Muslims, so then it may be comparable to that of other ethnic groups. To try to change their views may actually cause Muslims to become more disillusioned with British society, so instead a better strategy may be to instead to get Muslims to become more tolerant of views more commonly held within Britain, and for them to be more tolerant of the culture in this country. To do so, as inferred by the study mentioned before, is to improve their socio-economic standing; to make sure that fewer Muslims live in the poorest areas ,to make sure that more get qualifications and go to university, to make sure that fewer become disillusioned. Such reforms have been implemented in the Belgian city of Mechelen, and in an interview with the BBC (Johnson, 2016), their mayor Bart Somers mentions the impressive and positive affect that such policies are having in his city. Somers wanted to improve relations with the Muslim community to lower radicalisation through increased integration, and while his reforms were for a more extreme situation (after the terrorist attacks in Brussels, he wanted to prevent such attacks happening in Mechelen), they can be implemented in the UK to further integration. In the interview, Somers mentions that by investing in education and in social housing projects, less people, including the substantial Muslim population in the city, feel “left behind”. Furthermore, by doing this, as mentioned in the report above, there is no longer such a socio-economic disadvantage, meaning there are better opportunities for young Muslims to get a better education and subsequently better jobs. Furthermore, Somers’ funding into youth clubs that can keep the youth and unemployed off the streets and learning new skills further enhancing their employment opportunities. Thus, by reducing that socio-economic disadvantage, their views could perhaps be more liberal and more open to those that are different from their own, which is only going to further their integration. Moreover, Somers spoke of increased communication to local Islamic groups and mosques. By doing so, more people were able to gain a greater understanding of Islam, as well as enabling the Muslim community to learn more about the community. Tactics such as this also encourage more community events to be held by local mosques, meaning that more time is spent by communities bonding together, enabling them to learn more about each other.




Muslims have not been able to integrate into British society to the same extent as other ethnic and religious, due to the area in which they have been brought up in and their levels of education, which in turn can go on to affect how conservative their views are. A lack of adaption to their social surroundings compared to other groups has also harmed them. However, two reasons are perhaps the most important. The first is the state in which Muslim migrants first came to the UK compared to other groups. For example, their levels of education and lack of transferable skills compared to the Hindus that moved from Uganda has transpired to Muslims having similar jobs once in the UK. The second is the attitude of the majority community. Whilst their views are arguably correctly shaped by the issue of Islamism, (a threat uniquely posed only to Muslim migrants), a two-way interaction is needed. Whilst Muslims need to put more effort into trying to integrate, the majority community must also encourage them, from both the public and the government. This has to be from both an investment perspective (to avoid the situation that arose in the 1950s and 60s in the northern mill towns), as well as from a community one, to ensure that a clear line of communication is reached, much like in Mechelen, to avoid segregation and subsequent racial and cultural tensions to arise.





Bowen I. (2014) Medina in Birmingham Najaf in Brent Inside British Islam. C Hurst & Co. 26-28

Brighton S. (2007) British Muslims, Multiculturalism and UK Foreign Policy: ‘Integration’ and ‘Cohesion’ in and beyond the State. Wiley. 5-6

Brussels attacks: Belgium’s zero tolerance mayor. (2016) available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35897299

Bisin A, Verdier T, Patacchini E, Zenou Y. (2008). Are Muslim Immigrants Different in Terms of Cultural Integration? 445-456. Volume 6. Wiley on behalf of European Economic Association. Available from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy2.londonlibrary.co.uk/stable/40282654?seq=10#page_scan_tab_contents. Accessed 1st December 2016

Collins N. (2011) Christian and atheist children least likely to go to university. Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/8655201/Christian-and-atheist-children-least-likely-to-go-to-university.html

Kundnani A. (2014) The Muslims are coming! Islamophobia, extremism and the domestic war on terror. Verso. 55-69

Kirkup J. (2015) British Muslims: integration and segregation are about economics, not values. Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/11409181/British-Muslims-integration-and-segregation-are-about-economics-not-values.html

Sedghi A. (2014) Ethnic minorities, employment and social mobility: see the research findings. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/jun/12/ethnic-minorities-employment-and-social-mobility-see-the-research-findings

What British Muslims really think. (2015). Available from http://www.channel4.com/programmes/what-british-muslims-really-think


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