We must abandon the caricature of British Muslims

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Britain, we are often told, is riddled with “Islamophobia”. But the results of a recent survey suggest the majority of British Muslims believe their lives have actually improved in post-Brexit Britain.

In a recent survey of British Muslims by Savanta ComRes, respondents said they felt life in the UK was improving in 10 out of 12 “spheres” of life. A majority – 55% – said opportunities for Muslims to do better have improved over the past five years. Almost six in 10 British Muslims – 59% – believe that UK businesses create services and products tailored to Muslim consumers.

While 19% said acceptance of Muslims in the UK has deteriorated over the past five years, 53% of British Muslims believe it has improved. Overall, they are optimistic about social mobility: 57% believe that “young Muslims growing up in the UK today will do better than their parents”. A majority – 53% – think their quality of life has improved over the past five years. The British promise of equal opportunities and social mobility now enjoys greater support among British Muslim citizens.

While some may be surprised by these survey numbers, I am not. Indeed, they support existing data that paints an equally positive picture. A March 2020 study, published by crime and justice consultancy Crest, found that more than three in four British Muslims think Britain is a good place to live as a Muslim – freedom of religion being cited as the main factor. Interestingly, a much lower proportion of non-Muslims (52%) think Britain is a good place to live as a Muslim – an indication that the perception of Britain as Islamophobic is much more widespread among non-Muslims than among Muslims.

Moreover, the Crest study showed that a majority of British Muslims consider all British institutions, except the media, to be fair. They are particularly positive about the National Health Service. According to Crest, Muslims are also slightly more positive about the police than the UK population as a whole. Similarly, the most recent England and Wales Crime Survey found that British Bangladeshis (who are predominantly Sunni Muslim) report having more confidence in their local police force than most other ethnic groups. While 74% of white Britons said they trusted their local police, that figure rose to 81% for British Bangladeshis.

Contrary to the caricature of British Muslims as a disaffected and marginalized bloc, they have a high level of trust in our institutions. This reflects Britain’s success as a modern and diverse democracy. Our protections against discrimination – based on race, ethnicity and religion – put other major European countries, such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, to shame. Indeed, a 2020 Migrant Integration Policy Index study concluded that the UK is home to some of the strongest equality bodies in the world.

Meanwhile, the European Union is moving in the opposite direction. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) – the EU’s highest court – recently ruled that companies have the right to ban Muslim employees from wearing the hijab if they work face-to-face with customers or if this causes conflict and tension in the workplace. This was a deeply illiberal decision that fundamentally infringes on religious freedom and undermines the integration of European Muslims into European society.

The UK is by no means perfect. More can be done to reduce the impact of discrimination in the UK, particularly in areas of life such as employment and private rental accommodation. Indeed, one of the disturbing findings of the Savanta ComRes study is that Muslims’ perceived experiences of discrimination in the workplace have worsened over the past five years.

But, on the whole, Muslim citizens in Britain appreciate the opportunities, protections and freedoms offered by British democracy. Those who peddle the divisive fantasy that we live on a bigoted and intolerant island need to put aside their prejudices and start looking at the realities on the ground.

It’s time for ‘community leaders’ preaching doom and gloom to listen to optimistic ethnic and religious minorities, instead of speaking on their behalf and distorting their views on life in Britain.

Rakib Ehsan is the author of the forthcoming book, Beyond grievancewhich is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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