Surprisingly for many observers, the Census 2001 confirmed roughly 2 in 5 British Muslims lived in London.
How many Muslims there are in Britain is both an important, contemporary policy question as well as a topical or political one that has been emergent since 2001 especially, but also since 1988, when the book Satanic Verses yielded the first popular notion of a problematisation of Britain’s Muslims as a specific faith bloc or social group.
The question of how many is straightforward enough, but the answer is not, and this was largely because government itself did not seek an answer by asking the question through its census. As a result, the question of how many was dealt with by academics by applying formulae on national counts of ethnicities, and elsewhere by estimates that were informed more by perceptions and politics than they were by statistical fact. It was also a technical matter: what were we counting, Muslims in Britain, or Britain’s Muslim citizens, with the former ‘in Britain’ having the potential to include categories such as students, legal visitors, business persons from oversees, persons on asylum and illegal persons, all within its count. Also, the terms Britain, Great Britain and the UK cover different geographies, lending to inconsistent counts.
The 2001 Census was the first to ask citizens what religion they belong to (although technically the Northern Ireland census has contained questions on religious belonging relevant to the political questions of Christian denominations there). The Census 2001 is therefore the primary source and most reliable source of information to count Britain’s Muslims. It found that Great Britain had 1,588, 890 Muslims (or 1.6 million approximately). It provides a minimum count which is roughly true. The key publication concerning official facts and figures concerning religion and population in the census is Focus on Ethnicity and Religion: 2006 containing information on population, geographic diversity, households, and the labour market.
On closer inspection, Bradford’s population shows typical complexities.
Surprisingly for many observers as well as policy makers, the Census 2001 confirmed that the highest proportion of Great Britain’s Muslims (38.2%) lived in London, who were also ethnically very diverse. 607,000 Muslims made up 8.5% of Londoners in 2001. However, because London has no single local authority, the largest number of Muslim citizens under a single local authority are in Birmingham, and 13.6% of British Muslims lives within the broader West Midlands region. 11.9% of Muslims live in the Yorkshire and the Humber region, yet only 4.7% of British Muslims actually live in Bradford which in the popular imagination is where British Muslims live. It is worth noting that the British National Party have also seen their greatest gains in Yorkshire and the Humber. Moreover, there are greater complexities, even within the area of population concentration. Bradford’s 75,000 Muslim citizens make up 16% of the local population, a figure that is an average of some extremes: 3 local wards have a local Muslim make up of around 60%, whereas 15 local wards are just 1% Muslim! England accounts for 96% of Muslims of Great Britain (excluding Northern Ireland), Scotland 2.7% and Wales 1.4%, approximately.