Population - Sizing Conversions to Islam

Calculations of how many have converted are largely guesswork and even spurious.

By providing a specific Arab ethnicity, the Census 2011 may also provide a stronger evidential basis for estimating the number of White British who have converted to Islam. This will be the natural result of eliminating citizens of Arab heritage from the White British count. The number of citizens who have changed their faith to Islam remains a source of both curiosity and speculation – a precise number is neither available nor workable. The decision to change faith is and remains a deeply personal matter, and with not formal process for change required in either law or the new religion, the speculation can also be seen as an intrusion into deeply guarded personal space.

There is little that has surfaced in the way of policy concerns for the government at civic levels, such as issues of equality or intra-religious prejudice – areas that are generally religious community issues. There is however the grave area of national security concerns resulting from isolated and publicised cases of individuals who had changed their faith and who had also turned to violent extremism, and the related concern of a high representation of converts among Britain’s (disproportionately large) prison population. On the question of population however, these factors do not account for the great bulk of faith conversions, who do so at all ages and for many different and very personal reasons.

Lack of a working method

A lack of any reliable workable method, or a policy reason, for establishing the number of conversions to Islam has also led to speculative methods to ‘calculate’ the population count, with high end results grabbing much media attention. An often used figure, based on community experience and private databases is between 15,000 and 20,000. This ‘rule of thumb’ has been in use since 2000 however and very little is actually known about the impact of decade of the ‘War on Terror’ and its social affect on individuals converting. Sales of the Quran for example have gone up at times, and literature of different persuasions and opinions have been moving off bookshelves. Much has been made of a ‘gap’ in Scotland’s two questions on religion, where less than 3% of Britain’s Muslims live. Unlike the Census in England and Wales (which asked a straightforward What is Your Religion?), the Scottish census asked (a) What Religion, Religious Denomination or Body Do You Belong To?, and (b) What Religion, Religious Denomination or Body Were You Brought Up In? The theoretical basis for measuring conversions was that if, as an example, 15 persons belonged to Islam, yet only 10 persons were brought up in Islam, then it followed that 5 persons must have converted to Islam. This 5 was became a proportional factor used calculate the number of conversions in Britain, by multiplying it across the rest of the UK. In this way, and also calculating a presumed year on year growth in conversions, the sums have produced a population count in 2010 reaching over 100,000 conversions.

Calculations in this way have considerable scope to overstate the number of conversions, which remain the guarded territory of individuals. Moreover the starting premise, the Scottish question on one’s upbringing, is highly subjective and many – many Muslims included - would not think of their upbringing as being religious. But as we have observed the inclusion of an Arab ethnicity in 2011 may provide the most credible basis yet. It is also worth noting that with the passage of time, some who changed faith have passed, and many others now have growing families and even grand children, some of whom are marrying out of the Islamic faith, others of whom have married Muslims from a non-white background. Trying to crystallise a model picture of a convert to Islam and his/her life is unworkable.

Muslims born in Wales
Census 2001
© Crown Copyright. Source data has been derived from ONS Census 2001, unless otherwise stated.