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American Misconceptions of Muslims in the UK

My interest in social and cultural politics extends from my interest in genealogy and history and how they project into today's societies.

Typical English Parish Church

Typical English Parish Church

Why I Feel Compelled to Speak Out About American Misconceptions of Muslims

To start with I’m not a Muslim, and neither am I religious; in fact, I’m a humanitarian atheist. Therefore, I have no personal interest in this topic—other than I feel compelled to stand up and voice my distain of the immoral injustice against Muslims, mainly by Americans' misconceptions due to their blind and misplaced faith in what they believe.

I know there are Americans who have visited or lived in Europe who know better, and I also know there are Americans who are open-minded and don’t have the same prejudices, but they are few and far between. Every American I’ve conversed with in recent years always without fail and with conviction (when our conversation drifts onto European issues) makes unfounded claims about Muslims in Europe which I know are untrue.

False Claims About Muslims in the UK

Typically, the unfounded claims frequently made by ill-informed Americans include:

  • Britain is becoming a Muslim state because the Muslim population has increased tenfold in recent years and it’s now the second-largest religion in the UK.
  • The majority of the Muslim refugee immigrants are terrorist.
  • Muslims don’t want to integrate into British society.
  • The Muslim faith is evil.
  • Sharia courts are supreme over British law and is incompatible with it.
  • There are no-go zones in many cities across Britain and France where even the police don’t enter, including Birmingham and in London.
  • Muslim men rape western European women because it’s part of their culture.

Setting the Record Straight

I shall cover each of these points separately so as to put the record straight. First though, to put it into perspective, I feel it’s important to say something about me and the British culture I live in, especially with respect to religion in Britain.

As regards to my British roots:

  • It appears, from genealogy research I and my son did, that both my maternal and paternal ancestors settled in England from Normandy, France during or shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066.
  • My mother’s parents were Salvationists and her grandparents on her mother’s side Quakers.
  • Most of my maternal ancestors over the last couple of centuries have predominantly been middle class, and before that (for as far back as records go) tended to be wealthy, landowning farmers.

The UK Is Not Very Religious

Based on the 2011 census (which is the most reliable data source) the ethnic groups in the UK are as follows:

Ethnic Groups in the UK

Source: Wikipedia

Ethnic GroupPopulation%

White European

55,010,359

87.1%

Gypsies (including travellers and Irish travellers)

63,193

0.1%

Asians or British born Asian (including, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Chinese)

4,373,339

6.9%

Black or British born Black

1,904,684

3.0%

Mixed race

1,250,229

2.0%

Other Ethnic Groups

580,374

0.9%

Again, based on the 2011 census, the religious sects in the UK people belong to (regardless to whether they follow their faith or not) is as shown in the table below:

Religion in the UK (Regardless of Personal Beliefs)

Source: data from the UK 2011 Census.

ReligionPopulation%

Christianity

37,583,962

59.5%

No religion (includes atheists and agnostics)

16,221,509

25.7%

Religion not stated

4,528,323

7.2%

Islam

2,786,635

4.4%

Hinduism

835,394

1.3%

Sikhism

432,429

0.7%

Judaism

269,568

0.4%

Buddhism

261,584

0.4%

Other religions

262,774

0.4%

However, when people in the UK are asked if they are religious, and if so what faith they follow (rather than what religious group they belong), then the results are more akin to what I see in Britain:

People's Beliefs in UK (Regardless of Their Religion)

The survey results I found just publish percentages (not population figures) so I’ve added that (based on the 2011 census) as a visual comparison guide only.

FaithPopulation%

Not religious

31,609,819

50.7%

Church of England

12,407,010

19.9%

Christian (no denomination)

5,798,251

9.3%

Roman Catholic

5,361,823

8.6%

Presbyterian

1,371,629

2.2%

Methodist

810,508

1.3%

Protestant

748,161

1.2%

Christian (other denominations)

249,387

0.4%

Muslim

1,496,323

2.4%

Hindu

561,121

0.9%

Sikh

498,774

0.8%

Judaism

249,387

0.4%

Other religions

187,040

0.3%

One thing Americans need to understand about Britain is that religion isn’t such a big deal here as it is in America.

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The biggest religion in the UK is the Church of England (C of E), and as most Brits will agree, you don’t have to be religious to be C of E.

In fact, statistics regularly show that only 6% of the British population actually go to church.

Religion in the UK

My Experience of Interacting With People of Different Faiths

Although over the years I’ve worked closely with people of all faiths, as an atheist religion hasn’t been an issue. In fact, at times it’s been fascinating listening to other people’s religious views; and quite enjoyable engaging in conversations with them about their religion.

Below are some of my experiences of working and socialising with people of different faiths in the UK.

Muslim Joking About Ramadan

One memory that springs to mind (which I found quite amusing) was of a Muslim work colleague. One winter he was humorously telling us about Ramadan. He explained how Muslims have to fast during daylight hours for a specified period during the year. That particular year Ramadan fell right in the middle of winter, when there’s only 8 hours of daylight in Britain i.e. from 8am until 4pm.

Therefore he was quite elated about it because it meant:-

  • He could get up as normal for work, and have a good breakfast before dawn, and
  • Then have a good meal once he got home (after dusk).

For him, as the daylight hours in Britain are so short during the winter, it meant he could fast in accordance with Ramadan, while at the same time eating quite normally, except for missing out on his lunch.

An Atheist Hindu

Another memory is of a Hindu friend (an immigrant from India) who told me that he’s an atheist and how he found it amusing to see his wife every morning get out the prayer mat to pray.

As a family, they made a conscious decision not to indoctrinate their daughter into the Hindu faith, but to show her what the faith was about (taking her to India to see the churches and the culture); and then let her make her own mind up (in her own time) as to whether she wanted to be Christian, Hindu or not religious.

Twice a Triangle

One of the offices I worked in (for over five years) was organised into teams of three. The team I worked in consisted of a Christian an agnostic, and me (an atheist); so any discussion on religion tended to be one-sided e.g. the agnostic and atheist vs the Christian.

When the agnostic took early retirement his replacement was a Jehovah Witness. Our conversations on religion were still one-sided, although this time (interestingly) it was me (the atheist) and my Christian work colleague against the Jehovah Witness. One bone of contention being the Jehovah Witness’s firm conviction in creationism, and total denial of the existence of dinosaurs millions of years ago; because in his view the earth was created in 7 days in 4004BC. I found it quite amusing as I didn’t have to say a word; because my Christian friend argued hammer and tooth, with the Jehovah Witness, in defence of evolution.

However, in spite of the sensitivity of the subject, none of the arguments the three of us had with each other ever got bitter. Also, during those years I learnt a lot about the mind-set of Jehovah’s Witnesses from a new perspective. Not all of it was bad as one would tend to believe if one had an informed opinion based just solely on what they read or heard; like the ill-informed opinion I had before I got to know my Jehovah Witness work colleague personally.

Having worked with a Jehovah Witness, and learning more about their social family (from source), I do now have a little more respect for them; albeit I still don’t agree with a lot of their social family values.

My Closest Friend is a Priest

Although most of my friends are atheists, Adge (The Rev'd. Fr Adrian Impett) of ‘The Ecumenical Society of St. Augustine of Canterbury’ is my closest friend.

Obviously, as he’s a Roman Catholic Priest and I am an atheist, we disagree on religion; and he struggles to understand science. However other than that we do have a lot in common, and are the greatest of friends who spend a lot of time together, often helping each other with various DIY projects. In fact, we see so much of him that my wife jokingly refers to him as her adopted son (even though he’s actually older than her).

I’m also on very good terms with his Archbishop (The Most Rev'd. Martyn Douglas), who I usually see socially when I’m visiting Adge in Portsmouth. Adge used to live in Bristol (just around the corner from us) but recently moved to Portsmouth to be closer to his Archbishop; but we have stayed in close contact and visit each regularly.

When I visit Adge in Portsmouth, we usually nip over to Southampton for a social evening with his Archbishop. During those visits the Archbishop is often keen to discuss religion and atheism with me; not to belittle each other or try to score points, but to try to better understand each other’s viewpoint. However, unlike my Adge (my Priest friend) the Archbishop is very converse with science (and very intelligent) so our conversations can get very intellectual.

What really impressed me about the Archbishop is that once he knew of my interest in Quantum physics he made a point of reading up on the subject (in earnest); so that we could talk the same language. In fact, I was very surprised that not only did he quickly gain a basic understanding of the subject but also that he grasped the main concepts of Quantum physics far quicker than most people.

When Adge lived in Bristol he worked for a while for the ‘Octagon’ (a multi-faith chaplaincy) on campus of UWE (The University of the West of England), Bristol. At the time, my wife also worked there (as Admin Support staff); it’s where they met, and from where subsequently he became very close family friend.

The Ecumenical Society of St. Augustine of Canterbury.  My close friend, Adge, 2nd from right; with his Archbishop in the middle.

The Ecumenical Society of St. Augustine of Canterbury. My close friend, Adge, 2nd from right; with his Archbishop in the middle.

My Wife’s Work Experience

Shortly after graduating from university, as a mature student with a BA Business Administration Hons degree, my wife (although an agnostic) applied for an Admin support job with the Chaplaincy on the university campus.

Being an agnostic, my wife was a little worried about taking the Admin job in the Chaplaincy.

However, her boss (the senior Chaplin) reassured her by clearly stating that:-

“You don’t have to be religious to work here.”

In fact, once the senior Chaplin knew me (socially through my wife), although she knew I was an atheist, she asked if I was willing to produce a promotional video of the work they did. She asked because she’d seen a couple of multimedia productions I’d done in my job, and knew what I could do; and I was more than happy to oblige (voluntary of course).

I thoroughly enjoyed making the video for the Chaplaincy; and in the process I learnt a lot more about the various religious faiths in Britain, including Islam.

One of the prime objectives of the Chaplaincy, which was the theme of the promotional video I made) is:-

  • To promote a multi-faith community within the Bristol area

With their main daily responsibility on campus being:-

  • To give help, advise and give moral support to any university students seeking it; regardless to the student's religious faith (or lack of it).

Part of the work my wife did in the Chaplaincy was to liaison with the other religious establishments (of all religions) within the Bristol area, and to build up a network of contacts. This groundwork then made it possible to co-ordinate local multi-faith social projects e.g. to help the poor and needy.

Part of the commitment from the other faiths (on a voluntary basis) was for senior member to be available at the Chaplaincy during the day to help:-

  • With the counselling work the Chaplaincy do for the students; and
  • Ensure someone from each religion is available when a student specifically requests to speak privately with someone from his or her own faith; rather than just with whoever happened to be on duty at the time.

The promo video I made was of an evening presentation in the Chaplaincy whereby a senior member from each religious faith would give their own presentation to:-

  • Introduce themselves
  • Briefly explain a little about their faith
  • Highlight common ground between their faith and other religions, and
  • What their church could do to strengthen links in the multi-faith community to work together on common social projects.

Rabbi and Islamic Preacher Hand in Hand

The part of the presentation that really fascinated me was when a Rabbi and a Muslim Preacher got on stage together and gave a joint presentations; highlight all the similarities and common ground between Christianity and Islam.

Myths Busted

I feel my rather lengthy introduction was important because most Americans who speak to me insinuate that I’m blind to the issues in Europe; even though I live here.

However, having given my intro about myself and my experiences on the subject in the UK I shall now give my response to each of the main points listed at the start of this article.

Islam Is the Second-Largest Religion in the UK, and There's Been a Significant Increase in the Muslim Population

Yes the Muslim population has increased from about half a percent to about 5% in a 15 years period since the 2001 Census; mainly due to refugee immigration. However, this is still a very small percentage of the population; especially when compared with the USA where 17% of the population is Hispanic.

Also, the tide of refugees into Europe is stemming, and slowly returning to normal manageable levels. Refugees into and across Europe is nothing new, it’s been a common occurrence for thousands of years. Today’s crisis is nothing compared to the refugee crisis in worn-torn Europe during and immediately after the 2nd world war when an estimated 60 million Europeans became displaced refugees; with Britain being one of the European countries taking the brunt of it.

Yes Islam is the second largest religion in the UK, and it’s the third largest religion in the USA, but at less than 5% it’s not a significant percentage. To put this into perspective, the biggest group of people in the UK are those who are not religious; 50.7% of the population, of which about half are atheists.

Besides, in a free and democratic society everyone should have the right to their own personal religious belief, or lack thereof.

Misled Belief of Muslim Refugee Immigrants Being Terrorists?

There are two points that needs clarification:-

Firstly, Americans I’ve spoken with firmly believe all refugee immigrants are Muslims.

In fact not everyone who lives in the Middle East is a Muslim, for example:-

  • 11.2 of the Syrian population are Christians and 0.5% belongs to other (non-Islamic) faiths.
  • This has been reflected in the refugees from the worn-torn countries in the Middle East where over 10% are Christians, and about 9% are Kurds.

Secondly, time and time again (once each terrorist act has been fully investigated by the security forces) it’s transpired that the people performing these terrorist acts are not the refugees themselves, but home grown terrorists born and raised in Europe; especially in Britain.

Well over 99.9% of the refugees are ordinary human beings who just want to have an ordinary life, just like everybody else; they are not beasts with evil intent.

The vast bulk of terrorists are home grown individuals who become radicalised over the Internet; quite often the mentality being little different to those individuals in America who go on a shooting spree in a school.

This is why it’s now a criminal offence in the UK to view radical terrorist related material on the Internet, and why the authorities work hard to shut down such sources.

It’s also why the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 give the security services e.g. MI5, MI6 and GCHQ such wide sweeping powers. In testimonial to those powers; as of March 2017 the UK security services had foiled 13 planned terror attacks (by home grown terrorists) in the previous 12 months.

Misled Belief That Muslims Don’t Integrate Into British Society

This is an unshackle myth. It doesn’t matter what I say, as far as Americans I speak with are concerned Muslims can’t and will not integrate into Western Society because their faith and culture is incompatible with ours.

My experience from working and socialising with Muslims, and from what I see living in the UK, is that Muslims can and do integrate into society very effectively. They may have some family values that are more akin to the Victorian era, and they don’t drink; other than that:-

  • Muslims have more in common with any other British citizen than some of the Christian Sects e.g. Jehovah Witnesses, and
  • They integrate into modern society far more than some American religious sects seem to e.g. the Amish and Mormon religious communities.

However, because of inherent prejudices against Muslims, as there was against black’s decades ago, it can make it difficult for a Muslim family to settle into a community; very much a ‘stranger in a stranger land’. As well as their need to learn the British culture and values, they also need help and support while they settle into a new life; and they need to be made to feel welcomed rather than alienated.

Muslims Identify Their Britishness

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), established in 1997, has done a wonderful job in Britain; and it is a respected organisation who works closely with the Government on many issues relating to the British Muslim community.

The MCB is an umbrella organisation set up by all factions of the Muslim community, including the Sunni and Shia; who in their homeland often fight each other in civil wars.

The main difference between the Sunni and Shia (which has been the cause of so many wars in the Middle East) is who should have been the righteous religious leader after the death of Muhammad in 632 AD.

For Red Dwarf fans, it reminds me very much of series 1, episode 4, when the ‘Cat People’ go to war over whether the original ‘cat bishop’ hat was red or blue.

However, the MCB’s main aims are to:-

  • Increase an understanding of Islam to help eradicate prejudices caused by ignorance, and
  • To help Muslims integrate into British Society and Culture; while at the same time allowing them to follow their chosen faith as an individual.

That being said, not all Muslims follow Islam, some convert to Christianity; just as some Christians convert to Islam.

Of course, if Muslims in Britain was such a big problem that Americans seem to think, then I very much doubt London would have elected a Muslim Mayor in their May 2016 election. For information; the London Mayor is the second most important and prestigious political leader in British politics, second to only the Prime Minister in Parliament.

Sadiq Khan (Muslim) Elected New Mayor of London 2016

Insinuations of the Muslim Faith Being Evil

This is a classic case where Americans who have spoken to me having no idea what Islam is. They base their conclusions entirely on the actions of a twisted interpretation of Islam by a small minority of Muslims.

If people took the time to learn what Islam really is about, then they would quickly realise it’s a religion that preaches peace and harmony, just like the New Testament in the Bible; in fact the roots of Islam are based on the Bible. The very word Islam is derived from the Arabic word Salema, meaning ‘peace’.

For those of you who don’t know the history and origin of Islam, it’s based on the Christian Bibles, but instead of viewing the ‘Messiah’ as the ‘Saviour’ (as Christians do), Muslims see the Messiah as just another Prophet, with Muhammad (who died in 632 AD) as being the latest Prophet to preach moral peaceful values to the world.

The bad elements of the Muslim faith, which only a small minority of Muslims latch onto in their twisted minds, actually stem from the ‘Old Bible’ e.g. ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ etc. It’s no more excessive or different to the way some unscrupulous Christians interpret parts of the bible to justify their own immoral deeds.

The Christian Crusades in the medieval period when Europe invaded the Middle East in the name of ‘Religion’, and many of the early missionaries where Europeans was intent to indoctrinate the rest of the world with Christianity, I think shows that we are no different to what we now accuse the Muslims of doing.

In other words “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. In this respect, we should first look at the antiquated, and unjust, preaching’s in parts of the bible (especially the Old Testament) that some Christian sects incorporated into their religions throughout history before we start judging the morals of the Muslim faith.

Islam, Christianity and Judaism: One God

Misled Belief Sharia Courts Are Supreme Over British Law

And That Sharia Law is Incompatible with British Culture

Many Americans speaking to me are under the misapprehension (from misleading reports in the papers, and misinformation on the Internet) that Sharia Courts exist in the UK, which not only overrides the British legal system, but also a belief that Sharia Law is incompatible with British Culture.

  • Firstly, Sharia Courts do not exist in the UK. The law of the land applies equally to Muslims as it does to everyone else, and
  • Secondly, any aspect of Sharia Law which conflicts with British Law is illegal in the UK.

However, there are a number of Sharia Councils in the UK, which are used to settle civil matters within the Muslim community through arbitration; no different in function to other arbitrary services e.g. marriage guidance counselling, and the role of ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) who’s role is to settle workplace dispute without the need and expense of dragging the issues through the civil courts.

The important thing to remember is that Sharia Councils in the UK can only deal with civil matters; and any agreement that contravenes British Law is illegal.

Also (like everybody else) every Muslim in Britain has the same legal rights to go through the British civil courts if they so wish; rather than settle their dispute at a Sharia Council. Any aggrieved party, following a ruling by a Sharia Council, still has the legal right to use the British Courts.

Inside A Sharia Divorce Court in the UK

Fake News of No Go Zones in UK and France

Fox News started the myth when in 2014 they ran a week long campaign of Fake News stories against Britain and Europe claiming not only that there are ‘No Go Zones’ in London but also ‘No Go Zones’ in other cities across Britain and France. They specifically targeted Birmingham as being populated entirely by Muslims, and that it was a ‘no go’ zone where no non-Muslim dare to enter.

Fox News did afterwards apologise, but not until the damage had been done.

I live in Bristol, which is just a 90 minutes’ drive from Birmingham, and two hours from London. Before I took early retirement I used to travel to Birmingham weekly on business (because we have one of offices there). Sometimes I would stay overnight, and occasionally for the week. So I know from personal experience that Birmingham is neither a Muslim enclave as stated by Fox News, and that it’s not a no go zone; it’s an ordinary city just like any other city.

Also, as we have friends and relatives in London, I and my family frequently spend time there; so we know London personally, and know there are no such things as ‘No Go Zones’.

This story surfaced again in late 2015 when Donald Trump claimed there are ‘No Go Zones’ in parts of London that even the police wouldn’t enter; his statement infuriated the British people. Not only did the London Mayor, London Chief of Police and the British Prime Minster protest most strongly at such lies, but also within days of his false statement, a petition was signed by over half a million British people asking the Government to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK.

Shortly after that an American corresponding with me was arrogant in his belief that the false claim made by Trump was true. He insisted on its authenticity because of an American newspaper citing a reputable British newspaper as the source for quoting the London Police Chief making the statement. I followed the paper trail and what I discovered, after I finally tracked down the original newspaper articles, was that:-

  • The American newspaper had not only badly misquoted text from British newspaper, but had also taken the quote in the original story completely out of context.

The original story in the British newspaper had nothing to do with ‘no go’ zones, and the quote in the American newspaper was a ‘misquote’ e.g. saying the opposite to what was originally printed.

Fox News Apologizes For No-Go Zone "Error"

Muslim Men Have No Respect for European Women

Putting it Into Perspective

There is an issue here that has to be resolved, but it is blown out of all proportions in the popular press.

Not all Muslim men are disrespectful, most are descent law abiding citizens. However, attitudes towards women in today’s Muslim culture are undeniably more akin to early Victorian Cultural values e.g. a time when women where second class citizens, and didn’t have the freedoms and rights of today.

Even as recently as the 1950s the cultural attitudes in Britain (and presumably America) tended to be that the woman’s place was in the home. It was taken for granted that when she married a woman would spend her time in the kitchen, doing all the housework and looking after the kids while her husband was out at work. Then making sure there was a cooked meal on the table when her husband got home from work.

It wasn’t until Women’s Lib in the 1970s that attitudes of the woman being the housewife and the husband the breadwinner started to rapidly change.

Also, during the Victorian and Edwardian period descent women were expected to keep their body covered in public with long dresses that went from the neckline to the feet, and bonnets. Only loose women in that period showed their legs. These are values that these days’ westerners criticize in the dress code of Muslim women, claiming it makes them subservient to men. That maybe the case, but in Britain and the rest of Europe (and in Turkey and some Muslim countries) it’s not compulsory. Muslim women here do have the freedom to choose how they dress; and predominantly they choose to dress modestly; albeit some do dress more like European women.

It’s against this back drop that many Muslim men who are not accustomed to the dress culture in Europe can see women who (in their eyes) dress loosely are loose women; as was perceived by many Victorian men in 19th century Britain.

This culture class is a problem that European countries are well aware of, and consequently each country has its own programme to educate refugee men on the edicts of European culture; and the acceptable boundaries of behaviour. Obviously (only being human) the message will sink home for some quicker than others; and there is bound to be a period of readjustment for Muslim men who find themselves in a land with different cultural values.

However, Muslims who already live in Europe know the cultural values, and respect them; as do new arrivals, as they settle into a new life in Europe.

So it’s not the insurmountable problem many Americans seem to think it is.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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