Young British Muslims are becoming much more liberal – but they aren’t less religious as a result

With the narratives on the topic of Islam turning stale, you’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing was changing. We have all seen critics of Islam and immigration point to conservative social attitudes among Muslims as proof of some deeper problem with Islam, and call on them to integrate.

Muslim apologists, in return, warn about the dangers of Islamophobia, cheer about celebrities like Mohammad Salah and Nadiya Hussein, and reiterate the well-known fact that Muslims consistently identify more strongly with Britain than other Brits do. Other Muslims, like Maajid Nawaz, instead acknowledge there is a problem and propose a “reformation” to address it, to lukewarm reception from everybody else.

So far, so boring. It would be easy to think that there’s a straight choice: either be more British by being less Muslim, or be more Muslim while being less British.

So when Ipsos MORI released a review last month of all the major polling data on Muslim social attitudes to date, it’s surprising that no one picked up on the significance of its findings. Delve into the detail and what you find is something completely new.

What it showed is that Muslims are becoming more liberal. But what was surprising was that they’re not becoming less religious; if anything, the data suggests the opposite. The report noted rising religious observance over the 2005-2009 period, saying “this rise was particularly evident in the younger (16-29) age group (from 68 per cent to 80 per cent)” compared to 73-79 per cent for all Muslims.

And yet, these Muslims are more likely to want to fully integrate into all aspects of British life, have ethnically diverse friendship groups and think it correct that homosexuality is legal in Britain.

What is happening? Muslims, especially second generation Muslims, seem to be finding ways to reconcile British culture with religion. It’s only natural that, when Islamic thought has adapted to the context in Malaysia, in Pakistan and in Egypt, it can do so in Britain as well. Apparently, it can do so without becoming less Islamic.

But if we look beyond polling data, there’s something else happening as well. Grassroots British Islamic scholarship is beginning to flourish.

And yet, these Muslims are more likely to want to fully integrate into all aspects of British life, have ethnically diverse friendship groups and think it correct that homosexuality is legal in Britain.

What is happening? Muslims, especially second generation Muslims, seem to be finding ways to reconcile British culture with religion. It’s only natural that, when Islamic thought has adapted to the context in Malaysia, in Pakistan and in Egypt, it can do so in Britain as well. Apparently, it can do so without becoming less Islamic.

But if we look beyond polling data, there’s something else happening as well. Grassroots British Islamic scholarship is beginning to flourish.

There are other reasons to believe that a greater understanding of Islam is behind these attitude changes. There has been a global crisis in Islamic scholarship for many decades. British Muslims have been left to learn Islam from the cultural practices of their parents, or bits of sermons from imams of unknown qualifications.

 

Zack Hassan

 

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.


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