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THE WAY FORWARD FOR DEMOCRACY: MUSLIM PARTICIPATION AND REPRESENTATION IN THE UK

 

BY Khaled Noor:

 

Muslim communities in the UK.
There has been a Muslim presence in Britain for at least 300 years. After the World War II, the growth of Muslim communities in the UK has been gradually increasing. Migration of Muslims to Britain on a large scale began in the 1950s – as domestic demand for worker in engineering and manufacturing sectors begum to increase and ended in the 1970s. In 1962 primary legislation, namely, Commonwealth Immigration Act,1962 was passed to restrict the number of Commonwealth immigrants to Britain – which prevented primary economic migration and replaced it with a voucher system or work permits. However, in 1951 the Muslim population in Britain was about 23,000, and by 1971 it was 369,000.
The 2011 census shows that Muslims are Britain’s second largest religious group, with 2.7 million members (4.8% of the population) in England and Wales. Official ONS figures for 2018/19 were released in December and show that by then there were over 3 million (3,194,791) Muslims living in England, with over a third aged under 16 – and forming the vast majority of the 3,363,210 currently living in England, Scotland and Wales. It means that 5.9% of the 2018 England population (55.16 million) were Muslim. London is home to nearly 1.26 million Muslims, making up 14.2% of the capital’s population – from which it can be calculated that over one third of England’s Muslims live in London. However, research showed that ‘Muslims tended to experience an additional disadvantage over and above their ethnic disadvantages’.
Muslims in public life.
In 2017, a report – Missing Muslims – Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All – published by the campaigning organisation Equally Ours examined the involvement of Muslims in public life in the UK. It concluded that Muslims were not proportionately represented in public life – and that the major barrier in our way was Islamophobia in UK society.
As the report points out, the aim is not to call for special treatment for Muslims, but to encourage Muslim communities to engage with British society. That means sharing good practice – but it also means challenging Islamophobia. So how do we challenge Islamophobia and encourage participation?
Businesses must play their part.
It is now routine for employers to collect data from job applicants and use it to monitor their company’s performance in respect of equal opportunities. This personal data is removed before the application is considered. We would like to see other data removed too – such as the name of the applicant, which may hint at their ethnicity or religion. That would reduce the risk of Islamophobia influencing recruitment decisions. Businesses should also publish much more data about the ethnicity of their workforce, so that the community can help them improve their record.
MPs must play their part.
In December 2019, the UK elected its most ethnically diverse Parliament, with a record number of ethnic minority MPs. Ten per cent of UK MPs are now non-white. But the diversity comes from England: there are no black, Asian or minority ethnic MPs in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
A record number of Muslim MPs were returned to Parliament at the last General Election, on 12th December 2019 -18, the majority of whom are women. But MPs cannot leave tackling Islamophobia to these 18 Muslim MPs alone: all MPs, including all the non-Muslim MPs, must play their part in challenging discrimination.
Local politics are important too.
Engaging in local politics is often the first step on the political ladder and participation at this level can help to inspire Muslims in local communities to engage in political life. In May 2018, an estimated 380 Muslim councillors were elected in England, constituting 9 per cent of the 4,371 newly elected councillors.
It is important that Muslims should engage with the local branches of their political parties to ensure we are represented on local authorities. “Going it alone” and standing as an independent candidate may succeed in the short term, but it will not offer integration in the political process for local Muslim communities.
Our local community is a good starting place
Political engagement can start at the local level, in our communities. There are many organisations which will welcome Muslims and where we get to know our neighbours and share common interests.
Tenants and Residents Associations (TRAs) are one example: they are a core part of British political culture, but less so within Muslim communities; and Muslims have lack of “bridging social capital”. TRAs are always looking for new and active members and they are an excellent place to start getting involved. There are many other groups – sporting organisations, friends of local parks or amenities, or organisations based around schools.
In conclusion, it must be said that there is considerable evidence that Muslims do share various disadvantages in labour market over and above disadvantages attributed to ethnic background, as well as having lower levels of civic engagement. However, there is also evidence that second generation Muslims are more aware of Islamophobia and prejudice than were the first generation. It is imperative that Muslims need to work in partnership with other disadvantaged communities for them to be treated fairly in British society. “Social inclusion, not exclusion” is of crucial for the future of our growing young Muslims in Britain today.
We can all engage with our local communities: start the ball rolling, and keep it rolling.

Khaled Noor is a Barrister (N/P) and Solicitor. He is also the Chairperson of the Muslim Professionals Forum and a Councillor at London Borough of Redbridge.  info@muslimprofessionalsforum.org
[This article is a summary of Khaled Noor’s speech which he delivered on 15th September 2020 at International Day of Democracy organised by UNA-Luton and Muslim Professionals Forum]