Muslim representatives in Birmingham yesterday criticised calls for more Christians, Sikhs and Hindus to move into predominantly Islamic inner city areas.
They denied that high levels of Muslims in areas such as Sparkbrook and Bordesley were harming community relations, and argued that integration was a natural process that could not be forced.
A statement from Church of England clergymen said there was a need for more “genuinely mixed communities” in Birmingham.
But representatives from Muslim groups said concentrated areas of one cultural group in inner cities was a temporary effect of the immigration process, and was not limited to the Muslim community.
They pointed to a new influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe as evidence that ‘no-go areas’ for non-Muslims in inner cities, as described by the Bishop of Rochester Rt Rev Nazir-Ali last week, were a myth.
Azhar Qayum, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Birmingham, welcomed the call for greater integration but argued that the portrayal of inner city areas was not accurate.
He said: “I would agree that more genuinely mixed communities is a desirable thing, but I am afraid that people who in Solihull or Sutton Coldfield are not going to move to an area like Sparkbrook because a reverend has told them too.
“The issue of ‘cultural ghettos’, for want of a better word, is not just limited to Muslim areas. In Wolverhampton there are large areas where only Sikhs live, and in Leicester, Hindus. The Birmingham suburbs are almost all white.
“But there is no area in Birmingham, or anywhere else for that matter, which is a ‘no-go’ for non-Muslims. I would challenge Rt Rev NazirAli to name one place where that is the case.
“In fact, in the inner city areas that the reverends mention, there has been a recent influx of non-Muslim immigrants from Poland and Bulgaria. They have had no problems settling in and interacting with their neighbours.”
Mr Qayum added that communities would become naturally more diverse as people became upwardly mobile.
“Many of the Muslims I know have started moving out to areas like Hall Green and Solihull. It is part of the process of immigration – people initially move to the inner cities together, like the Poles have done, and then can move further out as they grow more financially secure.”
Birmingham’s only Muslim MP, Khalid Mahmood said artificial attempts at social engineering were not the answer to community integration.
He said: “There are a lot better ways of creating community cohesion than forcing people to move in or out of areas – even the Communists couldn’t make that work.
“A lot more attention needs to be given to creating social groups and sports clubs, where people can meet those from other areas. At my school we started a rugby club, which helped us to meet kids from other communities, and there needs to be more support for those kind of activities.
“Integrated communities happen naturally. In Sparkbrook there is now a large Somali population, and in my constituency in Perry Barr there are new Polish and Kurdish communities developing. These changes will begin to filter through, there is no need to force them. I think that people who try to do so are just misguided.”