The Muslim population in the United Kingdom may now number as many as 2 million, the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, disclosed yesterday during an official visit to Pakistan.
The last published official estimate of the size of the Muslim community in Britain was 1.6 million, based on the findings of the 2001 census. The updated Whitehall estimate confirms the position of Islam as the second largest faith community after Christianity, and means that Muslims now make up 3.3% of the UK population.
The 400,000 increase in the size of the Muslim community in less than seven years demonstrates its position as the fastest growing faith community in Britain, and also reflects the age structure of the community, with more than one-third under the age of 16 at the time of the 2001 census. Outside London, Pakistani Muslims make up more than 43% of the community, with Bangladeshis accounting for 17%, and those from India at 9%. In London, the Muslim community is more evenly split between Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims.
Smith, who was making a speech in Islamabad which highlighted Anglo-Pakistani counter-terrorist cooperation, stressed the Muslim contribution to British society. She quoted a new estimate of 10,000 Muslim millionaires in Britain and an overall community contribution of ?31bn a year to the economy. Smith is the first British minister to visit Pakistan since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the elections in February and is holding ministerial meetings on counter-terrorism and immigration.
The home secretary acknowledged in her speech that there are four Pakistani Muslim MPs in the Commons, including two ministers, and more than 200 local councillors throughout the UK.
Smith said that “there is nothing Islamic about terrorism” and urged the majority Muslim communities in Britain and Pakistan to challenge the advocates of violent extremism and protect those most at risk of recruitment to their cause.
“We also need to support the institutions where these individuals operate, making them aware of and more resilient to the apologists for violent extremism. In my country that includes parts of our education system, our prisons, our youth clubs, and our community centres,” she said in a speech to Pakistan’s National Council of the Arts.
“We also want to ensure our universities provide high-quality learning about faith and Islam and to establish the UK as a centre of excellence outside the Islamic world for Islamic studies.”
She highlighted the role of a Foreign Office programme which is designed to remove misconceptions about what it means to be a British Muslim. This programme, which has been running since 2005, creates opportunities for British Muslims to travel from the UK to Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world to talk about Islam in modern Britain.