Muslims in Britain want greater recognition of their faith with the introduction of Islamic law for civil cases and time off for prayers during the working day, but are equally committed to greater participation in British life.
A special Guardian/ICM poll based on a survey of 500 British Muslims found that a clear majority want Islamic law introduced into this country in civil cases relating to their own community. Some 61% wanted Islamic courts – operating on sharia principles – “so long as the penalties did not contravene British law”.
Many civil cases in this country deal with family disputes such as divorce, custody and inheritance.
The poll also found a high level of religious observance with just over half saying they pray five times a day, every day – although women are shown to be more devout than men. The poll reveals that 88% want to see schools and workplaces in Britain accommodating Muslim prayer times as part of their normal working day.
Alongside these signs of a desire for more recognition of their religion, however, the poll suggests that the Muslim community is perhaps more integrated than many might imagine, with 62% saying they number “a lot or quite a few” non-Muslim people among their closest friends and 35% saying they would consider marrying someone who was not a Muslim.
There is also a strong appetite within the Muslim community to become a closer part of British life, with 40% saying they need to do more to integrate into mainstream British culture.
The ICM poll was commissioned as part of a groundbreaking Guardian exercise to gauge the mood of Britain’s younger Muslim generation. In addition to the poll, 103 young Muslims were brought together to discuss the most important issues facing their future, from identity and integration to the war on terror.
The Guardian/ICM poll confirms that political support for Labour has halved since the 2001 general election and the Liberal Democrats have emerged as the leading political party within the Muslim community.
The role of Britain in the Iraq war and Tony Blair’s strong support for the war on terror which is widely seen by the Muslim community to be an attack on Islam, has undoubtedly played a part in eroding Labour’s support among British Muslims. In the 2001 general election it is believed that 75% of those who voted backed Labour.
The voting intention figures in this poll show that support in the Muslim community for the government is slipping away fast. In March, ICM recorded Labour support at 38% and it has now fallen a further six points to 32% of Muslim voters.
This is nine points behind the Liberal Democrats who now enjoy the support of 41% of Muslim voters. Conservative support has also fallen in the last six months from 25% to 16%.
Other parties enjoy the support of 10% of British Muslim voters with 4% going to the Greens and 4% to George Galloway’s Respect party.
The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that the poll shows turnout among the Muslim community is likely to be far lower than the general electorate with only 47% saying they “always or nearly always vote” compared with 68% of all voters.
ICM interviewed a random sample of 500 Muslim people by telephone between November 15-21 2004. The data has not been weighted because there is no authoritative source of demographic information on the Muslim population. ICM abides by the rules of the British Polling Council.