Sunday, November 23, 1997 Published at 01:10 GMT
Muslims in Britain
The creation of the Muslim Council of Britain this weekend is an attempt to highlight the problems facing the Muslim community. In this special report for BBC News online, the BBC Religious Affairs correspondent, Alex Kirby, looks at Britain's Muslim community - their origins, their beliefs and the issues which most concern them:
The number of Muslims in Britain is generally put at around 1.5 million, though some community groups suggest it could be nearer two million.
Perhaps half came originally from Pakistan, with the Middle East and North Africa accounting for around a quarter. Several hundred thousand originated in Bangladesh, with India also contributing significant numbers.
The largest Muslim communities are in Greater London, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Lancashire and central Scotland. Most belong to the Sunni tradition of Islam, which accounts for 90% of Muslims worldwide. Only a small proportion of British Muslims are Shi'as.
All Muslims affirm the oneness of God. They believe that all power belongs to Him (who they name Allah); they believe in His prophets and angels, in the books that He has revealed, in the Day of Judgement and in life after death.
British Muslims face growing tensions. Most came here from somewhere else, and were therefore once immigrants, people who naturally still looked back to their homelands. But they have put down deep roots, and their children -- a growing proportion of the entire Islamic community -- are Britons who happen to be Muslims.
They continue to face discrimination and disadvantage: Bangladeshis and Pakistanis together have a long-term unemployment rate nearly three times greater than people of West Indian descent. In the inner cities, nearly half of all Bangladeshi and Pakistani adults are out of work.
Again, the number of Muslims in prison in England and Wales rose by 40% in the four years to 1995 to account for nine per cent of the prison population, although Muslims constitute only about four per cent of the entire British population.
A recent report identified "Islamophobia" as a problem besetting British Muslims of every generation and background: an irrational fear of Muslims as people bent on imposing their religious and political views on the rest of society, if necessary by force.
The overwhelming majority of British Muslims are intent simply on living their lives without interference: faithful adherents of their chosen religion, and at the same time loyal citizens of their chosen country.
But the problems they face here are intensified by some of the acts committed in the name of Islam by people who most Muslims disown.
The launching of the Muslim Council of Britain is an attempt, the organisers say, "to highlight the fact that we are an asset to the nation and to celebrate the contribution we have made to society".
It will tackle discrimination against Muslims in areas such as religion and education. Its founders expect more than 250 organisations to support the new umbrella group -- out of 500 that have been invited. But already it faces opposition from fringe groups who say it doesn't represent them.