How Many Muslims?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published on 16 September a table giving estimates of the Muslim population of each country in Western Europe in 2010. This formed part of a press release about a new Pew report on Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe. However, the estimates are actually from another and still forthcoming Pew report on the growth rates among Muslim populations worldwide, and including projections for 2020 and 2030.

Pew’s UK figure for 2010 is 2,869,000, which is equivalent to 4.6% of the population. In absolute terms, the UK has the third largest Muslim community on the continent, after Germany (4,119,000) and France (3,574,000).

In percentage terms, the UK is in ninth position, after Belgium (6.0%), France, Austria and Switzerland (5.7%), The Netherlands (5.5%), Germany (5.0%), Sweden (4.9%) and Greece (4.7%). UK Muslims account for 16.8% of all Muslims in Western Europe.

The 2010 UK statistic represents an increase of 74.2% on the 1,647,000 (2.7% of the population) which Pew quoted as recently as last October, in its report Mapping the Global Muslim Population (pp. 22, 32, 54).

That figure was primarily based on the 2001 census, which was the first reliable measure of UK Muslim numbers, earlier estimates having been ethnically derived. No explanation (nor source) for the revised estimate is given by Pew, but doubtless all will be explained in its forthcoming report.

The 2001 census was thought to have been somewhat of an underestimate of Muslim numbers at that time, despite serious efforts by the Muslim Council of Britain and other community leaders to get Muslims to register their faith on the census schedule.

The most widely-publicized figures for Muslims since the census have been estimates for Great Britain from the Government’s Labour Force Survey (LFS), which rose from 1,870,000 in 2004 to 2,422,000 in 2008.

These first emerged in The Times on 30 January 2009 and were officially published in Hansard on 7 July 2009, in reply to a parliamentary question. They generated numerous media headlines about the Muslim population of Britain rising ten times faster than the rest of society.

No new LFS-based estimates have been released since, although they could presumably be easily generated by Government or academics (LFS data are routinely deposited at ESDS).

Another Government source, the Citizenship Survey, which covers adults aged 16 and over in England and Wales, reveals that the proportion of Muslims in the population doubled between 2001 and 2008-09, from 2% to 4%. Four-fifths of Muslims at the latter date claimed to be practising their faith, compared with 37% of all adults professing a religion and 32% of Christians.

According to Sophie Gilliat-Ray (Muslims in Britain, 2010, p. 117) the significant increase in the Muslim population ‘may be attributed to recent immigration, the growing birth rate, some conversion to Islam, and perhaps also an increased willingness to self-identify as “Muslim” on account of the “war on terror”’. The demography of Islam is explored in some detail in chapters 4 and 5 of Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? (2010).

The 2010 Pew table can be found at:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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5 Responses to How Many Muslims?

  1. David Voas says:

    The Pew estimate seems a little high, but it’s not far out of line with official (if unpublished) estimates. If we accept the series 1,591,000 (2001 census), 1,870,000 (2004 LFS), 2,422 (2008 LFS), the annual growth rate rose from 5.5 to 6.7%. Projecting forward from 2008 at 7% would give us 2,773,000 in 2010, compared to the Pew figure of 2,869,000.

    The Citizenship Survey is not useful for estimating the Muslim population, because it includes large ethnic minority booster samples that are then weighted using external assumptions about the relative size of those subpopulations.

    I’m highly sceptical of claims that Muslims were significantly underenumerated in the census, as are experts including Tariq Modood. One check is to look at religion by country of birth (remembering that more than half of British Muslims were born overseas). The total number of people born in Pakistan and Bangladesh who are recorded in the census as having no religion or religion not stated is a mere 28,635. Even if we added all of those to the Muslim column, the total would rise by less than 2%.

    Of the four possible reasons for the rapid increase of the British Muslim population mentioned by Sophie Gilliat-Ray, only the first two (immigration and natural increase) are important. Her reference to ‘the growing birth rate’ is misleading: the Muslim birth rate is declining towards the national average, but it is still high enough to produce substantial growth. As for the other two factors, conversions to Islam contribute relatively little to the total, and there is no evidence that people of Muslim heritage are now more likely than before to identify themselves as such.

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