There is no shortage of national opinion polls asking what Britons think about Islam and Muslims, but there have been relatively few surveys conducted among British Muslims in recent years. Only in the aftermath of the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks in 2001 and 2005 respectively were attempts made to capture Muslim voices in a systematic fashion. This omission partly reflects the difficulties in recruiting a nationally representative sample from what is still a religious minority, albeit a large one, and the associated higher costs of interviewing them. Given this background, we must welcome the poll conducted by ComRes on behalf of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, for which 1,000 Muslims in England were interviewed by telephone between 26 January and 20 February 2015. Full details of sample recruitment methods have yet to be published, but data tables of results (with breaks by gender, age, and region) were released on 25 February 2015 and can be found at:
From the perspective of community cohesion, we may note that 95% of Muslims profess loyalty to Britain, 93% agree that they should always obey British laws, 94% would inform the police about a Muslim planning an act of violence, 85% have no time for those fighting against the West, and 85% dispute that they would rather socialize with Muslims than non-Muslims. However, 20% deny that Western liberal society can be compatible with Islam, 35% think most Britons do not trust Muslims, and 46% report that Britain is becoming less tolerant of Muslims and that prejudice against Islam makes it difficult being a Muslim in Britain. About one in seven (14%) claim not to feel safe in Britain (particularly Muslim women) and to prefer to live in a Muslim country, if they could.
With regard to the Islamist outrage against Charlie Hebdo in Paris at the start of the year, 32% understand and 27% sympathize with the motives of the perpetrators, and, more generally, 11% assert that organizations publishing images of the Prophet Mohammed deserve to be attacked, 24% rejecting the suggestion that such acts of violence can never be justified. As many as 78% say that they are personally offended by publication of images of the Prophet. Scaled up for a British Muslim population which must now be approaching three million, several of these percentages have been thought by some commentators on the poll to translate into a worrying level of alienation from British society and ‘British values’. For nearly all questions, there was remarkably little variation in replies between the various demographic sub-groups.
More than three times as many adults, 66% versus 20%, deem Islamic State to be a greater threat to Britain’s security than Russia, notwithstanding the escalating crisis between the West and Russia over developments in Ukraine. This is according to a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, for which 1,959 Britons were interviewed online on 26-27 February 2015. Islamic State is a particular concern to UKIP voters (75%), the over-60s (73%), and Conservatives (71%). Moreover, in future decisions regarding military expenditure, 52% wish to see resources prioritized to combat Islamist terrorism, with only 18% opting for investment to counter the danger from states like Russia. Data tables are at:
Non-stun slaughter of animals
The practice of slaughtering animals without pre-stunning, which is particularly important in the Jewish and Muslim traditions, was in the news again last week, thanks to a new YouGov poll released by the RSPCA, for which 2,177 adults were interviewed online on 18-19 February 2015. The RSPCA has kindly made the full results available to BRIN (they are not online), but some headline findings were also included in the organization’s press release of 23 February 2015, which is at:
Current animal welfare legislation generally requires pre-stunning of animals killed for human consumption but allows an exemption for Jews and Muslims on religious grounds, which the RSPCA wishes to see ended. Overwhelmingly (77%), Britons agree with the RSPCA that ‘all non-stun slaughter should be banned, with no exceptions’, with only 8% opposed and 16% undecided. However, the vox populi is seemingly being driven by a mistaken association of non-stunning with halal meat and thus with Muslims alone. Two-thirds of respondents rightly identify the exemption with Muslims, but the same proportion wrongly suggests that the majority of halal meat is not pre-stunned, whereas the reality is that the large majority is pre-stunned, as research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has confirmed. On the other hand, awareness that the exemption applies to Jews also is much lower (39%), and just 40% realize that, as the FSA revealed, no kosher meat produced for Jews using the shechita method is pre-stunned. About one-third could not hazard a guess about the amount of either halal or kosher meat which is not pre-stunned. Nearly one in seven (15%) incorrectly believes the statutory exemption from pre-stunning applies to Hindus and a few even to Christians.
The Institute for Jewish Policy Research published the latest in its series of census-derived profiles of British Jewry on 23 February 2015: David Graham, Health and Disability in Britain’s Jewish Population: Details from the 2011 Census. Its 27 pages are divided into three parts: general health; disability and limiting health conditions; and other census data on health (relating to unpaid care provision, Jewish residents of medical and care facilities, and medical conditions in Scotland). Subjectively defined, and controlling for the older average age of the Jewish population, Jews were found to be among the healthiest of all religious and ethnic groups and to exhibit a very low prevalence of long-term disability. Unfortunately, in respect of general health, different question-wording was used in 2011 than in 2001, so reliable over-time comparisons cannot be made. The report can be downloaded from:
Sectarianism in Scotland
The 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey is only the second since the annual series was launched by ScotCen in 1999 to include a specific module on religion. Whereas on the previous occasion, in 2001, the questions covered general religious beliefs and attitudes and paranormal experiences, in 2014 the focus was on sectarianism, at the behest of the Scottish Government, which funded the module. Fieldwork took place between May and August 2014 among a sample of 1,501 adults aged 18 and over in Scotland. A 98-page report on the sectarianism module was published by Scottish Government Social Research on 20 February 2015: Stephen Hinchliffe, Anna Marcinkiewicz, John Curtice, and Rachel Ormston, Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 2014: Public Attitudes to Sectarianism in Scotland. It is available to download from:
The report presents a somewhat mixed picture of the extent of Protestant-Catholic sectarianism in Scotland, with some distance evident between perceptions and reality. Although the vast majority (88%) believed that sectarianism is a problem in Scotland, and 66% that it would always exist there, just 19% viewed it as an issue throughout Scotland as a whole, 69% regarding it as a localized phenomenon (notably in Glasgow and the West of the country) and 55% thinking football was its principal cause. No more than 3% felt that Protestant-Catholic relationships in Scotland had worsened over the past decade, 47% detecting an improvement and 40% no change. Only one person in seven (14%), disproportionately Catholic, claimed to have experienced some form of religious discrimination or exclusion during their lives. Overwhelmingly, people’s social networks straddled the denominational divide and the use of sectarian language was condemned. Opinion remained divided about the continuing existence of denominational (Catholic) schools in the state system, 43% opposing and 25% supporting them (rising to 62% among Catholics).
Of the answers to a handful of questions about respondents’ religious background, perhaps the most interesting (and puzzling) was the 10% drop in the number claiming to profess no religion, from 54% in 2013 to 44% in 2014, despite identical question-wording. The authors explain this (p. 7) ‘as most likely to be an artefact of questionnaire content and ordering effects rather than a reflection of any true upsurge in religious adherence in Scotland … It is evidently possible that when, as in 2001 and 2014, a question about religious belonging is preceded by other questions about religion some people are stimulated into reporting a largely latent religious affiliation that they would not otherwise have acknowledged.’ The proportion disclaiming a religious identity was lower still, at 33%, comparable with the 37% who said they belonged to no religion in the 2011 Scottish population census (which covered children as well as adults). The self-reported incidence of regular churchgoing (monthly or more) was 22%, and 51% of those who identified with a religion described themselves as not very or not at all religious.
Adolescents and religion (1)
An interesting case study of the saliency of religious affiliation is reported in Leslie Francis and Mandy Robbins, ‘The Religious and Social Significance of Self-Assigned Religious Affiliation in England and Wales: Comparing Christian, Muslim, and Religiously-Unaffiliated Adolescent Males’, Research in Education, No. 92, November 2014, pp. 32-48. Respondents comprised 547 male students aged 16-18 attending selected secondary schools in England and Wales at an unspecified date and who self-identified with one of the three religious groups under examination. They completed a questionnaire which explored, through statements measured by a five-point Likert scale, eight themes relating to religious beliefs (Bible, Koran, Jesus, Prophet Mohammed, Jesus and justice, Mohammed and justice, experiencing God, and theology of religions); and six themes relating to religion and public concerns (personal life, public life, the state, social rights, rights of women and children, and sex and morality). Results are presented in the form of 14 tables with commentary. The data highlighted some areas of commonality and others of strong divergence between the three groups. The findings are drawn together in eight main conclusions which cumulatively ‘demonstrate that self-assigned religious affiliation serves as a powerful and important predictor of matters of religious and social concern’. For access options to the article, go to:
Adolescents and religion (2)
Religion is correlated with character-building according to findings presented in a report published by the University of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues on 27 February 2015: James Arthur, Kristján Kristjánsson, David Walker, Wouter Sanderse, and Chantel Jones, Character Education in UK Schools: Research Report. The research, conducted between February 2013 and June 2014, involved 10,200 students and 250 teachers from 68 UK schools, and the techniques comprised surveys, moral dilemma tests, and semi-structured interviews. On the moral dilemma tests, students who professed to be religious scored more highly than those who claimed to be atheist or otherwise to have no religion. Within the religious group, those who practised their religion scored more highly than those who did not. Students attending faith schools also achieved better scores than those going to non-faith schools. Although all these differences were statistically significant, in their conclusion the authors are cautious about interpreting the apparent link between religion and character-building (p. 24). This contrasts with their more emphatic rejection of the widespread conviction that participation in sport builds character. The 38-page report, which is not an easy read, can be found at: