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U.K.: Report Says Britain's Muslims Most Underprivileged Religious Group

  • Jan Jun

The latest British statistical report "Focus on Religion" states that Muslims are the most underprivileged religious group in the country. Muslims number some 1.6 million in the U.K. The report reveals, among other things, that they have the highest rates of unemployment and the worst health of any religious group. The report -- published for the first time by the Office for National Statistics -- comes as no surprise to the Britain's Muslims. They say they asked the government for help some time ago, but little has been done to make things better.

London, 25 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The latest report simply confirms what Muslims in Britain say they know already -- they are largely excluded from British life.

Members of the younger generation say they feel especially frustrated. Khilood Ali is a young woman of Iraqi origin.

"Me as a Muslim, I don't see any role here in Britain for Muslims. And it's just [as hard] for any refugees or people who need help to live like an equal here with the Britain people," Ali said.

Khilood says the statistics show just numbers, and do not measure the frustration that many of her fellow Muslims feel.

"It's not nice for a country to get all these refugees with high qualifications, like the Iraqis, for example. You can find qualified pharmacists, qualified doctors, qualified engineers -- but they can't get jobs. And they are always underemployed," Khilood said.
The 'Focus on Religion' report...states that unemployment rates for males identifying themselves as Muslims is about three times that of Christian men.

Khilood says she and her friends are afraid to state on job applications that they are "Muslims of Arabic origin" because, she says, that usually means not getting the job.

The "Focus on Religion" report confirms her worries. It states that unemployment rates for males identifying themselves as Muslims is about three times that of Christian men. The situation for young Muslim women, like Khilood, is worse.

"As a pharmacist, I can't work in a pharmacy, because they want 7,000 pounds (more than $10,000) just to get equality with the pharmacy course in Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and I can't get that. I am a 23-year-old woman, and I want to start my career. Do you think I can pay 7,000 pounds for an exam?" Khilood said.

And many young Muslims are even worse off. The "Focus on Religion" report states that some 31 percent of Muslims of working age have no job qualifications -- the highest proportion of any religious group. Among Christians and Jews the figure is less than half.

The state of affairs has been long known to British Muslim organizations. Inayat Bunglawala is chief spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain.

"These findings are not surprising to the Muslim Council of Britain. We have known for years now that the Muslim community is lagging behind," Bunglawala said.

Bunglawala says, however, until recently the statistics "would conceal the problem."

"It is really only since 2001, when the government included the religious affiliation question in the census that we became a visible community. Up until then British Muslims were hidden under ethnic categories of 'Asian' or 'North African.' We welcome this data as far as it highlights certain problems British Muslims are facing. But it represents a challenge also in terms of how to combat this backwardness," Bunglawala says.

It's not clear how best to address the problem. Some look to the government for help, but others disagree. They say the Muslim community should help itself by integrating more with the rest of the society. Dr. Ali Noorizade is a director at the Arab-Iranian Studies Centre in London.

"If there is some problem with the British Muslim community, it is not due to the lack of work or interest by the government. It is due to this community. The majority of Muslims in Britain are part of the society. They have been here for the past 50-60 years, and many, many of them participate in the social and political life in this country," Noorizade said.

Noorizade says Muslim immigrants from some countries feel alienated from the mainstream. He says they live only among their compatriots, without changing their lifestyles and habits or, in some cases, even learning English.

"Muslims from Iran don't feel that they are strange in this country; they have no problem. But then you have Muslims coming from Yemen, from Bangladesh, from Pakistan, and as soon as they come to this country, they feel they are estranged. And they just go to their ghetto and they stay there," Noorizade said.

Bunglawala says he hopes a new law against religious discrimination that Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised will help. But Noorizade says he's not sure. He says newly arrived Muslims should start integrating their children -- and then "the problem would be solved within a generation or so."