‘Facts’ in a graphic about UK Muslims are mostly wrong

21 December 2022
What was claimed

The mayors of London, Birmingham, Leeds, Blackburn, Sheffield, Oxford, Luton, Oldham and Rochdale are Muslim.

Our verdict

All have had Muslim mayors at various points in the past, but at the moment only some of the mayors of these places are Muslim.

What was claimed

There are over 3,000 mosques in Britain.

Our verdict

There isn’t an official count but the number seems more likely to be between 1,200 and 2,000.

What was claimed

There are 130 Muslim Sharia courts and over 50 Muslim Sharia councils in Britain.

Our verdict

Sharia councils are sometimes called sharia courts. The Home Office said in 2018 that there were an estimated 30 to 85 Sharia councils in England and Wales but there is no official count.

What was claimed

There are Muslim-only no-go areas in the UK.

Our verdict

The police have said this isn’t true. The law applies throughout the UK.

What was claimed

78% of Muslim women and 63% of Muslim men don’t work and receive free benefits or housing.

Our verdict

These numbers are exaggerated. In 2021/22, an estimated 44% of Muslims were either unemployed or economically inactive in Great Britain. We don’t know how many receive benefits. Old census data from 2011 shows 27% of Muslim households in England and Wales lived in social housing.

What was claimed

All UK schools are only serving halal meat.

Our verdict

This is false. Schools can provide both halal and non-halal food.

What was claimed

There are four million Muslims out of the 66 million in the population, which amounts to 16% of the population.

Our verdict

There are probably around four million Muslims in the UK, and the national population is now closer to 67.1 million, but this still means Muslims only make up about 6% of the total.

A post on Facebook making a number of claims about Muslims in the UK has gone viral again. Almost all of the claims are wrong, unevidenced or unlikely to be true given the information we have.

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Muslim mayors

The post claims that the mayors of London, Birmingham, Leeds, Blackburn, Sheffield, Oxford, Luton, Oldham and Rochdale are all Muslim. This is almost certainly not true now, although they have all had Muslim mayors at some point in the past.

The religions of mayors is not a matter of public record, so we’re not sure how the author of this post could know that all those listed are Muslims.

The current Mayor of Leeds, Bob Gettings, was reportedly christened as a child, and the Mayor of Sheffield, Sioned-Mair Richards says she has been a church warden on her LinkedIn page as does a 2015 YouTube video.

In England and Wales, there are two types of mayor: those who are directly elected, for example in London and Greater Manchester, and civic or lord mayors who carry out ceremonial duties or chair the council, but are not responsible for running local services like directly elected mayors.

London currently has a directly elected mayor who is Muslim—Sadiq Khan. A few of the other places listed appear to have Muslim mayors at the moment, but not all. 

Mosque numbers

The post claims there are over 3,000 mosques.

The Office for National Statistics does not count how many mosques (or other places of worship) there are in the UK.

In 2018, in answer to a question in the Lords, the government said it estimated that there were “1500 mosques and prayer halls in England”. 

In 2020, the Muslim Council of Britain said in written evidence to the Lords Public Services committee on the subject of lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, that there are “about 1,200 mosques” in Britain.

The organisation Muslims in Britain keeps a database of mosques, of which it says 1,850 are “masjids/mosques, prayer rooms and shared places such as hired halls and chaplaincies”. We also reported this figure in 2017

That page does say there are 3,277 “locations” listed in total but that this includes “75 very uncertain, 50 multi-faith, and about 400 now defunct addresses”.

Sharia courts and councils

The post claims there are over 130 “Sharia Courts” and over 50 “Sharia Councils”.

Sharia councils, also known as courts, are usually a group of local religious scholars who advise on issues of Islamic marriage and divorce, in accordance with Muslim religious rules. They are not formal courts of law and have “no legal status and no legal binding authority under civil law” according to a 2018 Home Office review.

The same review estimated that there were between 30 and 85 such councils in England and Wales and none in Scotland.

‘Muslims-only no-go areas’

The post claims there are “Muslims-Only No-Go Areas Across The UK”.

In 2015, Fox News broadcast claims from a journalist and guest that parts of France, Britain and other places in Europe were “no-go zones” for non-Muslims. The channel later apologised saying there was “no credible information to support the assertion that there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion”. 

In 2017, we wrote about alleged “no-go areas” in the context of claims made by the Hungarian government and former US President Donald Trump about parts of London that the police supposedly either couldn’t control or were afraid to enter. The Metropolitan Police denied this at the time. 

There are no areas of the UK that UK law doesn’t cover or where police cannot do their work, except perhaps diplomatic premises. While diplomatic premises can’t be entered without the consent of the Ambassador or Head of Mission, any offences committed there “are triable under the ordinary principles of English law, subject to the principles of diplomatic immunity for those who have it.”

Despite this, polling by YouGov from July 2021 used in a 2022 Birmingham University report found that just over a quarter of the British public surveyed agreed that “there are areas in Britain that operate under Sharia law where non-Muslims are not able to enter”.

Benefits and housing

The post claims: “Muslim women…78% don’t work and are on free benefits/housing. Muslim men…63% don’t work and are on free benefits/housing.”

Muslim women in particular did have a high rate of economic inactivity according to the latest data break-down by gender from 2018, but the numbers in the post are exaggerated and we don’t have data on benefits claimants by religion.

In the year to June 2022, in Great Britain, it was estimated that just under 6% of Muslims over 16 were unemployed and 38% economically inactive (meaning they are not in employment, haven’t been seeking work in the last four weeks and are not able to work in the next two weeks). This can include those studying, retired, and looking after families or homes. 

Altogether, that means just under 44% arguably “don’t work”. So it is impossible that the rate for both men and women would be higher—especially if you only counted people who also received benefits or living in social housing.

We can find no data that breaks down benefit claimants by religion. As we wrote previously, in England and Wales 27% of Muslim households (where the “household reference person” is Muslim) lived in social housing, according to the latest available data from the 2011 census, compared to 18% of all households. Social housing doesn’t mean that it is free housing.

The post also says: “Muslim families… 6-8 children planning to go on free benefits/housing”.

As we wrote previously, 2011 census data showed that the average household with dependent children had 1.8 of them, while the average Muslim household had 2.3. Around 60% of Muslim families with dependent children had three or more. The Office for National Statistics doesn’t hold data on birth rates by religion.

Halal food in schools

The post says: “And now all UK schools are only serving halal meat!”

Although some schools may provide only halal meat in their food, this is not true of all of them. In answer to a parliamentary question in 2019, then-parliamentary under-secretary for education Lord Agnew said: “Schools may consider providing both halal and non-halal food each day, or ensuring that dishes are clearly labelled to allow pupils to select the appropriate choice.” 

We can find no evidence that this has changed since 2019. And some school menus contain pork, which is not halal

Schools in the UK have no obligation to only serve halal food. The government’s rules on school meals do not specify anything on providing food that abides by religious dietary restrictions. 

It may be true that some schools with higher population of Muslim students will serve only halal meat to avoid having to buy two different types. In 2015, Islington council removed pork from primary school lunch menus reportedly due to the dietary requirements of Muslim and Jewish pupils.

Muslim population

The post ends by saying: “All this achieved by just 4 million Muslims out of the 66 million population!”

A caption on the post also says: “a minority of only 16% have achieved all this”. 

Most recent data from the 2021 Census shows that there were about 3.9 million Muslims in England and Wales out of a population of 59.6 million.

In Northern Ireland, of the 1.9 million usual residents, 10,870 were Muslim in the 2021 Census. Scotland’s census was delayed to 2022 so data on religion has not yet been released but the 2011 census found that 76,737 people were Muslim. Altogether it therefore seems likely that there are about 4 million Muslims in the UK in total.

The UK population was estimated to be 66 million in 2017, but the latest ONS estimate from 2020 is 67.1 million.

This suggests that Muslims make up roughly 6%—not 16%—of the UK population.

Religion is an optional question on the England and Wales, Scottish, Northern Ireland censuses, so there is some uncertainty about the figures.

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