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Islam is now the largest non-Christian religion in the UK as a result of immigration (mainly between the 1950s and 1970s) from the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and the Caribbean, and more recently from the Balkans, the Near East, and other areas. The 2011 census found close to 2.7 million Muslims in England and Wales (4.8% of the population). There have been Muslims (for example from Yemen) living in Britain since well before the Second World War, but it is the presence of large numbers of people whose ethnic origins are in Pakistan and Bangladesh that makes the group so important today.

Nearly half of all Muslims in Britain were born in the UK. As one would expect, Pakistan and Bangladesh feature prominently on the list of countries of birth. What may be surprising is that more Muslims in Britain were born in Africa than in Bangladesh. This one continent, however, supplies three quite distinct groups: ethnic Asians from East and southern Africa, Arabic-speaking North Africans, and blacks mainly from West Africa. Other major places of origin include the Middle East and the Balkans.

Because the areas from which Muslims derive extend from East Asia to the West Indies, there is substantial ethnic diversity in the Muslim population. Close to three-quarters are Asian (nearly all from the Indian subcontinent), but just under 12 percent of Muslims in England and Wales are white and 7 percent are black. The rest are in the ’mixed’ and ’other’ categories.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

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