What British Muslims really think about poll that asked: 'What do British Muslims really think?'

This week's ICM survey for Channel 4 polled Muslims who live in areas where they make up at least 20% of the population

Tom Brooks-Pollock
Tuesday 12 April 2016 11:23
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This week's survey of British Muslims gave rise to warnings about "ghettos" and a "nation within a nation" because of attitudes towards gay people, women and suicide bombers.

The poll made alarming reading for the former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, who will present a Channel 4 programme entitled What British Muslims Really Think, to be aired on Wednesday.

He penned comment pieces for the Sunday Times and Daily Mail – which deployed the above-mentioned phrases in their headlines.

The ICM poll found that a majority of British Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal, just under a third think polygamy should be legalised, and the "equivalent of 100,000 Muslims", in Phillips' words, or 4 per cent, sympathise with suicide bombers who fight injustice.

However, as Shiraz Maher, lecturer in war studies at King's College London, pointed out, there are problems with the sample: it consists only of Muslims living in areas where they make up at least 20 per cent of the population, who are likely to be less integrated with their non-Muslim neighbours.

Here's ICM's description of its sample methods, courtesy of Adil Ray:

Ray thinks that, for this reason, such polls are unhelpful, when it is already a problem with the attitudes of a minority of British Muslims. Pollster Anthony Wells, in a post on UK Polling Report, set out why polling Muslims as a group is particularly difficult.

He writes that there is "no ideal way", because each possible methodolgy, within cost contraints, has its biases: internet panels are skewed towards well-integrated English-speakers, while random phone-ringing won't produce big enough samples. So ICM's methodolgy, of face-to-face polling, is probably the least worst option. He says it covers 51 per cent of the country's Muslim population.

Wells adds:

"The poll would not have been perfect… but then, no other poll of British Muslims would be either. It’s probably the best attempt to poll British Muslims properly that we’ve seen for several years and, given no one is waiting around the corner with a cheque for a million quid to do a more elaborately sampled poll than ICM’s, I think we should probably take this one seriously, but having due regard for the limitations of the sample."


The pollster concludes that the poll doesn't tell us much new: that most Muslims identify as British, that they are more socially conservative than the rest of the population, the overwhelming majority condemn terrorism and Isis, but a tiny minority do not.

Miqdaad Versi, of the Muslim Council of Britain was less positive about the poll, writing in the Guardian that the poll was "skewed" and "divisive".

Elsewhere, Muslims reacted to the poll in a less scientific, though no less compelling way – by making the #WhatMuslimsReallyThink hashtag about the comically banal.

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