The number of Muslims in the prison population has more than doubled to nearly 12,000 in a decade, figures from the Ministry of Justice show.
The dramatic rise prompted calls for ministers to investigate whether police and the courts are treating Muslims more harshly, with some suggesting the rise is due to Islamophobia.
Muslims represent only 4.7 per cent of the population in England and Wales, according to the most recent Census, yet one in seven prisoners (14 per cent) in England and Wales is a Muslim, according to the statistics.
In some jails the proportion of Islamic inmates is more than one-third, and in Whitemoor, a Category A prison in Cambridgeshire, it is as high as 43 per cent.
The Muslim prison population has increased from 5,502 (7.7 per cent) in 2002 to 11,729 in 2013 (14 per cent) and is set to continue rising rapidly because of the large numbers of Muslim teenagers in youth jails.
Other jails with a startlingly high proportion include Isis (34 per cent) and Feltham (33 per cent), both in London.
Some research suggests around one-third of Muslim inmates are from Caribbean or African backgrounds.
The shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, who obtained the statistics, said: “It is astonishing and a huge concern that one in seven prisoners is Muslim. This is compared to just one in 20 of the population.
He said the Government’s “complacency [on the issue] is breath-taking”.
Penal experts point out there are large numbers of teenagers and young men of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage in the peak age group for criminal offending of 15 to 25.
Muzammil Quraishi, a senior lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at Salford University, said: “Young Muslim men are under the official gaze from their school days onwards – they have the lens of the state turned on them. Certain populations can become suspect populations in the eyes of the law enforcement agencies.”
Amal Imad, of the charity Muslim Aid, suggested that poor educational performance, problems finding fulfilling jobs and family breakdown were factors in the increasing numbers of Muslims behind bars. She said: “It may be that they can’t integrate into society, they don’t think they have a positive chance to integrate into society.”
Mizanur Rahman, a spokesman for the organisation Muslim Prisoners, blamed the spike on Islamophobia and racism among police officers.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies