The UK has a strong religious history and the monarchy is linked to the established religion: the Church of England (CoE). The British society has a strong tradition of tolerance for other people’s cultural, religious and linguistic differences. There is a total freedom to practice any religion here, including Islam.
Islam in the UK
According to official figures (2011 census) Islam is the 2nd largest religion in the UK (and growing fast) so it is pretty much accepted everywhere and British people are used to see ladies wearing Abaya, Jilbab, Hijab, Niqab… men wearing Thaub (long flowing garment for men) and long beards. Children in school are taught about Islam as part of the R.E. (Religious Education curriculum). Many large public spaces like train stations, airports, shopping centres even have prayers rooms.
Of course you will find that the big cities offer the most amenities for Muslims: mosques of course but also Islamic schools from nursery to high school, Islamic shops, Halal food stores, Men only / Women only facilities such as Gym, swimming pools and many opportunities to learn the Deen (religion) with many scholars either established in London or Birmingham or passing through often.
Expat and Muslim in the UK
Since I became a Muslim in 2005, I have lived in 3 different cities and every time my experience as a Muslim was different.
- In Norwich, England I gotta say things were not very nice, I met lovely brothers and sisters, but the population in general there is pretty much racist, anti everyone and everything that is not Norwich born and bred. I have never had any trouble alhamdulillah (praise be to God) just the knowledge that your difference is not welcome.
- In Cardiff, Wales, I found a small but very close-knit Muslim community where everyone more or less knew everyone, people united under the banner of Islam regardless of cultural and linguistic backgrounds and for me, it was like being part of a very big family. I may have been the only white face in the “Somali” mosque (see mini gallery below) but they took me in, taught me how to pray and to read Qur’an. I also had the chance to work in the (then) only Muslim primary school in Cardiff mashallah, which was a great example of people from different cultures coming together in brotherhood alhamdulillah.
Noor-ul-Islam Masjid in Butetown, Cardiff, often called the Somali mosque, is the oldest purpose built mosque in the whole of UK, dating back to 1943.
- In Birmingham, England, the Muslim community is very big, and some areas are populated almost exclusively by Muslims. The good part of this is that living as a Muslim in Birmingham is easy, you can shop, send your kids to Islamic schools, work without compromising your religion… However Muslims in Birmingham tend to stick to their own culture, there are loads of mosques and schools there but they are pretty much “nationalised” and while it is of course allowed to attend prayer in any mosque you may not feel particularly welcome at first. I always felt a bit sad about that.
Being a Muslim in the UK is…
fairly easy depending on where you live. Larger cities have more to offer in terms of mosques, shops, scholars and talks, schools, madrassah… but on the whole Britain is a country where differences are accepted and you won’t feel forced to compromise on your religion to live there. On the other hand, it is not a Muslim country and you’ll have to live among a non muslim population and accept the rules of a country that doesn’t recognise Sharia Law so be prepared for some awkward situations and learn to adapt. One piece of advice if you have children, choose your city carefully and teach them about cultural and religious differences.