Study reveals impact of immigration on UK faiths
Britain is home to 1.1 million Muslim immigrants, according to a comprehensive study of faith and migration.
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent
Published: 9:00AM GMT 13 Dec 2009
The finding will be published in a report by the IPPR, the respected left-of-centre think-tank, which will conclude that thousands of Muslims have moved to the UK because it is more sympathetic towards Islam than other European countries.
It comes days after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the proportion of the UK population who are foreign-born has almost doubled in the past 20 years to 11 per cent, or 6.7 million people.
The figure of 1.1 million includes Muslims of all ages who were born abroad, but excludes those who were born in the UK. The Government has said that the country's total Muslim population is 2.4 million, suggesting that the majority are British-born.
According to the IPPR's “faith map” of the immigrant population, around 4.5 million of the UK's foreign-born residents claim to have a religious affiliation. Of these, around a quarter are Muslims while more than half are Christian, with Polish Catholics and African Pentecostals among the fastest-growing groups.
The findings are based on previously-unpublished results of the Labour Force Survey, which is overseen by the ONS and which involves interviews with 200,000 members of the public each year.
Traditional churchgoing has declined in the UK over the past decade, but the IPPR report argues that Christianity is becoming more charismatic and fundamental.
According to the report, the past decade has seen a net increase of 275,000 in the number of Muslims who were born in Pakistan or Bangladesh but are now living in Britain – the equivalent to twice the population of Oxford. The number of Somali-born UK residents has also risen sharply, from fewer than 40,000 in 1999 to 106,700 this year.
Many of the newcomers are part of a trend of onward migration from European Union countries, coming to the UK after being subject to “latent Islamaphobia” abroad, according to the report.
“Migration has caused an increase in the proportions of the population affiliated to non-Christian faiths,” says the report, called Faith, Migration and Integration in the UK, which will be published next month.
The document will also stress that there has been a large influx of Christians, explaining that the search for work and safety from persecution are among the key factors driving migration flows.
Catholicism has been boosted by the arrival of almost 600,000 immigrants from Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia, the report says, adding that less-traditional forms of Christianity are experiencing the greatest increase.
“Perhaps the most significant change has been the growth of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity within migrant populations, particularly those from Africa and Latin America,” the report says.
“In Lewisham, there are 65 Pentecostal churches serving the Nigerian community, and others serving the Congolese, Ghanaian and Ivorian communities.”
The report suggests that the arrival of large numbers of immigrants will potentially challenge the trend of secularisation in the UK as they tend to be more religiously observant.
“A challenging change is that brought about by the arrival of migrants with an established faith organisation whose traditions and beliefs differ from that of the UK-born population.”
In particular, it points to immigrants holding much more conservative views on the role of women and homosexual clergy in Christian churches.
Prof Mike Kenny of the IPPR said: “The research shows that recent waves of inward migration have given a boost to some of the UK's established faiths communities at a time when Britain's society and culture are generally more secular, and smaller numbers of the indigenous population are regularly attending churches.
“Recent migration trends are altering the faith map of the UK. Their biggest impact is being felt in some of our largest cities, London above all, where a rich mosaic of different faith communities has come into being.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, suggested the real number of foreign-born Muslims in the UK could be much higher, due to the presence of illegal immigrants who would be unlikely to respond to government surveys.
He said: “The rapid rise in the Muslim population is just one way in which mass immigration promoted, even encouraged, by this Government has affected the whole nature of our society.”
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