We often hear people say that young people are our future.
It may seem trite to repeat the saying here but the findings from a report by Ipsos Mori commissioned by, among others, the Aziz Foundation of which I am chair, shows us why the maxim is not so much hackneyed as a statement of fact when it comes to ‘Millennial Muslims’.
The report by Ipsos Mori finds that Millennial Muslims (born between 1980 and 2000, the baseline used for the survey data analysed in the report covering a period of almost two decades) and Muslim graduates are more likely than older Muslims and non-graduates to: live in ethnically mixed areas; have ethnically diverse friendship groups; be more politically active; have volunteered in the last 12 months; support full integration in all aspects of life; and have more socially liberal views.
Half of British Muslims are under the age of 25 and the British Muslim population has a much younger median age than the UK population as a whole, 25 compared to 39. Variations in the views of Millennial Muslims compared to older Muslims, to me highlights two important things: the benign effect of education on social cohesion, and the necessity of cultivating a healthier, more faith-friendly approach when it comes to integration policy. Rather than treat religion as a cause of social conflict and disharmony, we need to begin talking about religion, particularly Islam, with an appreciation of its importance in the lives of its adherents and its influencing and shaping of their positive disposition towards others.
Religion is the strongest driver of self-identity for Muslims, much more so than for other religious groups. But religion is not the only factor shaping identity. Muslims are more likely than the British public as a whole to say that their British identity is important to their sense of who they are (55% of Muslims say this, compared to 44% of all adults).
Likewise, most Muslims have a strong sense of belonging to Britain, and believe that their religion is fully compatible with the British way of life. In fact, comparative figures available from polls conducted in 2015 and 2016, show that the strength of feeling about belonging to Britain has moved in an upward direction with 93% of Muslims in 2016 saying they ‘strongly’ felt they belonged to Britain compared to 85% the previous year.
A sense of commonality with other Britons is strongest amongst young Muslims and graduates from the UK with most Muslims participating in traditional British cultural practices, even those with explicitly Christian origins. For example, nearly three-quarters of Muslims send Christmas cards (73%) and three in five give Christmas presents though the majority do not put up a Christmas tree. Many Muslims also send Mother’s Day or Father’s Day cards, and wear a poppy on Remembrance Day.
Moreover, 42 per cent of Muslim UK graduates are more likely to feel they have a great deal in common with other Britons, than non-graduates (30%) or graduates with degrees from elsewhere (19%). The more British Muslims feel they have in common with other Muslims the more they also feel they have in common with other Britons, and with others of their ethnic group.
A 2016 poll shows younger Muslims, those aged 18-24, were significantly more likely to prefer full integration than all other age groups. Despite this, Millennial Muslims and Muslim graduates are more likely to feel that prejudice against Muslims has increased and are more likely to report experiencing discrimination. There is evidently a gap between the Muslim desire to integrate and their inclusion in society.
I am particularly struck by the variation in views between UK graduates and non-UK graduates, and non-graduates in general. We know that British Muslims have higher rates of participation in higher education than white Britons. We also know, from the analysis of survey data in this report, that Muslim parents have higher educational aspirations for their children than other parents when it comes to university. Contrary to popular perception, their aspirations are slightly higher for girls than boys, but in both cases much higher than the national average.
I am a firm believer in the value of education and investment in young people. It is the reason why the Aziz Foundation has committed almost £2 million since its inception in 2016 to the Leadership Development programme which supports Muslims in higher education with scholarships and bursaries, and is contributing to the strengthening of Muslim seminaries in the UK. The programme provides leadership skills training because the investment in young people goes beyond a narrow consideration with the economic value of education in a knowledge-based economy. It also, as this report demonstrates, bears fruits in our communities and in social relations.
There is plenty of food for thought presented by the remarkable breadth of analysis by Ipsos, including a section detailing British public attitudes towards Muslims.
Take, for example, a 2016 study carried out online by Populus , in which the British public was asked to indicate which religious groups create problems in the UK on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being ‘creates no problems’ and 5 being ‘creates a lot of problems’. The mean score was higher for Muslims (3.51) than all other religions such as Christianity (2.10); Judaism (1.89) and Hindus and Sikhs respectively (1.91). Notably, young people (18-24 years) were significantly more positive than all other age groups in the study and women were more positive than men.
There is clearly much work to do to address these perceptions, and tackling media representations of Islam and Muslims is key to this. The same Populus survey reveals that two in five Britons believe the media is too negative towards Muslims. The belief that the media is too negative towards Muslims rises to seven in ten (69%) among young people.
Muslims and people with no religion share something important in common: youth. Their age profiles are younger than for the population as a whole; 48% of British Muslims are under the age of 25 and 39% of those with no religion are under 25.
While Millennial Muslims may be different from those of their age group when it comes to religious affiliation and observance, we can take comfort from their outlooks toward each other and their aspiration, as Britons, to live well together.