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What British Muslims Really Think: Trevor Phillips Says Muslim Views Have A Different 'Centre Of Gravity'

'We have gone beyond the situation where we can say, 'they’ll come round'.'

11/04/2016 10:26 | Updated 14 April 2016

The centre of gravity of British Muslim opinion is “some distance away from the centre of gravity of everybody else’s”, former racial equalities chief Trevor Phillips has said.

Phillips, who led the Equality and Human Rights Commission and presented the Channel 4 show What British Muslims Really Think on Wednesday night, said many British Muslims “basically do not want to participate in the way that other people do,” and have different views on gender, sexuality, Jews and terrorism.

More than half of Muslims in Britain think homosexuality should be illegal, while 47% believe teachers should not be gay, according to a report from Channel 4 which is the most comprehensive survey of British Muslims ever conducted.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive
Trevor Phillips: 'There is a "life-and-death struggle for the soul of British Islam.'

The poll found only 34% of British Muslims would tell the police if they thought someone they knew was getting involved with supporters of terrorism in Syria.

Phillips warned that fewer than one in five British Muslims is “liberal” according to the survey, and these people are a small minority that is “dwindling”.

One in six Muslims would like to live more separately from the rest of the population, which Phillips claims has a direct correlation with sympathy for terrorism.

The non-Muslim population must support liberal Muslims, rather than standing on the sidelines because, “We have gone beyond the situation where we can say, ‘Ok, don’t worry, they’ll come round in time’”.

While the Channel 4 survey's 'control group' of non-Muslims was too small to break down by religion, the 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey found that 39% of Anglicans, and 34% of Catholics in Britain thought that being gay was 'always' or 'mostly' wrong, suggesting that the Muslims surveyed may have a more conservative view than Christians.

Phillips claimed the survey was the first time that British Muslims had spoken for themselves, rather than through their leaders. “It’s a survey of the whole nation and there is a comparable survey on these issues. What we find is that British Muslims, they love Britain, they are patriotic, they especially prize the freedom to practice their religion as they would like, and they trust the authorities in a way that actually came slightly as a surprise to me,” Phillips told Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

“But on specific issues: families, sexuality, gender, attitudes towards Jews, and on the questions of violence and terrorism, the centre of gravity of British Muslim opinion is some distance away from the centre of gravity of everybody else’s opinion.”

Darren Staples / Reuters
Men pray at the Birmingham Central Mosque on visit my mosque day in February.

Phillips, wrote on Sunday that there is a "life-and-death struggle for the soul of British Islam – and this is not a battle that the rest of us can afford to sit out. We need to take sides." 

Muslims are a “nation within a nation”, Phillips told Today, saying this was extremely concerning: “For example one in six Muslims say they would like to live more separately, a quarter would like to live under Sharia law, it means that we have, as a society, a group of people who basically do not want to participate in the way that other people do.

“What we’ve also found is that there is a correspondence between this desire to live separately, and sympathy for terrorism. People who want to live separately are twice as likely to say that they have sympathy for terrorist acts, and I think anybody, including most people in the Muslim community, would find that extremely worrying.”

“What we’ve found in talking to Muslims is there is a current of what people would call liberal Muslim opinion, [that] says that actually Muslims need to find a form of Islam that is completely compatible with British life, and so on,” he added.

“Those people think of themselves as a very small minority now, within a minority and our survey says that maybe fewer than one in five Muslims belong to that group, and they feel that they are dwindling.

“What they want is for everyone else not to stand on the sidelines and look at it as a kind of struggle within a separate community, which is what I think it feels like at the moment, but to say as a community, we think that values the equality of women, respect towards people irrespective of their sexuality, is something which should run through the whole of British society and should not be confined to people who are not Muslims." 

Those listening to the programme were divided on his views, with some reacting with unhappiness saying he "obviously doesn't like Muslims":

While others pointed out he was talking about a statistical survey:

Phillips told Today that cultural sensitivities around Muslim issues must be dismissed when it comes to fundamental values: “Let’s be absolutely clear, there are some things about which irrespective of what your cultural sensitivity might be, should stand true in every part of Britain, in every community, for every individual, equality of women, respect for people irrespective of race and sexuality. These are values and behaviours that are true for everybody."

He added that his own Afro-Carribean community had "backward" views on homosexuality, but "as a society we’ve been absolutely clear about that, if you have those attitudes you can keep them in your head but you can’t do anything about them. People have lost their jobs, and I myself have prosecuted people of my own background for that reason.

“We are more nervous, I think, about Muslims because we feel people will be offended, it’s a large group, but my view is, looking at the results of this survey, which I have to say surprised me, that we have gone beyond the situation where we can say ‘Ok, don’t worry, they’ll come round in time’, because that is not going to happen. We have to make things change now.” 

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