11/04/2016 18:58 BST | Updated 11/04/2016 19:11 BST

Channel 4 British Muslims Poll Called 'Skewed' For Targeting 'Conservative' Areas With 20% Muslims

'Any way you do a poll of British Muslims, you end up making compromises.'

A survey claiming to show most British Muslims think being gay should be illegal has been criticised for only speaking to those in poorer areas with a high Muslim population, who critics claim are more likely to be conservative.

The poll, for the Channel 4 show Trevor Phillips: What British Muslims Really Think, grabbed headlines with findings that a quarter want to live under Sharia law, 4% sympathise with terrorism and, most strikingly, 52% think homosexuality should be illegal.

The survey of 1,000 Muslims has been hailed as the most comprehensive in years, but was questioned for only surveying areas where at least a fifth of the population is Muslim.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Muslims in Friday prayers during a Muslim Climate Action event in October

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was a “poll made for TV” that lacks "academic rigour".

It claimed the poll's method of only speaking to people from areas that are at least 20% Muslim "skews" the results towards more conservative communities and will "do nothing but harden attitudes on all sides."

"We understand the poll draws answers from areas where Muslims formed more than 20% of the population," an MCB statement to HuffPost UK said.

"These happen to be some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK with a disproportionately high number of people with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnicity.

"Choosing specifically to poll in areas that are poor and more religiously conservative, skews the results and makes it indicative of these areas and not of British Muslims nationally."

Elshad Iskandarov, a senior diplomat with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, told HuffPost UK: “All surveys should tell the whole story about Muslims - like all people, they are products of their environments.

"If a particular study focusses on areas with at least 20% muslim populations these areas are likely to be more deprived than most, making extremism more attractive - we see the same dynamic in Muslim-majority countries."

The news came as ICM, the research company which carried out the survey for Channel 4, admitted that including areas with lower concentration of Muslims would have given a "subjective, better figure". But it explained this was not possible within the budget.

A spokesperson for ICM told HuffPost UK that Muslims were a “low incidence population which is clustered geographically and obviously hard to get”.

To conduct the face-to-face interviews with Muslims, interviewers were sent out to knock on doors in areas around the UK.

The budget and time constraints of the survey meant that areas targeted needed to have at least 20% Muslim inhabitants, so that the interviewers had a good chance of finding some willing to take part.

The spokesperson told HuffPost UK the survey was therefore “as rigorous as we think is possible within the parameters of realistic time and budget considerations."

"Nobody’s claiming that this is perfection, no survey ever has been or ever will be," they added.

Matt Dunham/AP
The East London Mosque, the largest in the United Kingdom

“Every survey that has ever existed has to have a compromise to get done. We couldn’t have done it otherwise, it simply can’t be done.

"The lower the incidence [of Muslims], the harder it is to conduct the survey and the more money it costs to conduct, it’s as simple as that.

"If people want to undermine the data because they don’t like what they see and they want to take it down for methodological reasons, that’s entirely their decision,” they added. 

Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive
Trevor Phillips said a war is being waged for the 'soul' of British Islam

A spokesperson for Channel 4 said the programme, airing on Wednesday night, would be "very clear" about how the survey was conducted.

"Around 50 per cent of British Muslims live in the areas we surveyed. ICM, which is one of the UK’s leading polling organisations, with a long track record of producing credible and accurate surveys, is satisfied that the results allow us to draw strong conclusions about the views of UK Muslims.

"There is no evidence to suggest that Muslims have radically different attitudes to the issues surveyed depending on whether they live in areas of more than, or less, than 20 per cent Muslim population."

POOL New / Reuters
David Cameron visited the Makkah Masjid Mosque in Leeds in January

Anthony Wells, Research Director at the rival pollster YouGov, called ICM's survey “the best coverage and the best polling we’ve had of British Muslims for years” and stressed that all research must be restricted by budget.

"Any way you do a poll of British Muslims, you end up making some compromises," he added.  

Surveying areas with a high Muslim population would give different answers compared to areas with an average population of around 4.5%, Wells said: "If you make the assumption that people who live in an area that is very strongly Muslim, like Tower Hamlets or Bradford, you’re going to have different attitudes to if you were Muslim and you lived in an area where all your friends and work colleagues are all white.

“All the things ICM asked about, like attitudes to marriage... probably would have got slightly different answers if you asked questions in an area where you included Muslims who are the only Muslim in the village."

Wells said it is difficult to get representative data about Muslims as they make up only 4.5% of the population: "You can’t just ring round people at random, so you end up either going to places where you know there’s lots of Muslims, or getting people from a large database.

"You [can also] find a couple of Muslims and ask have you go any phone numbers for other Muslims. Which is a bit cheap and cheerful. Or there’s even a case where they rang up people with Muslim-sounding names. There are issues with that."

While Wells concluded that the Channel 4 research was valuable: “We just need to be aware of the comprises and the caveats. That doesn’t mean you throw it away or ignore it, because it’s good stuff and it’s the best we’ve had for years.”

Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters
Muslim men prepare before a prayer service for Eid-al Fitr at a park in London in July

Trevor Phillips, the former equalities chief, said the survey showed Muslims were a "nation within a nation" and that liberals were a "dwindling" minority.

He wrote in a Sunday Times article that the findings pointed to "a struggle of life and death for the soul of British Islam".

But the MCB told HuffPost UK: “The picture Mr Phillips paints of this poll on what British Muslims think is one we do not recognise. This is a poll made for TV and lacks the academic rigour which Mr Phillips himself dismisses in his Sunday Times article.

"The way this poll has been formulated and presented in this climate of fear against Muslims is most unfortunate. And we note that similar attitudes has not been compared in other faith communities."

"We are in no doubt the presentation of these results will be seized by some to create anxieties. The vast majority of Muslims are appreciative of their nation and what it offers, particularly in the respect of religious plurality.

"To single out Muslims in this study may be deemed as ‘courageous’ by the establishment, but in our view it will do nothing but harden attitudes on all sides."