52% of British Muslims in poll think homosexuality should be illegal

Members of Britain's 2.7 million strong Muslim community gather at an event in Hampshire last year.

Story highlights

  • The poll reveals marked differences from mainstream opinions on gender, sexuality and violence
  • Muslim Council of Britain says it does not recognize the image of British Muslims portrayed in the results
  • Some British Muslims respond to the poll with humor, as hashtag #WhatBritishMuslimsReallyThink circulates

London (CNN)More than half of British Muslims (52%) think homosexuality should not be legal, and nearly half (47%) think it is not appropriate for gay people to teach in schools, according to a new survey of British Muslims.

The results have sparked debate about the integration of the Britain's largest religious minority.
    The findings come from face-to-face interviews with 1,081 British Muslims by the polling agency ICM for a television program, "What British Muslims Really Think." The program is scheduled to air Wednesday on Britain's Channel 4.
    The survey, conducted with self-identified adult Muslims last year, found Muslim attitudes to be in line with mainstream public opinions on many topics. But significant differences emerged on issues relating to gender, sexuality, anti-Semitism and political or religious violence.
    For example, the general public was markedly more liberal on issues related to homosexuality, with 11% of those surveyed saying homosexuality should not be legal, and 14% saying that it was not appropriate for gays and lesbians to teach in schools.
    Responding to the poll on social media, writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik tweeted that he believed Britons of most faiths had become more liberal on issues such as homosexuality and women's rights over the past generation. But from his experience, "British Muslims, on the other hand, seem to have become more conservative."

    Questions about terrorism

    The survey also found British Muslims more likely than the general population to sympathize with terrorism "as a form of political protest," although support was very low -- 4% of Muslims said they sympathized, compared with 1% of the general public.
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    The Muslims interviewed were also more likely to support the ISIS objective of creating an Islamic state, regardless of the methods involved, with 7% expressing support, compared with 2% of the general public.
    Muslims were also much more likely to say Jewish people had too much power in Britain (35% agreed, compared with 9% of the general population); that it was acceptable for Muslim men to have more than one wife (31% of Muslims agreed versus 9% of the public); and that a woman should always obey her husband (39% of Muslims agreed, compared with 5% of the public).
    About 2.71 million Muslims live in England and Wales, according to the 2011 census. That makes them 4.8% of the population, the second largest religious group.
    Christianity remains the largest religion in England and Wales, with 59.3% of the population identifying themselves as Christian, according to 2011 census data -- the latest available.

    'Chasm' opening

    In an article in The Sunday Times newspaper, Trevor Phillips, host of "What British Muslims Really Think," wrote that the poll revealed a "chasm" opening between Muslims and non-Muslims on fundamental issues.
    "And the chasm isn't going to disappear any time soon," wrote Phillips, a former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
    "Indeed, the gaps between Muslim and non-Muslim youngsters are nearly as large as those between their elders."

    Muslim group: Poll isn't representative

    But the Muslim Council of Britain, a prominent body representing the country's Muslim community, said it did not recognize the image of Muslim attitudes presented by the poll.
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    In a statement, the group claimed the poll lacked "academic rigor" and warned its publication would "do nothing but harden attitudes on all sides."
    "Many British Muslims will find it bemusing that commentators and the media have constantly tried and failed to paint a picture of British Muslims at odds with the rest of the country," an MCB spokeswoman said in a statement.
    "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 (have) not been compared in other faith communities."
    The group added that Muslims, "like people in other faiths, must reconcile their deeply held beliefs and the evolving norms of our British society."
    "But this cannot be done by stigmatizing and scapegoating Muslims," it said.
    "The vast majority of Muslims are appreciative of their nation and what it offers, particularly in the respect of religious plurality."
    The poll found British Muslims were slightly more likely than the general population to say they felt "strongly British," somewhat more likely to say they could influence decisions affecting Britain, and markedly less likely to say there was more religious prejudice against Muslims now than five years ago.

    Methodology questioned

    The MCB also questioned the methodology of the poll, which was conducted only in areas of relatively high Muslim population density -- where Muslims formed at least 20% of the population.
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    "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," the spokeswoman said.
    But ICM said more than half of all British Muslims live in areas that are more than 20% Muslim and that its findings were sound.
    "In my view, this is the most rigorous survey of Muslims outside of the largest and most expensive surveys conducted by the UK government," ICM Director Martin Boon told CNN.
    John Curtice, president of the British Polling Council, told CNN that ICM had followed standard methods of polling ethnic minorities in the UK.

    Concerns about radicalization

    Britain's long-established and diverse Muslim community has produced many success stories and role models, from pop star Zayn Malik to Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah and London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan.
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    But as in a number of other Western European nations, there is anxiety over the potential radicalization of a minority of Muslims.
    Hundreds of radicalized young British Muslims have left the country to join ISIS in recent years, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.
    Islamist terrorists have launched deadly attacks in Britain in the past, and the threat level for international terrorism in the UK remains severe, meaning an attack is "highly likely."
    Against this backdrop, the poll sparked debate on social media -- with some saying it revealed concerning home truths about Britain's Muslim population, while others complained the poll was inaccurate, divisive and risked stigmatizing a community that already felt under scrutiny.
    Some British Muslims seized upon the hashtag #WhatBritishMuslimsReallyThink to suggest that what was on their minds was neither alarming, nor so different from the thoughts of any other Britons.
    "When I got braces, my dad asked my orthodontist if I could still eat curry," tweeted Samiha Begum.
    "If only Adele said Salaam instead of Hello," tweeted Bilal Hassam.
    "Will Idris Elba convert for me?" mused Remona Aly.
    Sarah Joseph's tweet suggested her thoughts as a British Muslim were as banal as anyone else's.
    "Shall I hang out the washing or will it rain? Will Spurs beat Man U today? Shall I weed the veg patch?" she tweeted.
    And Didi Ellis alluded to the unexpectedly Muslim moment in Queen's iconic British hit song, "Bohemian Rhapsody."
    "Did they just say 'bismillah' in (B)ohemian (R)hapsody?" she tweeted.