“Muslims in England and Wales are practising their faith and passing it on to their children at much higher rates than any other religion, including Christianity,” the Muslim News has reported.
In 2012, research published in a sociology journal showed that 77% of actively practicing Muslim families successfully perpetuate their faith to the next generation, in contrast to only 29% in actively practicing Christian families and 65% in other religions.
Summarizing the findings, the Muslim News reported that
The study, ‘Intergenerational transmission of Islam in England and Wales: evidence from the Citizenship Survey’ by academics from Cardiff University, also found that 98% of Muslim children surveyed said they had the religion their parents were brought up in, compared with 62% of Christians and 89% of other religions.
The team analysed data from the Home Office’s 2003 Citizenship Survey data, using 13,988 replies from adults and 1,278 from young people aged 11 to 15.
The multi-faith group, Faith Matters, studied the frequency of conversions to Islam. Researchers discovered that between 2001 and 2010, the number of British converts rose from 60,000 to 100,000. This includes a large numbers of female converts, which has nearly doubled from what it was ten years ago. (See the Faith Matters’ article, ‘Surge of Britons Converting to Islam‘ as well as The Telegraph report.)
Another study, conducted by the US-based Pew Forum, estimated that the total number of UK Muslims is 2.9 million (4.6% of the population) compared with 1.6 million (2.8%) in 2001. If present trends continue, the Muslim population of the UK will swell to almost double within 20 years, reaching a staggering 5.5million.
If these figures are accurate, it means that by 2030 Britain will have more Muslims than the nation of Kuwait.
As these studies suggest, the growth of Islam in the UK is largely the result of both the strong retention rate within Islamic families as well as conversion from outside. (Immigration is also crucially important, but that is a topic that will have to wait for another post.) I want to explore both of these factors, beginning with the strong retention rate.
What accounts for the fact that 77% of actively practicing Muslim families successfully perpetuate their faith to the next generation, in contrast to only 29% in actively practicing Christian households?
No doubt there are numerous reasons for this, but one important factor is education. Professor Scourfield, one of the researchers in the recent study, was quoted in The Muslim News as saying,
“Muslim children tend to lead busy lives, often attending religious education classes outside school three or more times each week on top of any other commitments they have.
“They typically learn to read the Qur’an in Arabic. They also learn a great deal about their faith from parents and other family members. Religion can have an especially important role for minority communities in keeping together the bonds between families from the same ethnic background.”
Even when Muslim children go to the state schools, their parents make sure that they get a solidly Muslim education. By contrast, Christian parents in Britain can often be incredibly ambivalent about the formative role that education plays, sometimes even completely denying that it has any relation to how successfully the faith is perpetuated from one generation to the next.
In addition to this, there is the strong role that community plays in keeping children within the faith. Muslims are raised to think in very communal and corporate terms, so that to grow up and abandon the faith is equivalent to abandoning one’s own people. By contrast, Christians within Britain (and sadly throughout much of the Western world) tend to think very individualistically. Even when faith is perceived to be about more than one’s own spiritual interiority, it is still thought to be primarily an individualistic experience. Consequently, a Christian child can grow up and abandon the faith without feeling that he or she is also abandoning his or her own people. This makes apostasy a lot easier.
Another reason stems from the fact that the Islamic religion is so totalizing, affecting every area of life. It is woven into the fabric of every level of the culture in which a child grows up. British Muslims have been careful to preserve this culture within their communities and to prevent it being neutralized throughWesternization. This too has something to do with the strong retention rate. To grow up and leave the faith would be to grow up and turn one’s back on one’s culture.
If what I suggested in the last section explains why British Muslims have such a strong record at perpetuating the faith from one generation to the next, what explains the surprising levels of conversion?
Part of the reason is that Muslims take evangelism seriously. Batool al-Toma, who runs the New Muslims Project, has commented that “Islam is a missionary religion, and many Muslim organisations and particularly university students’ Islamic societies have active outreach programmes designed to remove popular misconceptions about the faith.”
Another reason why are so many Britons are becoming Muslim is that the Islamic faith is an escape route from the decadence and moral bankruptcy of contemporary British society. At least, that is the testimony given by many converts. The Faith Matters survey cited above found that numerous young women (on average 27 years old) are going into Islam as a reaction to the moral licentiousness, drunkenness and ‘unrestrained consumerism’ of modern society. Quite simply, British young people are craving the stability that Islam brings.
Young men are converting for the same reason. “I liked the way the Muslims students I knew conducted themselves” says Paul Martin, a 27-year old convert to Islam. “It’s nice to think about people having one partner for life and not doing anything harmful to their body. I just preferred the Islamic lifestyle and from there I looked into the Qur’an.”
Lynne Ali converted to Islam at age 19. Her story is similar to scores of other young women who are attractive to the Islamic lifestyle. Having been what she calls “a typical white hard-partying teenager”, she felt a great void in her life.
“I would go out and get drunk with friends,” Lynne recounts, “wear tight and revealing clothing and date boys. I think, underneath it all, I must have been searching for something, and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled by my hard-drinking, party lifestyle.” When Lynne met her boyfriend, Zahid, at university, she felt that Islam offered an escape route. “I am so grateful I found my escape route…I am no longer a slave to a broken society and its expectations.”
Where is the Church in All This?
It is true that people remain in the Christian faith, or convert to it, for similar reasons. Yet as Christians we should be honestly asking ourselves some hard questions.
- Are we doing as good a job as the Muslims in showing the communal nature of the Christian faith?
- Do we also prioritize evangelism?
- Are we doing as good of a job as the Muslims in proclaiming the totalizing nature of our religion, showing that the Christian faith affects every department of life?
- Are we showing our young people that the faith is not just true, but lovely, so that when our children grow up they do not want to walk away from it?
- Is there a noticeable difference between the lifestyle of Christians and those in the world, so that young people see the Christian faith as being an escape route from pagan decadence?
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