past few weeks, reports have been published in both Canada and Britain about
the state of Muslim citizens' opinion on a broad range of topics. The Canadian
poll results were generally hailed as a pleasant surprise, while the British
investigation was seen as fresh, depressing evidence that followers of Islam
were ultra-conservative in their social attitudes and ambivalent towards
violence. Does that point to a huge gap, sociological or even theological,
between Canadian and British Muslims? That seems unlikely. What the polls do
indicate, though, is a big difference of political atmosphere.
a look at the two surveys and the responses they generated. In Canada, it was
noted that Muslims resemble their non-Muslims compatriots in seeing the economy
and jobs as the country's biggest concerns. As you might expect, a majority of
the Muslim respondents supported the right of Muslim students to pray in
government schools, and of Muslim women to wear a Niqab, or face veil, at
citizenship ceremonies. But these rights (both the subject of recent public
arguments) are also supported by a somewhat smaller majority of non-Muslims
between Canada's 1m followers of Islam and their 33m compatriots did emerge.
While nine in ten Muslims agreed with the statement that “taking care of home
and kids is as much a man’s work as woman’s work", gaps opened up when the
questioners probed deeper. They found that four in ten Muslim respondents
thought the father should be master in his own house, a view held by only two
in ten non-Muslims.
Canadians were surprised that in their country, younger Muslims (aged 18 to 34)
were even more religiously observant than their parents, already among the most
pious social groups. Young Muslims tend to visit mosques for prayer regularly,
wear the Hijab (head scarf) and support the right to pray in schools. Among
non-Muslim Canadians, the young are growing more secular. Do these diverging
trends augur problems in future? Michael Adams, president of Environics, the
polling firm which did the study, doesn’t think so. He suggests that Muslims,
of which seven in ten were born abroad, have simply taken Canada at its word
when it promises religious freedom.
So how does
all that compare with the British survey, done by the polling firm ICM for a
documentary on Channel 4 television, presented by Trevor Philips, a former head
of the country's Equality and Human Rights Commission? In one respect, findings
converged. Both in Canada and Britain, respondents affirmed their patriotism.
Some 86% of British Muslims felt a strong sense of belonging to Britain,
against 83% for the whole population; in Canada, likewise, more than eight in
ten Muslims said they were very proud of their country, against just over seven
in ten non-Muslim Canadians.
general, the British questions were blunter and the results more startling.
British Muslims were asked whether homosexuality should be legal. Some 52%
disagreed and only 18% agreed. In Canada, where the question was about the
moral rather than the legal status of homosexuality, some 43% of Muslims thought
it was unacceptable, triple the level of non-Muslims holding that view.
extremist violence, the British poll asked whether respondents personally
sympathised or condemned people who committed terrorist actions as a form of
political protest (some 4% had some sympathy) while the Canadian study avoided
probing respondents' own views and asked for an assessment of the community as
a whole. Some 7% thought there was some support among Muslim Canadians for the
violent activity of extremist groups like Islamic State. Neither result is
other responses from British Muslims caused alarm. Some 23% favoured
introducing Sharia law in some areas of Britain, while 39% felt that wives
should always obey their husbands. Asked about the stoning of adulterers, some
66% completely deplored the practice and 13% condemned it "to some
extent"; up to 5% felt at least some sympathy for stoners. Some 31%
thought a British Muslim man should be allowed to have more than one wife. Only
34% would tell the police if they heard that somebody they knew was getting
involved with supporters of terrorism in Syria.
used different methods. The British pollsters did face-to-face interviews with
1,000 Muslims living in places where the Islamic population exceeded 20% while
the Canadian investigators did telephone interviews with 600 Muslims, focusing
on locations where the Muslim share was 5% or more. From more densely-packed
communities, you'd expect harder-core responses.
real contrast (as much in the reaction to the polls as in the results) is one
of political zeitgeist. Relations between Britain's political establishment and
the leadership of the Muslim community are at a nadir because of differences
over how to curb extremism. There is widespread dismay over the latest version
of the government's "Prevent" policy, designed to nip extremism in
the bud by requiring anyone looking after young people to monitor their
opinions. The government's communications have been inept, and some Muslim leaders
depressingly unwilling to accept responsibility for fighting terrorism. Tempers
may soon grow hotter: in the Queen's speech to the British Parliament on May
18th, plans will be laid out to give the government more powers to ban
organisations and gag suspicious individuals.
Majesty's Canadian subjects, Muslim and otherwise, the mood is more upbeat.
Nine out of ten Canadian Muslims think relations between themselves and their
compatriots will improve under the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau.
think they are already better treated than Muslims in other countries. This
euphoria must partly reflect the fact that in the run-up to last October's
election, the outgoing Conservative government seemed to play the Islamophobic
card by introducing more explicit bans on "barbaric cultural
practices" such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation, which
were in fact illegal already. Voters, including the overwhelming majority of
Canadian Muslims, seemed to prefer Mr Trudeau's emphasis on tolerance and
diversity, which does not of course imply tolerating barbarism.