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Are British Muslims being portrayed properly in the UK media?

Sadly, you may no longer think of beautiful mosques or devout pilgrims, but insane and terrorist acts conducted by minority individual Muslims. 

The girl in a loose robe with a light-coloured hajib is from a British Christian family. She started to know Islam when she was in primary school with other Muslim students. Now she has been a Muslim herself for 10 years. Her name is Laura Jones, one of the 3.5 million Muslims in the UK.

Laura Jones, studying MA Islam in contemporary Britain at Cardiff University  CC: Annie Wang

The interior view of a mosque  CC: Annie Wang

Islam is the UK’s second largest religion, and the number of British Muslims is predicted to grow continuously. Around 100,000 Britons converted to Islam in 2011 amid the fast growth of the British Muslim community.

British Muslims constitute a significant part of British society. However, as the result of frightening terrorist accidents happening across the world, some people might unfortunately connect Muslims with terrorism. These people’s conception of Islam is no longer beautiful mosques or devout pilgrims. Almost a third of British adults perceive Islam as a violent religion that promotes violence in the UK, according to a poll conducted by ComRes.

Hassan II Mosque in Morroco  CC: Annie Wang

Ali Hammuda, the English Activities Coordinator of Al-Manar Centre Cardiff thinks the Muslim community is being victimized.

He said, “If you look at the history of the UK, many groups have been victimized in the past, such as homosexual people, black people, Jewish, and Irish people. And Islam can be another one of the victims.

“There have been individuals who have done some bad things in the name of Islam, but they cannot represent the whole group of Muslims. The overwhelming majority are actually looking to play a positive role in their community.”

Ali Hammuda, the English Activities Coordinator of Al-Manar Centre Trust  CC: Annie Wang

Recently, there has been a significant amount of bad news associated with Muslims. Ali also worries the bad news is more likely to hit the headlines and be covered in the press than good news.

He stressed that bad news appears to “sell better” in the media industry and the positive actions that Muslims do may not be as “exciting” as the bad ones.

The five pillars of Islam, sourcing from Islam-Guide. Infographic by Annie Wang

On the 1st of December 2016, the result of a survey of the British Muslim community was published by the Policy Exchange. Three media outlets, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and the Express, simultaneously covered this the next day.

The author of the original report by the Policy Exchange, MP Khalid Mahmood, believes that the polling shows Britain’s Muslims are “amongst the country’s most loyal, patriotic and law-abiding citizens“, while the coverage from the media portrayed a different image of the group.

Different types of Muslim headgear  CC: Online Image

The headline of the Guardian’s report goes “UK Muslims show worrying belief in conspiracy theories, claims think tank”, which places an importance on British Muslims’ credulity of the conspiracy theories. In the actual polling figure, however, only ten per cent of British Muslims strongly believed “conspiracy theories contain elements of truth”. Thirty-two per cent chose “tend to agree” while 40 per cent of British Muslims said they “neither agree nor disagree” or “don’t know”. The rest (18 per cent) chose “strongly” or “tend to disagree” with the conspiracy statement.

In addition, the report from the Daily Mail appears to portray a biased attitude of British Muslims by highlighting that only one in 25 British Muslims believe Al Qaeda was responsible for the 911 attacks. However, compared with the 4 per cent of British Muslims being interviewed explicitly gave the answer pointing to “Al-Qaeda”, the majority of interviewees actually gave the answer of “did not know”.

The Express uses “Shock Poll: Four in ten British Muslims want some aspect of Sharia Law enforced in the UK” as the headline. The striking headline referring to the controversial Islamic Sharia Law easily captured our attention, but to what extent does it represent the authentic opinions of a wider range of Muslims in the UK?

This year, the National Mosque Open Day fell on the 5th of February. More than 150 mosques across the UK held open day events and welcomed visitors from the public. An enormous number of local residents participated in the open day service at Al-Marar Centre Trust in Cardiff. Ali says, “Although people are not free from what they have read and heard, it’s great to see people have come with the intention of wanting to understand the community and to clarify those misconceptions.”

Muslim woman CC: Mengjia Liu

Laura is now studying an MA in Islam in Contemporary Britain at Cardiff University. She says Islam is important to her life. 

“I think all religions to an extent are about being self-lessoned, being hard-working and trying to help other people.

“For me, Islam helped me to be more empathetic to people, trying to think about how my action will affect others and to be more generous and give my time to help others.”