The release of the results of British Muslim opinion survey caused shock. They revealed, among other things, that more than half the sample of British Muslims surveyed thought homosexuality should be made illegal.
Trevor Phillips, who will be presenting the Channel 4 documentary on ‘What British Muslims Really Think’ later this week, based on said survey, wrote in The Sunday Times that he found the results ‘astonishing’. However, the fact is that we Muslims will find these results anything other than shocking.
Liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims have been talking about these issues for years, but they have fallen on deaf ears. The liberal political and media elite have purposefully disregarded all the warnings we have been giving.
While the survey caused shock with most Britons, I was myself surprised that only half of British Muslims surveyed thought homosexuality should be made illegal. I then realised that half wanted the law to criminalise homosexuality, while the other half probably believed homosexuality was wrong but didn’t want the law to criminalise it. In fact, a Gallup poll showed that Muslims in Britain have zero tolerance for homosexuality, with none of those surveyed saying that homosexuality was ever morally acceptable.
Many people have hit back at the survey saying that only a small number of British Muslims were surveyed. In fact, a random sample of 1,081 adults was surveyed, and the respondents were ‘weighted to be representative of all Muslims by age, gender, work status and region’. Trevor Phillips described it in The Sunday Times as ‘the most detailed and comprehensive survey of British Muslim opinion yet conducted’. The data was collected by the respected research firm ICM. The firm wanted to avoid the mistakes made by the polling firms that carried out the surveys of last year’s general election and the Scottish referendum. As a result they conducted all interviews face to face and their methodology ensured that respondents didn’t change their answers in order to meet the expectations of the majority of the population.
Some have been claiming that the results do not reflect the views of all Muslims, as all Muslims in the UK were not surveyed. This is a fallacious argument, as in order to find out information about any demographic, we have to take a randomised sample of that population and then survey that sample. This is how surveys work. It is impossible to question absolutely everyone. And let me say here that the results of this survey fully conform to my experiences as a member of the British Muslim community. Muslims reading will also find that it agrees with their experiences.
This leads me to the next obvious point I have to make. Homophobia is rife within the Muslim community. We all have to accept the extent of the problem if we are to deal with it, because we are going to need a society wide response to this. Society at large is going to have to come to terms with the severity of the problem, and then challenge these homophobic views together.
One of the reasons why there is ‘a chasm’ between the respective views of British Muslims and British non-Muslims is due to a lack of integration. For too long many Muslim communities have lived in self segregated Muslim ghettos. This problem is also reflected in schools. As such many Muslims have no or very little contact with other people of different faiths and none. This helps in creating an echo chamber where their views are never challenged and as such are never forced to critically evaluate their beliefs and ideas. It is for this reason that many Muslims harbor views that are antithetical to our liberal and secular society.
However, all that said, I am hopeful for the future. Things within the Muslim community are slowly beginning to change in my view. Whereas a few years ago, most British Muslims would have claimed that homosexuality in and of itself as an attraction was wrong, now many British Muslims will say that being homosexual isn’t itself wrong, but the act of two people of the same gender sleeping together is. This might seem like a insignificant point to make, it is in fact an important step forward.
I am of the view that the Islamic texts and scriptures have within them the flexibility to espouse an LGBT-positive ethos. Much good work is being done by reformist and liberal Muslim activists and scholars on this very issue. We need to support their work. Denying that there is a problem in the Muslim community has a deleterious impact on the work of these reformers; the best way we can help them is by acknowledging and accepting that there are deep problems within Muslim communities when it comes to views regarding tolerance and equality.
Sohail Ahmed is a London-based human rights activist working to build bridges between the Muslim and LGBTI communities. You can read more about his story here.