Some of the most recent arrivals in London were Bosnian Muslims seeking refuge from religious persecution in Eastern Europe. Hundreds of mosques now serve the Muslim community in London.
Islam is practised by many people in the Near and Middle East, North and West Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The religion was established by the Prophet Mohammed in Arabia in the 7th century AD.
Islam spread throughout the Middle East, west into the Turkish Ottoman Empire and Africa and east with the Mughals into India. Many of these areas were later colonised by the British.
The ‘Qu’ran’, the holy text of Islam, consists of God’s revelation to Mohammed. The ‘sira’ and the ‘hadith’ of Mohammed, respectively his biography and a book of his sayings, are other important texts. Together they represent the ‘sunna’, an example to Muslims of how to lead their lives.
The five pillars of Islam are the essentials of Islamic law, which Muslims observe worldwide. They are the profession of faith in one God, prayers facing the direction of Mecca five times a day, the donation of 2.5% of one’s income to charity, fasting during Ramadan and making the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. Up to 90% of today’s Muslims are Sunnis, with most Shi’ites living in Iran.
When India achieved independence in 1947, the country was partitioned to create the separate Muslim states of West and East Pakistan. The latter is now Bangladesh. Three-quarters of British Muslims are Asian.
Bosnian Muslims fleeing ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia are the most recent group to seek asylum in Britain.
Today, Muslims make up the second largest religious community in London after Christians. Muslims tend to marry younger and have larger families than any other religious group.
There are over 603,000 Muslims in London, around two-fifths of the Muslim population of Britain.
Large numbers of Muslim men work in the distribution, hotel and restaurant industries, or in transport and communications. However, almost a third of British Muslims have no qualifications and they suffer from a high rate of unemployment.
Many Muslim women do not work because they care for their families at home. According to the recent census, British Muslim women reported the worst rates of ill-health for the overall population.
The Muslim Council of Britain has its headquarters at Stratford in East London. The Council was set up in 1997 to lobby on social, political and economic matters affecting British Muslims.
London Muslims are concentrated in Tower Hamlets, where they comprise over a third of the population. George Galloway’s ‘Respect’ party won the 2005 general election in this borough, with a campaign that severely criticised the war in Iraq. Muslims also make up a quarter of the population in Newham.
London has hundreds of mosques to serve the community. The two largest are the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park and the East London Mosque on Commercial Road.