18 January 2016
The Muslim Council of Britain today welcomed the Prime Minister’s call for more efforts to have English taught, but it cautioned against the language used to make such calls, and links to securitisation.
Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “The Prime Minister is absolutely right in wanting English to be taught more widely. Mosques and Muslim civil society would be eager to play their part by hosting English language classes, as many mosques do.
But the Prime Minister’s aim to have English more widely spoken and for better integration falls at the first hurdle if he is to link it to security and single out Muslim women to illustrate his point.
Muslims are only one third of minority population. Reports suggest a significant proportion of immigrants from Eastern Europe struggle with English. And just last week, it was reported that a Jewish ultra-orthodox school was shut down for teaching Hebrew only.
The Prime Minister is right to highlight economic inactivity amongst Muslim women. More than 10 years ago, it was the Muslim Council of Britain who highlighted and supported the need for Muslim women to be more economically active. But we must look carefully at the drivers, a 2015 Demos report “Rising to the Top”, suggests that the greater economic inactivity amongst British Muslim women is primarily due to family care at home rather than not learning English, and that this is most pronounced in women above the age of 50.
In the MCB’s ‘British Muslims in Numbers’ (2015), we found that 43% of Muslim women are in full-time education and there are real worries that because of their background, they cannot enter the job market. We also found that those struggling with speaking English comprise approximately 6% of the Muslim population, which means that there is actually a high level of English language competence amongst Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
The statistic that the Prime Minister has used is not in any absolute way, the only or most statistically significant one. Other studies, including our report, give a lower percentage for the number of Muslims struggling with the English language. We need to study the other data available on English language in relation to Muslims.
English language is a barrier, but not the only or most important one. Other factors such as labour market inequalities, perceived discrimination, deprivation, and generational differences amongst Muslim women need to be reflected on.
Last year, it called on ‘various stakeholders – Muslim civil society, policy institutes, employers, trade unions and the Department for Work and Pensions – to facilitate conditions and opportunities in the labour market.’
The Prime Minister further notes the “important connection to extremism”. There are countless extremists who have been arrested or are believed to be in Syria who did not grow up as Muslims, or who led or are believed to have led ‘well integrated lives’.
We agree with the Prime Minister when he says that ‘‘the job of building a more cohesive country is never complete.’ But we would urge the Prime Minister that this needs be in partnership with British Muslims, not directed against them.[Ends]
Notes to Editors:
1.The Muslim Council of Britain is the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools.
2. MCB Briefing 5: ‘Employment is more Challenging for Muslim Women’ – https://mcb.org.uk/muslimstatistics/briefings/briefing5/
3.For further information please contact:
The Muslim Council of Britain
PO Box 57330
Tel: 0845 26 26 786
Fax: 0207 247 7079