Muslims and Community Cohesion in Britain June 2005 – June 2007


This research project investigated factors contributing to or undermining community cohesion in Britain. It focused on three contrasting urban areas of the UK in which significant numbers of Muslim migrants and long term Muslim residents are living: the borough of Newham in London, and the cities of Birmingham and Bradford.

A lack of ‘community cohesion’ in parts of the UK was identified in a series of official reports as an underlying factor in urban disturbances in northern towns in 2001. More recently, concerns about radicalisation associated with terrorist attacks ensured that the debate on cohesion increasingly focused on Britain’s Muslim communities. Developing our understanding of the dynamics that impact on cohesion is critical in ensuring effective policy interventions.

This research analysed new data on the lived experience of everyday cohesion in three areas in England where proportionally large numbers of Muslims and people of other faiths and of no faith – both recently arrived migrants and established residents – live alongside one another. The focus on Muslims allowed for the role of faith communities in the cohesion process, as well as the relationships between new and settled groups with similar and different ethnic or religious backgrounds, to be explored. The resulting study compares the experience of Muslims in these local areas with the experience of other residents, and sheds new light on the ways in which, by way of key cohesion indicators, various views and experiences of British Muslims and non- Muslims are shaped.

Principal Investigator

Hiranthi Jayaweera, Tufyal Choudhury (University of Durham)


Steve Vertovec, Sarah Spencer, Yunas Samad (University of Bradford)


Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Immigration and Inclusion Programme


University of Durham
University of Bradford

News & Media

Article (Europe News, 19 March 2008:

Article (Yorkshire Post, 19 March 2008:








The government definition of cohesion acknowledges the importance of equal life chances. This research reinforces the importance to a sense of belonging of addressing experiences of discrimination, and the constraints that unemployment and low income impose on the capacity to participate in organisations and other places of social interaction. The research challenges the assumption that residential clustering of people from particular ethnic or religious backgrounds is necessarily a barrier to social interaction across those boundaries.


The research involved semi-structured interviews with 319 Muslim and non-Muslim recent migrants and established residents, as well as 32 interviews with local and national policy-makers and service providers. Interviews with recent migrants and established residents, as well as with local policy-makers and service providers, were conducted in the three urban localities.

The selection of the three local areas primarily reflected the patterns of migration and settlement of Muslims in the UK. Each area had significant numbers of long-term Muslim residents and of new arrivals, but differed in ways that may impact on cohesion, such as ethnic mix, and migration patterns of Muslims from different countries of origin.

The community researchers who were responsible for selecting interviewees and conducting the interviews in the local areas were recruited from within these localities. They included students in the social sciences who had skills and experience of relevant research methods and a good working knowledge of communities in the local area, and interviewers with experience of working with local non-governmental organisations to meet service needs of the local communities. In all three localities, a concerted effort was made to recruit interviewers with similar gender, ethnic, religious and language characteristics as the groups from which the sample was to be selected.


The key findings of the research were as follows:

  • Racial and religious discrimination were key barriers to a sense of belonging in Britain. Race discrimination was reported by nearly 50 per cent of minority ethnic established and new residents, including Muslims. Thirty per cent of recent Muslim migrants had experienced religious discrimination.
  • A vast majority of recent migrants, including Muslims, placed the highest value on democracy, fairness, justice and security in Britain.
  • In areas with large Muslim populations, Muslims – including women – interacted with people from other religious and ethnic backgrounds in schools, colleges, workplaces and other public places.
  • All interviewees’ closest relationships were with family and others from similar backgrounds.
  • Established Muslim communities provided vital support and advice to new Muslim migrants. Other recent migrants in these localities felt more isolated.
  • Fifteen per cent of Muslims and 25 per cent of other interviewees were active in local organisations involving people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. Lack of time, poor English, insecure immigration status, and not feeling welcome were barriers to participation. Interviewees had little confidence that they could have an impact on decisions (particularly at national level).
  • There were common local concerns among established and new residents around crime, drugs and pollution.