Islamic Britain: Religion, Politics and Identity among British Muslims
by Philip Lewis
London: I. B. Tauris, 1994. 250 pp.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Bradford, a Yorkshire town with a population of 300,000, is about one-quarter Muslim; it became notorious as the place where volumes of The Satanic Verses were symbolically burned in 1989. Lewis, a specialist on Islam and an advisor to the bishop of Bradford on interfaith issues, provides a close analysis of the Muslim residents in Bradford. His erudite and careful analysis contains much fascinating information about that town, though not about all of Britain, as the title promises. In particular, Lewis excels at understanding Bradford's Muslims in their own cultural terms.
American readers will be impressed by just how much Islamic Britain differs from Islamic America. Some main points: some 80 percent of the million plus 14 British Muslims trace their origins to South Asia and, within that, from select small regions (such as Azad Kashmir and the Sylhet District); in contrast, American Muslims are ethnically diverse, with South Asians, Iranians, various Arabic-speakers, and black Americans all numerous. More important, whole communities migrated more or less intact to Britain, endowing towns like Bradford with a wide range of Urdu-speaking services; even today, a majority of Muslim religious leaders in Britain come from South Asia. As a result, divisions from the old country, whether ethnic (Gujarati vs. Urdu speakers) or Islamic (Deobandi vs. Barelwi) persist in Britain; also, this means that such practices as Qur'anic memorization are widespread in Bradford. The contrast with America is stark, and probably full of implications for both countries.
Related Topics: Muslims in the West | Daniel Pipes | December 1995 MEQ
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