This is a comment piece I wrote to coincide with the conference “Birmingham’s Muslims: past, present and futures, challenges and opportunities” that was held at the University of Birmingham last Friday, 21st October 2016.
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Birmingham’s Muslims: A City Of Challenges And Opportunities
Perceptions of Birmingham can be oppositional when it comes to Muslims and Islam. On the one hand, Birmingham has been somewhat infamously referred to by a Fox News ‘expert’ as a place that is “totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go”. On the other, it is the “best place in Europe to be pure Muslim”.
Despite such a glowing commendation, Birmingham might not have been the ‘best place’ to be Muslim in recent years. From being securitised by the 220-plus CCTV and ANPR cameras that were positioned around two of the most densely populated Muslim areas of the city under the moniker of the now defunct ‘Project Champion’ to being implicated by Operation Trojan Horse’s hoax allegations of an ‘Islamist takeover’ of a number of the city’s council-run schools, the detrimental impact on Muslims and their communities both inside and outside the city cannot be underestimated.
What we do know however is that outside of London, Birmingham is Britain’s most multicultural city. While the concept of multiculturalism has been attacked in recent years, Birmingham’s multiculturalism is what the former city-based sociologist Paul Gilroy refers to as convivial: ordinary, taken-for-granted and to some extent, unexceptional. Significant within that convivial multiculturalism are the city’s Muslim communities. The most populous outside of London, the 2011 Census states that Birmingham is home to 233,923 people identifying as Muslim. At around 22% of the city’s population, this is significantly higher than the 4.8% of the population Muslims make up in England and Wales. Most striking however is that of those who identified as Muslim, 97,099 – or 41.5% – were under 16 years of age.
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