One of the most extensive polls of British Muslims ever conducted suggests the appeal of sharia law is diminishing, especially among younger people.
More than 3,000 people were surveyed for independent thinktank Policy Exchange, which published its findings today, six months after the government announced an independent review of the application of sharia law in England and Wales.
When asked whether they would support the introduction of sharia law - broadly defined to include civil law on questions of financial disputes - around 43% supported the proposition. However, 22% opposed it, 23% neither supported nor opposed it, and 12% did not know.
Policy Exchange stresses that the wording of the question is significant. The report states: ‘Respondents were asked about sharia in the broadest sense – and in that context, perhaps the most significant thing is that a majority of Muslims did not express a view in support and only 16% "strongly supported" its introduction.’
A further breakdown of figures shows that younger respondents were less likely to favour sharia law provisions. Just over a third of those in the 18-24 age bracket supported such measures, compared to nearly half of those aged 55 and over.
The report states that the results ‘mark something of a divergence’ from the results of a a 2007 Policy Exchange poll, which showed that younger respondents were more likely to favour sharia law.
Policy Exchange says: ‘We can only speculate as to the reason for this change – but it might well be a product of the diminished appeal of sharia in an age in which this concept has become associated with, and tarnished by, Islamic State.’
An independent review, chaired by professor Mona Siddiqui, an expert in Islamic and inter-religious studies, is expected to report back to the Home Office in May. The panel includes family law barrister Sam Momtaz, retired High Court judge Sir Mark Hedley and specialist family lawyer Anne-Marie Hutchinson QC (hon).
The review will examine whether and to what extent the application of sharia may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales.
Three in 10 respondents to Policy Exchange did not think sharia law provisions would make any particular difference if they were introduced in the UK; 37% did not know.
The report states that sharia law as a concept, considered in general terms, is one many Muslims are not willing to reject. ‘However, in their day-to-day lives, this is not an issue that drives many Muslims in the UK,’ it adds. ‘The practical problems that surround sharia ensure that many show little interest in those Sharia-compliant measures that do exist.’
The report notes that only 4% of respondents used sharia banking. Anecdotal evidence suggests reluctance to commit to a sharia-compliant mortgage due to a higher interest rate.
A gap is identified between an issue ‘as seen in the abstract’ and the way it is viewed at a more practical level.
The report states: ‘In this context, expressing support for sharia is a way of saying something about one’s identity and religion, rather than voicing a commitment to a specific policy and legal objective.’