How prevalent is anti-Muslim prejudice in the UK?

  • Insight
  • 3 March 2024

Ahead of the International Day To Combat Islamophobia on March 15th, we have been conducting research - along with the Together Coalition - to explore the prevalence of anti-Muslim views in Britain in 2024. 

While progress has been made on anti-Muslim racism over the last few decades, in all cases, the extent of anti-Muslim sentiment is stark. Most Britons do not hold anti-Muslim views, but a third (30%) strongly believe in at least one anti-Muslim stereotype, and a fifth (21%) say they hold a negative view of Muslims. 

The prevalence of Anti Muslim sentiment isn’t just something that worries Muslims. In November, we found that a rise in anti-Muslim and anti-semitic hate was among the top concerns the public had about what the war in Gaza means hear at home, and that around a half of the public were concerned that these would get worse if the conflict continued.

We publish these findings to highlight  the importance of political and community leaders playing their part in tackling community divisions and prejudice, as well as the dangers of rhetoric that risks inflaming it. The Prime Minister's reset on Friday, supported by the Leader of the Opposition, was an important step in doing that; but now politicians need to take action to tackle prejudice in their own ranks and beyond.

Four tests were used to explore both how many Britons expeess anti-Muslim sentiments, as well as which beliefs are most common. These are: belief in common anti-Muslim stereotypes, comfort with family members marrying Muslims, expressed feeling towards Muslims, and qualitative research with British Muslims. 

Britons’ belief in anti-Muslim stereotypes

While most Britons (70%) do not strongly believe in any of the anti-Muslim stereotypes we tested, there are core groups that buy into some of them. 

For the first two stereotypes - that British Muslims can never be “fully” British, or that Islam is a religion of violence - the public outright rejects them, with a majority disagreeing with each statement. A plurality also disagrees with the sentiment that most British Muslims do not hold British values. The sense that British Muslims are more loyal to other Muslim countries is the only stereotype we tested where a larger proportion agree than disagree.

Across the public, 30 per cent strongly believe in at least one of these anti-Muslim stereotypes. 16% strongly believe in at least two of them. Only 5 per cent strongly believe in all four.

These beliefs, whether borne out of ignorance or active prejudice certainly do not align with how most Muslim’s view their relationship with Britain. For example, our polling of 10,000 Britons in 2020 found that British Muslims were far more likely to value their British identity as personally important than the wider public. 35 per cent of British Muslims rank “Being British” as very important to their identity (selecting 7 on a scale of 1 to 7), compared to only 23 per cent of the wider population. Muslims are also much more likely to say they are proud to be British than the wider public.

Comfort with family members marrying Muslims

Another way of exploring anti-Muslim sentiment is based on whether people would be uncomfortable with a family member marrying a Muslim. We find that, while a majority say they would be comfortable or indifferent, 28 per cent of the public say they would be uncomfortable with a family member marrying a Muslim. 

This is roughly in line with the 30 per cent of people who strongly believe in at least one anti-Muslim stereotype. In fact, the proportion of the public who do not strongly believe in anti-Muslim stereotypes are overwhelmingly comfortable with a family member marrying a Muslim (45% comfortable versus 17% uncomfortable); whereas those who hold at least one anti-Muslim belief are much more uncomfortable (22% comfortable versus 51% uncomfortable).

Britons are more comfortable with family members marrying someone of the same sex, a Jewish person, or someone who has been previously married - although they are more uncomfortable with a family member marrying someone who doesn’t speak English or is unemployed.

Expressed favourable and unfavourable opinions of Muslims

The most straightforward way to identify anti-Muslim sentiment is to simply ask the public if they have a positive or negative perception of Muslims. 

Doing so, we identify 21 per cent of the public admit to holding very or somewhat negative views of Muslims. While it is revealing that such a large number express these views in a survey, the true extent could be larger, because some will be inclined to answer this sort of survey question in a socially desirable way (which explains the larger number of 30 per cent strongly agreeing to one of the stereotypes we tested above).

The only group that the public is more negative about - and the only group that the public are more likely to hold unfavourable than favourable views of - is travellers, who remain a group that is highly discriminated against in British society. 

The age breakdowns are revealing. Older people are much more likely to hold anti-Muslim views than their younger counterparts - with Baby Boomers 50 per cent more likely to say they hold negative views of Muslims than Gen Z. These age dynamics are reversed when it comes to prejudice against Jewish people. 13 per cent of Gen Z say they hold negative views of Jews, compared to 6 per cent of Baby Boomers.

Qualitative research: Muslims’ perceptions of anti-Muslim prejudice

Over the last year, we have been speaking to British Muslims in focus groups around the country to hear how they see the scale of anti-Muslim prejudice in their own words. There is a clear sense from Muslims that anti-Muslim racism is not talked about enough, and that much more needs to be done to eradicate it from British society. In particular, many Muslims we have spoken to since October 7th have noticed the situation getting worse, or have felt more self-conscious in public.

“I think Islamophobia is still very rife. The media, the way they report on Muslims, is always in a very harsh context. Muslims are always shown as the bad guys. There’s no positivity. There’s good and bad in every community, but Muslims are always shown as the bad guys” Zaheer, Rochdale

“Over the last weeks how much Islamophobia and Islamophobic comments have Muslims been receiving? I think Boris Johnson and previous prime ministers have always promised that they'll come up with a strategy for Islamophobia, but there's never ever been one being put in place. And I think for that reason Muslims are a little bit sick and tired because for many years, Muslims have been experiencing Islamophobia. And so for that reason, I personally think the question that should be asked is, is Islamophobia even important in the UK? Is anything being done about it?” Jameel, Bradford

“I think the relationship in my city since October 7th has created more friction” Majid, Peterborough


It is clear that anti-Muslim sentiment is far more widespread than might be first assumed, and that both Muslims and non-Muslims alike expect community and political leaders to do more to tackle it. 

That shouldn’t be seen to contradict or undermine the work needed to tackle Islamist extremism - work that itself relies on making a clear distinction between the overwhelming majority of British Muslims who have no truck with extremism and the small minority who seek to exploit community tensions to promote their extremist agenda. Sloppy generalisations or active and prejudiced conflation of the two are undoubtedly one of the best recruiting agents of both Islamist and far-right extremists. 

The past few weeks have shown many examples of how not to do that, we hope this research and the shift in tone from leading politicians in recent days helps to start doing just that.

“The anti-muslim and anti-semitic rhetoric that we have heard from some politicians in recent weeks has serious real world consequences. At it’s most extreme we’ve seen it manifest into acts of violence and vandalism - but as this research shows while anti-muslim feeling remains a minority, that one in five Brits start from a position of negativity towards Muslims and almost one in ten feel the same about Jewish people - prejudice is not limited to a handful of people at the extremes. The findings should be a wake up call to politicians and wider civil society that they need to do more to tackle rather than inflame community divides.”

Luke Tryl, UK Director of More in Common

“Words have consequences and consistent anti-Muslim rhetoric by mainstream politicians has emboldened a sizable minority of the British public to admit having prejudiced views. When politicians whip up anti-Muslim rhetoric or struggle to even name the problem of Islamophobia and anti-muslim hate - we shouldn’t be surprised to see it embolden and inflame a prejudiced minority.”

Julie Siddiqui, interfaith lead at the Together Coalition and Muslim commentator

“While there’s a lot to worry about in this poll, the positive news is that prejudice towards any of the identity groups we tested was not held by a majority of the public. Even Muslims - who were one of the groups people were most likely to express prejudice against - were seen positively or neutrally by 75% of the public. Political parties should remember that tapping into prejudice is more likely to alienate the public than win them over.”

Brendan Cox, co-founder of the Together Coalition

A note on comparability

Many of the questions asked in this study are similar to questions that have been asked in surveys elsewhere, such as the regular British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey. Despite this, we advise against comparing these findings with those conducted by other researchers. 

The primary reason for this is mode effects. Studies such as BSA utilise face-to-face and telephone interviews, whereas this study was conducted entirely through online questionnaires. This has significant impacts on how respondents answer questions - for example, people may be more inclined to answer in a socially desirable manner when answering a survey face-to-face or over the telephone.

In addition, many previous studies into anti-Muslim attitudes in the UK utilise agree/disagree scales to test belief in anti-Muslim stereotypes, whereas we have used paired statements to minimise the effects of agreement bias. As such, these questions are not comparable to any previous research that we are aware of.