One in ten children under the age of four is now Muslim in England and Wales, the latest statistics show.
In the under-fives age group there are nearly twice as many people identified as Muslim as in the general population, census data reveals.
The figures suggest a change in the UK’s younger generation of worshippers as less than 0.5 per cent of over 85s in Britain identify as Muslim.
One expert said the number of practising Muslims could soon outnumber the number of Christians who actively worship in the UK. David Voas, Professor of Population Studies at the University of Essex, told The Times: ‘It’s not inconceivable.’
An Office for National Statistics breakdown of Britain’s religions and age groups shows in 2011 there were 3.5 million children aged 0-4, of whom 320,000 were Muslim.
That proportion is more than 9 per cent and compares with a total Muslim population among all age groups of less than 5 per cent.
There were 1.6 million Muslims in England and Wales in 2001, or 3 per cent of the population, according to the census. By 2011 the Muslim population had grown to 2.7 million people or 4.8 per cent of the population.
It certainly is a startling figure,’ said David Coleman, Professor of Demography at the University of Oxford. ‘We have had substantial immigration of Muslims for a long time.
‘Continuing immigration from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India has been added to by new immigration from African countries and from the Middle East. Birth rates of Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin remain quite high, although falling. There seem to be very low levels of falling away from religion among Muslims.’
The largest religious group, at 1.5 million, among those aged 0-4 is still comprised of Christians, 43 per cent.
Dale Barton, priest in charge at St Clement’s, a Church of England parish in Bradford, said: ‘This was a white working-class British area 50 years ago. They have all gone. There are two pubs hanging on by their fingertips. There’s a Labour club. One club has just gone. Shops are now Muslim-owned. I’m not decrying that. A significant number open on Christmas Day.’
There are now 136 Muslim schools, 125 of them in the private sector, according to the Department for Education. Britain has a total of 1,600 mosques and the first UK halal food festival was held in September.
Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that the large number of young Muslim children reflected the confidence that Muslims had in the country, encouraging them to bring up families here. ‘I just wouldn’t want our fellow citizens to be alarmed by an increase in number,’ he said.
‘This generation is very much British. They feel very much this is their home. It’s not about Britain becoming a Muslim country but about Britain enabling the practice of Islam, which gives confidence to the vast majority of Muslims. It’s a great country to regard as our home