1. Governance
January 12, 2015

Charts: Birmingham has nearly as many atheists as Muslims

By Jonn Elledge

Yes, yes, we’ve all had a lot of fun mocking Fox News (“Fair and balanced”) for employing “terrorism expert” Steve Emerson, who claimed, with a straight face, that the English city of Birmingham was now a no-go area for anyone who wasn’t a Muslim. Which it quite obviously isn’t.

Emerson’s claim was self-evidently ridiculous, and he’s since apologised to the city for making them. (He’s yet to apologise to Britain’s 2.8m Muslims for basically assuming they’re all terrorists, however.) Nonetheless, it’s worth getting the stats on the record, to debunk this one properly.

In the 2011 census, the city of Birmingham had a population of just shy of 1.1m. Here, as a pie chart, is what those people had to say about their religious views.

At first glance, the Islamic population looks pretty big – but it’s not much bigger than the avowedly atheist population, and it’s less than half the size of the share calling itself “Christian”.

These are just the figures for those who live within the city of Birmingham council district, of course. Arguably, you’ll get a better sense of what the city feels like if you include its suburbs, and look at the entire West Midlands metropolitan county. So, if we take this “Greater Birmingham” as a whole, do things look any different?

As it happens, they do. Include Wolverhampton, the Black Country, Coventry and so forth, and you get a metropolis of 2.7m people – but one whose Islamic population as a proportion of the whole is actually even smaller.

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That’s not to say the city isn’t a significant centre of British Islam: there are over 200,000 Muslims in the city, over 300,000 in the West Midlands as a whole, and the population is substantially more Islamic than the national average. (Bonus fact! The Balti, a popular type of curry, is believed to have originated in Birmingham.)

Nonetheless, when you rank the local authorities of England & Wales by their Muslim population, the city only just scrapes into the top 10, ranking 9th.

That’s all local authorities, of course: it’s no surprise that the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, the centre of the city’s Bangladeshi community, should have a higher Muslim population than an entire city.

But even if you do the same with major metropolitan areas – let’s say, those with populations of 300,000 or more – the Birmingham region doesn’t top the chart. Two other major English or Welsh cities are more Islamic than the West Midlands.

While we’re having such fun, here are the major cities again, this time ranked by their population’s enthusiasm for other major religions, and a total absence of it.

Birmingham, it’s safe to say, is safe from Sharia law for the moment – but if it turns out that there is a god, then Bristol is in real trouble.

Notes: We’ve excluded Scottish and Northern Irish councils from this analysis, purely because the Office for National Statistics treats England & Wales as a unit in its census analysis.

We’ve defined “major metropolitan areas” as metropolitan counties or council districts, whichever is the larger. Where we’re excluding areas that may sometimes be counted as cities in their own right, we’ve added + to the city’s name.

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