What British Muslims Really Think: Channel 4 Documentary Criticized for 'Misleading'

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, speaks at the British Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference in London, March 18, 2010. He fronts new Channel 4 documentary 'What British Muslims Really Think'. Oli Scarff/Getty

A controversial Channel 4 documentary titled What British Muslims Really Think has been criticized for potentially inciting discord between British Muslims and other Britons when it airs on Wednesday night.

Channel 4 commissioned polling company ICM to conduct a survey purporting to reflect how Muslims in the U.K. view their role in a multicultural society. Fronted by Trevor Phillips, the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), 1000 British Muslims were quizzed, while ICM also sampled a control group made up of people of all ethnicities and religions.

Phillips says that British Muslims risk creating "nations within a nation," writing in the Daily Mail "that they would rather live more separately from their non-Muslim countrymen." He argues there is a growing chasm between the conservative attitudes of British Muslims and the liberal beliefs of their compatriots.

The survey's findings include that 39 percent of Muslims believe a woman should always obey her husband and 23 percent supported the introduction of Sharia law.

Speaking to Newsweek , Dr. Omer El-Hamdoon, the president of the British Association of Muslims, warned that the consequences of the documentary and survey could be hazardous to multiculturalism in the U.K. and lead to an 'us and them' mentality.

"The very nature of British society is that it is diverse. People are proud to display their diversity—whether their ethnic backgrounds or religion. To expect everybody to adopt one set of views, ideas and theologies that conform… wanting everyone to be like-minded in everything, not only is that not possible, it's outrageous and ridiculous," he said.

Responding to Phillips' remarks that British Muslims have segregated themselves from the rest of society, El-Hamdoon said: "[Phillips] wants everyone to ascribe to a monolithic set of values and we know that looking at other polls, devout Jews, evangelical Christians and even atheists, they have their own views that aren't in line with what is expected as mainstream."

The British Association of Muslims itself teaches "through theological discourse and dialogue" that being part of Britain "is actually what Islam encourages—you are part of your people, you are not isolated from your people, wherever you live that is your home," says El-Hamdoon. "[We encourage] that kind of discourse through our mosques and schools, so people feel that this is their country."

El-Hamdoon also argued the very nature of the program is "misleading."

"To claim that, based on this poll, 'this is what British Muslims think' is misleading. You can't get a thousand people and just ask them questions and make that a representation of [all] British Muslims," he said.

"One would hope it was going to be impartial and not show any bias against Muslims. But I can almost sense the questions were loaded, trying to bring out certain conclusions."

A Channel 4 spokesperson has been reached for comment.

What British Muslims Really Think airs tonight at 10pm on Channel 4.