Based on a presentation by Jamil Sherif at the ‘The Demographic Profile of UK’s Muslim Community’ Conference , organised by the Research & Documentation Committee of the Muslim Council of Britain on 26 September 2001, at The Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, London
Jamil Sherif was the MCB’s representative on the Religious Affiliation Group, the interfaith alliance that lobbied for the religion question, 1997 - 2002
The involvement of British Muslims in the campaign predates the establishment of the MCB (November 1997), reflecting the long-standing dissatisfaction with the focus on race and ethnicity alone as a statistical marker for planning and resource allocation in the public sector. The MCB subsequently provided community representation and a network for increasing public awareness at key stages such as the census trials and census day awareness. The religion question was an issue of strategic importance for the MCB because without it British Muslims would remain statistically invisible. However in addition to the emergence of an organized Muslim lobby, the inclusion of the religion question was the fortuitous outcome of a number of other factors, notably advocacy from the Churches, a changing social milieu more open to a role for faith in the public sphere, and the promise of New Labour. The campaign offered British Muslims their first comprehensive engagement with the variety of networks, power centres, institutions and processes that interact in the shaping of policy in a participative democracy. It has been an episode with many unexpected twists and turns that has yet to run its course – particularly on the issue of census output relating to the religion question. This paper chronicles the critical events and milestones in the five-year campaign, as seen from the perspective of the MCB.