Segregated Britain

Everyday Life in Muslim Enclaves

by Farhaan Wali (Author)
©2020 Monographs X, 254 Pages


There has been growing concern about the gradual segregation of Muslims living within the United Kingdom. Since the 2001 riots in the north of England, several government reports identified the lack of social integration as a critical factor. This book explores how and why some Muslim individuals and communities seek to live apart in isolated enclaves, providing a compelling new perspective from which to understand the lives of contemporary British Muslims. The author examines everyday life in Muslim enclaves. By framing Muslim experiences around different generational perspectives, he is able to illustrate the cultural gaps between first- and second-generation Muslims, adding to the complexity of everyday Muslim life. The social reality of Muslim segregation appears to evolve in accordance with the needs of each historical period. In essence, each generation has its own distinct set of conflicts that influence the development of Muslim identity, belonging and segregation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Introduction: Is Britain a Balkanised Dystopia of Segregated Enclaves?
  • Chapter 1 The East End Muslim Enclave I: Early Immigrant Experiences
  • Chapter 2 The East End Muslim Enclave II: Born into Enclaves
  • Chapter 3 Patchwork Segregation in Dundee
  • Chapter 4 Small-town Segregation in Bangor
  • Chapter 5 Gender Segregation
  • Conclusion: Muslim Segregation in Modern Britain
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Is Britain a Balkanised Dystopia of Segregated Enclaves?

The headline for this introduction was taken from a Vice News article written by Matt Broomfield in 2016. He visited parts of Birmingham to assess ‘if it’s really an Islamist Ghetto’ (Vice, 7 December 2016). The news report sought to find out if Islamism was driving alleged Muslim segregation. After interviewing a small section of the Muslim community in Birmingham, the link to Islamism seemed redundant, as locals expressed their aversion to Islamist ideology. Beyond the somewhat alarmist focus on Islamism, I was struck by the article’s somewhat blasé analogy between Britain and the Balkans. I found this link extremely difficult to accept, as several years earlier I had visited the city of Mostar, the fifth largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. My encounters with the residents revealed a distinctly divided picture. This segregation was most evident in the social space of the city, which was heavily divided. After the civil war, the city was geographically reshaped along ethno-religious lines, permanently separating the eastern and western blocks. The spatial segregation I witnessed could be seen in local parks, schools and shops. The Vice News article raised concerns about whether similar types of divisions exist across modern Britain. This provoked my interest and scepticism. Thus, when I began my fieldwork, my goal was not to prove the existence of Muslim enclaves in Modern Britain; but rather, I sought to understand everyday experiences of British Muslims who allegedly live in segregated Muslim enclaves.

←1 | 2→

Some British politicians claim that Muslims are not actively dissolving the social boundaries between themselves and wider society. Dame Louise Casey, the former integration tsar, for instance, asserted that segregation and social exclusion are at ‘worrying levels’ amongst Muslim communities in Britain (BBC, 5 December 2016). She singled out the Muslim community, claiming that regressive practices are socially upheld in Muslim enclaves, which limit the self-agency of Muslim women. A cultural disconnect, she claims, fuels continued Muslim segregation in which Muslims reside in parallel communities. There are large segments of British society that believe British Muslims live in separate religious spaces, which are often termed Muslim enclaves (Tausch, 2014). The inability to locate these enclaves is a major problem. It is easy to claim Muslims live in separate territories, but does Muslim residential clustering equal an enclave? This book tries to offer ethnographic insight into the everyday lives of Muslims living in East London, North Wales and Scotland. Thus, the goal was not to ascertain physical data concerning the demographic distribution of these people – relating to their economic condition, housing and welfare – but to discover, through observations of everyday life, the various ways in which British Muslims construct a sense of belonging and segregation. In essence, I seek to understand the social world of Muslims living in so-called enclaves.

Starting in the East End of London: Cluster or Enclave?

I often think to myself, what would you find if you walked the streets of the East End a hundred years ago? The area has undergone a radical alteration. Beyond the changing physical landscape, the ethnic upheaval experienced in the city stands out perhaps most vividly. I remember a few years ago, well before I began this book, I found myself strolling down the rustic back alleys of Brick Lane. There I encountered a small group of German tourists, who were meticulously tracking down the hotspots of Jack the Ripper’s victims. While hunting in the East End, one of the tourists asked me about the local area. He said that the East End was not what ←2 | 3→he had expected. I rather impulsively asked what he had expected to find, and his reply has haunted me ever since: ‘I do not believe I am in England … there are no English people here’. Despite the racist undertones of the statement, I was more concerned by the experiences of Britain that had shaped this point of view. I grew up in Bedfont, a small village in suburban west London, and thus rarely stepped foot in the East End. So, in many ways, I felt somewhat like a tourist too.

With this encounter fresh in my head, I started aimlessly wandering the East End. I had the opportunity to speak to several non-Muslim white residents. They felt that the entire landscape appeared at odds with the wider city, believing the Muslim presence had vividly changed the cultural landscape of the area. The Muslim inhabitants of the East End, they asserted, seemed to be consciously constructing a community apart from British society. This type of alarmist sentiment exhibits some parallels with the rhetoric of the far right. According to Rydgnen (2018), the rhetoric of the far right focuses on defending against perceived threats to national identity and culture. He claims ‘immigrants from Muslim countries are singled out as particularly threatening, allegedly because they have the least in common with the native population’ (Rydgnen, 2018, p. 2).

Even though it was clear to me that there were real causes of concern, I realised that my observations were very superficial. I needed to test my observations. Initially, I just focused on the East End of London. I meticulously scoured the numbers, to understand the demographic breakdown of the area. The data was compelling. In Tower Hamlets, for example, ethnic minorities outnumber the white population by nearly two to one (Riaz, 2016). Almost one-third of the borough’s population is Bangladeshi, making them the largest ethnic group in the area. As a result, Tower Hamlets has the largest concentration of Bangladeshis in the UK. However, I felt this broad data presented a skewed demographic picture. The concentration of Muslims in the area does not necessarily mean one should constitute it as a Muslim enclave. For instance, there are over eighteen different ethnic groups living in this area, which means it might be better characterised as an ethnic enclave, due to the multi-ethnic composition of the East End (Young et al., 2011, p. 31).

←3 |

According to Park (1969), the creation of migrant enclaves often drew people of similar race, ethnicity and language together. However, as these migratory bonds gradually weaken, some members seek to integrate into the host society. Yet, on the surface, this does not appear to be happening. As one local white resident put it, ‘on the streets of Tower Hamlets people are living apart’. The demographic data gives a broad picture, but this does not necessarily tell the real story about the social lives of Muslims living in the East End. After spending several months in the area and speaking to locals, I started to see significant social gaps and differences between Muslim residents. Ultimately, my goal was not to determine whether the East End was a Muslim enclave; rather, I wanted to find out how some British Muslims construct a sense of belonging and whether those Muslims living in the East End considered the area a Muslim enclave. This distinction is important because I did not see evidence of British Muslims living in parallel worlds in the East End. Rather, I observed different pockets of Muslim populations. This, I felt, equated to residential clustering, which is a relatively common phenomenon within urban environments. According to Finney (2013), this residential clustering is a natural by-product of socio-economic structural forces. As a result, it is common across the UK to find ethnic minority populations clustered together within towns and cities. Peach (2006) claims that Muslim clustering functions at two distinct levels of civic engagement. The first level relates to the preservation of segregated communities, which Peach termed multiculturalism. The second level relates to assimilative processes, in which Muslim communities are gradually absorbed into the dominant culture of the host society (Peach, 2006).

In 2005, Trevor Philips delivered a damning address to the Manchester Council for Community Relations in which he expressed his concern that Britain was harbouring ‘fully fledged ghettos’ (The Guardian, 19 September 2005). In large parts of the UK, the Muslim community appear clustered together (Varady, 2008). In the East End of London, residential patterns are drawn along ethnic and religious grounds, which have been facilitated by discriminatory housing policy and accelerated white flight (Simpson and Gavalas, 2005). Large parts of the East End, therefore, exhibit high clustering of Muslims. This was evident during the fieldwork, as the vast majority of respondents resided in areas populated with people of the same ←4 | 5→ethnic and religious background. However, despite the title of the book, it is vital to be extremely cautious while employing the term ‘enclave’. This is because Muslim residential clustering, in some parts of the UK, seems generally accepted by the academic community (Finney, 2013; Johnston et al., 2007; Vaughan, 2007). Yet, there is less agreement concerning Muslim enclaves. There are many reasons for this lack of agreement. Firstly, enclaves imply that communities become culturally disconnected from the dominant culture (Pores and Jensen, 1987). Secondly, it is assumed that residential clustering occurs after migration, and as the population cluster grows and settles it becomes distinct from the host society, turning it into an enclave (Vaughan, 2007). Therefore, if the East End of London is a Muslim enclave, then it must be culturally disconnected from the wider society. In order to assess whether this is actually the case, I undertook ethnographic fieldwork to discover if the inhabitants of the East End are culturally disconnected. In essence, I wanted to know whether Muslims believe that where they live is a Muslim enclave. I felt that gaining insight from inside the so-called enclave could provide me with a deeper understanding of the complex social world of Muslims and their perception of the outside world. This would help answer questions related to segregation and belongingness.

Urban Enclaves

According to Flint, in a modern urban sense, enclaves refer to a ‘city neighbourhood displaying distinctive economic, social and cultural attributes from its surroundings’ (Flint, 2009, p. 191). This definition would imply that an enclave is a distinct ‘territorial space’. For Flint (2009, p. 191), this distinct territory is also ‘economically and politically’ segregated from the wider territory. This description does not quite match up to the reality of Muslim social life that I observed; as the inhabitants did not develop an understanding that politically or economically separated them from British society. Instead, I witnessed different forms of expressing cultural ←5 | 6→and religious identity that gave rise to different levels of belongingness. Therefore, my goal is not to locate or prove the existence of Muslim enclaves; rather, I want to understand how British Muslims construct meaning within so-called enclaves.

The role state policy plays further complicates the problem, especially in restricting social stratification for economically deprived communities. In particular, the destabilisation of council estates after the 1980 Housing Act restricted the mobility of poorer communities (Madden and Marcuse, 2016). In theory, due to local council housing policies, According to Balchin and Rhoden (2002), who studied housing policy in the UK, some ethnic communities found themselves bound to the poorest areas of cities and towns due to local council housing policies and high unemployment. These economically disadvantaged areas witnessed gradual ethnic concentration, escalating White Flight from those areas (Cantle, 2018).

This means the state is not necessarily neutral. However, from a socio-political and legal standpoint, the British state does not practise or enforce a policy of keeping ethno-religious communities apart. Historically, in the United States, after the abolishment of slavery, many Southern states actively employed a policy of racial segregation, which naturally spawned ethnic enclaves (Warde, 2016). This is why some academics argue that ethnic enclave formation is rooted in non-institutionalised factors, such as high levels of concentrated immigration (Martin, 2006). This ignores the structural inequalities created by housing policy. After speaking to locals, I discovered in the East End that some early Bangladeshi immigrants were able to secure homeownership after several years of undertaking low-skilled employment. This homeownership brought increased residential equality and gave them the opportunity to locate housing in the suburbs.


X, 254
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (August)
British Muslims Segregation, belonging and identity Muslim enclaves
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. X, 254 pp., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Farhaan Wali (Author)

Farhaan Wali is a religious studies expert with specialisation in the study of Islam and Muslims in Britain. He has spent several years engaging in field research, and case study analysis, working intimately with religious communities in the UK and the Muslim world. Currently, he is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History, Philosophy and Social Science at Bangor University.


Title: Segregated Britain
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
266 pages