Poll points to growing alienation of UK's young Muslims

London, England - Evidence that the UK is beset by a growing societal rift has emerged with a poll showing large minorities of young Muslims in favour of Islamic law and inspired by political Islam.

One in eight young Muslims supports Al-Qaeda, according to the Populus poll, in findings likely to stoke a debate about Muslims' place in Britain that has held centre stage since the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings.

Munira Mirza, whose independent Policy Exchange think-tank commissioned the poll, claimed Monday the results suggested that two decades of British government policy was to blame for sharpening divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The rift is partly "a result of multi-cultural policies implemented since the 1980s emphasising difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines," Mirza said.

Since a fierce debate erupted last year over whether Muslim women should wear the full-face veil, government ministers have stressed shared values of fairness and democracy.

According to the Internet and phone poll of 1,003 Muslims, 37 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds said they would prefer to live under Sharia law compared to just 17 percent of the over-55s.

The same number of young Muslims said they would prefer to send their children to Islamic state schools while 74 percent said they preferred Muslim women to wear the hijab headscarf in public.

Among the over-55s, the figures were 19 percent and 28 percent on the same questions.

A small overall minority (seven percent) said they "admire organisations like Al-Qaeda that are prepared to fight the West". The figure was highest among younger people (13 percent) but just three percent among older people.

In general, more over-55s felt they had as much, if not more, in common with non-Muslims in Britain than with Muslims abroad (71 percent), but that fell to 62 percent among 16-to-24-year-olds.

Mirza said: "There is clearly conflict within British Islam between a moderate majority that accepts the norms of Western democracy and a growing minority that does not.

"Religiosity amongst younger Muslims is not about following their parents' cultural traditions but rather their interest in religion is more politicised."

Mirza said: "The government should stop emphasising difference and engage with Muslims as citizens, not through their religious identity."

Youth workers and a councillor in east London, which has many Muslims, added that Muslim community leaders themselves could do more to communicate and involve young people.

They noted that the elder generation of Muslims, including imams at mosques, tended to shy away from politics, which is impossible in the age of satellite television and the Internet which bring home the turmoil in Muslim lands.

"Imams could do with training (in) talking to the young," Afzal Akram, a Waltham Forest Borough councillor, told AFP recently.

Hanif Qadir, who runs the Active Change Foundation youth club in Walthamstow, said many young British Muslims, unlike their parents, suffer from a sense of lost identity.

At different points, "they want to be white boys, they want to be black boys," becoming lost before they are tempted by radical Islamist groups, Qadir said.

Shiv Malik, a writer for the New Statesman magazine, warned that Britain is actually faced with a deeper rift than many understand.

"We no longer live in a multicultural society. We live in a multi-value society," Malik told AFP, referring to rising support for Sharia law. "I don't think Britain can survive with that concept."