LONDON: New research has found Islam to be the fastest growing religion in the UK, even as fewer people are becoming members of the Church of England.
In the past two years, the Church of England lost two million followers, while the number of Muslims in Britain grew by a million, according to NatCen's British Social Attitudes Survey.
The biggest group remained people who say they have no religion, accounting for around half (49%) of all people in Britain, up from 31% in 1983 and 43% a decade ago. In 1983, 12.8 million people said they were atheists. In 2014, the number of people following no religion or having no belief in God rose to 24.7 million.
The findings from NatCen's survey show the proportion of British adults who say they are Anglican fell from 40% in 1983 to 17% in 2014. The shift has been most dramatic over the past decade.
"In 1983, the number of people following Islam stood at 0.6% of the population compared to a little under 5% in 2014," Naomi Jones from NatCen told TOI. "The number of Catholics in Britain has remained about the same throughout the last 30 years. We know from previous analysis of British Social Attitudes that the main explanation for the increase in British people saying they are not religious is generational displacement. In other words, each generation is less religious than the next. So as older generations die, the overall population becomes less religious. But this doesn't explain why the Anglican Church alone continues to decline."
Jones said one explanation for this might be that the numbers of Catholic and non-Christian people in Britain might have been supplemented by migrants with strong religious beliefs. "Another explanation could be that in the past, religion played a more prominent role in people's identity," she said. "We know from recent NatCen research that people are less likely than in previous years to see being Christian as an important component of being British. Therefore, fewer British people may feel that the Church of England is an important part of their identity nowadays."
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, warned that unless urgent action was taken, the organisation was just "one generation away from extinction".
NatCen says the Church of England has been in decline for over 30 years and that decline appears to have accelerated over the last decade.
In 2012, Muhammad had emerged as the commonest first name given to baby boys born in London. The name was also second commonest among newborn male babies across the UK and Wales the same year.