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Religious Tolerance in the United Kingdom:

By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)

Playing its role as an imperial power and actor for several centuries (1496 – 1997), the United Kingdom, as a successor of the British Empire, is still leading the world in many fields of life, especially in such issues, as respecting human rights, influencing global politics and helping the poor countries, etc. The United Kingdom has its own traditions, standards of behaviour, principles, ethics, rules of conduct and values. These specific and certain rules of behaviour or conduct, principles, ethics, standards and values are known as British Values, which include such norms, rules of conduct and ethics, as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those who do not have the same faiths and beliefs as yours.

As already referred to, one of the principal principles, ethics, standards or rules of the British Values is ‘tolerance of those of different beliefs and faiths, which means having the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviours that one dislikes or disagrees with. Tolerance or toleration also means the willingness or capability to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree with or disapprove of them. In other words, tolerance is a state or condition of mind to be ready and pleased to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of it.

Due to the prevalence of religious tolerance in the British society, the UK is home to many religions, including Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Neo-paganism, the Baha’i Faith and even atheism or no belief in any specific religion or belief.

According to the UK 2011 Census, Christianity is the majority religion of the country, with 59.5% of the total population of the United Kingdom or 37,583,962 adherents of Christianity, followed by Islam (4.4% or 2,786,635 Muslims), Hinduism (1.32% or 835,394 Hindus), Sikhism (0.7% or 432,429 Sikhs), Judaism (0.4% or 269,568 Jews) and Buddhism (0.4% or 261,584 Buddhists). However, another report puts the number of the core British Jewish population to be about 300,000 in 2010, with the United Kingdom having the fifth largest Jewish community across the world.

Apart from the aforesaid religions, there are around 20,288 Jains in the UK, as of 2011, who believe in Jainism, a non-theistic religion founded in India in the 6th century BC by the Jina Vardhamana Mahavira as a reaction against the teachings of orthodox Brahmanism, and still being practised there, teaching salvation by perfection through successive lives, and non-injury to living creatures, and is noted for its ascetics (an ascetic being someone who avoids physical pleasures and living a simple life, often for religious reasons).

Neo-paganism is a modern religion that includes beliefs and activities that are not from any of the main religions of the world or this is a modern religious movement which seeks to incorporate beliefs or ritual practices from traditions outside the main world religions, especially those of pre-Christian Europe and North America. There are some 250,000 followers or adherents of Neo-paganism in the UK, according to a study, carried out by Ronald Edmund Hutton (an English historian, specialising in British folklore, Early Modern Britain, Contemporary Paganism and pre-Christian religion or polytheism, born in Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu, India, in 1953). The Neo-paganism or Neo-pagan movement in the UK includes Germanic Paganism/Heathenism or Heathenry (a modern pagan religion), Druidism or Druidry (a modern religious or spiritual movement), Witchcraft or Witchery Religions and Pagan Witchcraft or Wicca (a modern pagan religion).

Similarly, according to the 2011 UK Census, there were around 5,021 Baha’is, the adherents of the Baha’i Faith (a monotheistic religion founded in the 19th century as a development of Babism, emphasizing the essential oneness of humankind and of all religions and seeking world peace, having the Persian Baha’ullah (1817 – 1892) and his son, Abdul Baha (1844 – 1921) as its founders).

The British society is a society where there is no place or room for disrespecting or discriminating against another person on the basis of such characteristics, like age, disability, gender reassignment, marital status, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief and sex or gender. That is why the government of the United Kingdom has passed various Acts to safeguard and protect the different human rights of people, especially their religious rights. For example, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 is an Act of the UK Parliament, according to which, it is an offence (an illegal act or crime) in England and Wales to incite hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion.

Likewise, the Equality Act 2010 is another Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that protects people against discrimination, victimisation or harassment on the basis of their religion or faith in the selection for employment and the supply of services (private and public) and goods. Not only this, but the Equality Act 2010 also protects people from any sort of discrimination, maltreatment and unfair conduct against them, based on their gender or sex, race, marriage or civil partnership, gender reassignment, maternity and pregnancy, disability and age and such other characteristics.

As a result of tolerating those who have opposite or different faiths and beliefs in the British society, no one is allowed to say or do something against the religion, belief or ideology of another person. Despite the fact that the UK population is a mixture of people coming from different religious backgrounds, no discrimination is done against any specific religious community in the British society and the authorities, throughout the country, do their best to treat all the people in the United Kingdom equally and without any discrimination.

All the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Jains, the Baha’is and others residing in the country, are allowed to practise and observe their religious activities freely and without any fear or danger from any individual, organisation or the government itself. They are free to go to their synagogues, churches, mosques, Derasars or Jain temples (the place of worship for Jains or the followers of Jainism), Buddhist temples (including Vihara, the Stupa, Wet and Pagoda), Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras.

In the same way, all the various religious festivals are allowed or permitted to be celebrated freely, openly/publicly and peacefully across the UK, for instance, Hanukkah/Chanukah or the Festival of Lights (a Jewish festival, lasting eight days from the 25th day of Kislev [in the Jewish calendar, the third month of the civil and ninth of the religious year, usually coinciding with parts of November and December] and commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem and subsequent rededication of the Second Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians, and being marked by the successive kindling of eight lights); Diwali/Deepavali or Divali (a festival of lights and one of the paramount festivals celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, is a Hindu festival in October/November that is a celebration of light and hopes for the following year); Christmas/The Feast of the Nativity (the annual Christian festival celebrating Jesus Christ’s birth, held on 25 December in the Western Church); Boxing Day (a holiday celebrated the day after Christmas Day, taking place on the second day of Christmastide [a season of the liturgical or ceremonial year in most Christian churches]); Easter (a Christian religious holiday to celebrate the belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ); Eid al – Fitr (the Muslim festival marking the end of the fast of Ramadan); Eid al – Adha (the Muslim festival representing the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to Makkah/Mecca and commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham/Ibrahim [peace be upon him]); Nowruz/the Iranian New Year’s Day/the Persian New Year (a period of celebration marking the start of the Iranian New Year and typically lasting for thirteen days or the first day of the Iranian New Year, occurring on the vernal equinox [the equinox in spring, on about 20 March in the northern hemisphere and 22 September in the southern hemisphere], usually 20 or 21 March); the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival (the beginning of the year according to the Chinese calendar, when there are celebrations for several days, etc.

Qasim Swati is a freelance journalist, writer and human rights activist, based in the UK, and can be reached at or




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