LONDON (AFP) - Almost one in 10 babies and toddlers in England and Wales are Muslim, according to new analysis of census figures published Friday, illustrating the growth of the minority community.
Some 317,952 children aged under five, or 9.1 per cent, were registered as being Muslim in the 2011 census, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show.
As a measure of how the religious demographics of England and Wales are changing, the figure is nearly double the 4.8 per cent of the whole population who are Muslim, while fewer than one in 200 people aged over 85 are Muslim.
It is also an 80 per cent increase on the 176,264 Muslim under-fives recorded in the 2001 census. "It certainly is a startling figure," David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford University, told The Times newspaper on Friday. "Continuing immigration from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India has been added to by new immigration from African countries and from the Middle East.
"Birth rates of Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin remain quite high, although falling. There seem to be very low levels of falling away from religion among Muslims." Muslims have the youngest age profile of the main religious groups. Nearly half of Muslims (48 per cent) were aged under 25 (1.3 million).
The figures showed that Christianity remains by far the most common religion registered for babies in England and Wales, at more than 1.5 million, or 43.7 per cent.
Nearly as many parents listed their children under five as having no religion - the answer given for nearly 1.2 million (34.1 per cent).
The next most common religions registered for British toddlers after Christianity and Islam were Hinduism at 55,869 (1.6 per cent), Sikhism at 28,380 (0.8 per cent), Judaism at 18,221 (0.5 per cent) and Buddhism at 9,026 (0.3 per cent).
Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain umbrella group, said the number of Muslim babies reflected the confidence of the community.
"It's not about Britain becoming a Muslim country but about Britain enabling the practice of Islam, which gives confidence to the vast majority of Muslims," he told The Times.
Thirteen children aged under five were being raised in witchcraft, while 121 had heavy metal as their stated religion. Some 4,700 were listed as "Jedi knight", the statistics showed.
ONS figures showed that Mohammed was the most popular name for newborn baby boys in England and Wales in 2009, though 12 different spellings of that name meant that Oliver officially topped the chart.