Traversing Tradition has been delighted to interview Sadiq Dorasat, the co-founder of Muslim Census, a first of it’s kind polling organisation for Muslims in the UK. After graduating with a Mathematics degree, he has worked in Wealth & Asset Management, Digital Product, and now in Data Science for one of the largest retailers in the country. With Muslim Census, he has been interviewed by the likes of the BBC, Financial Times, The Independent and more speaking on the importance of data for Muslims. You can follow him on Twitter here and at Muslim Census.
How did Muslim Census start?
Simply put, myself and Mo (the other co-founder of Muslim Census) realised there was a real lack of data for Muslims in the UK. We were relying on decade-old studies to cater to the needs of almost 3.5million people. Even on the very rare occasion where Muslims were factored into studies, the sample sizes would be embarrassingly low. I saw conclusions being made for 3.5million people off of the back of a sample size of 60 Muslims!
The need for relevant and accurate data was only heightened during the peaks of the global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Reports suggested ethnic minorities in the UK were being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, whilst Muslims were also trying to understand where they stood with regards to global movements.
Yet, faith-based data was non-existent. We believe that being a Muslim is the primary component that influences our identity, our opinions, our behaviours and our experiences. With that, Muslim Census launched in July 2020 alhamdulillah.
How a survey is deployed can impact response rates. What methodology does Muslim Census use in compiling data?
Without getting too technical, Muslim Census follows a similar model to many other online polling organisations. Due to the pandemic, we have primarily focused on publishing online surveys and building a subscriber base through our social media channels. We have also conducted some outreach elements which we will look to expand on further this year.
What we try to recreate is the ‘randomness’ of standing on the street and stopping people to complete a questionnaire. However, we argue that the surveys being shared online increases the ‘random’ element as if you stand on a street, the results can be skewed depending on where you stand. Responses you gain standing outside a Mosque in Tower Hamlets, the poorest borough in London, are going to be far different compared to responses you gain standing outside a supermarket in Kent. By sharing online, you can reach the entire country with relative ease!
We are confident that our methodology stands up against any other polling organisation, which has definitely helped us gain credibility for the work we have done over the past 18 months.
How do you limit survey bias and reach out to communities less likely to respond and ensure the sample population is representative of Muslims in the UK?
Our first aim has been to ensure that for every study, we have a representative sample of the Muslim population in the UK. That means making sure we have the appropriate balance between the identifiers of gender, age, ethnicity and region. We also ensure our sample size is large enough to minimise the margin of error.
With regards to the questions we ask, we draft, re-draft and then draft again to prevent questions from being loaded or leading a respondent to answer in a particular way.
In addition, we are continuously building relationships with individual communities across the UK Muslim population to better represent the views and feelings of Muslims in the UK as a whole. One such example we are looking at is to build a relationship with Mosques across the country to work with them and get responses from those that would most likely never complete an online survey.
There are many ideas we have which we hope to start implementing this year. However, if you feel like you have a great idea, please do feel free to reach out!
How can the data collected potentially impact policy formation?
The best type of data that leads to impactful change is community-led data. Muslim Census do exactly that.
What that means is we gather insight into the issues we know the Muslim population want us to look into. The reason for this is because, once the findings are published, we know that this is something our population needs and will take forward to drive action. Community-led data is one of the key foundations that leads to effective community-led action.
In terms of policy formation, not only have we directly worked with the NHS to help them better support Muslims and their healthcare education, we have been quoted in Parliament on a number of occasions and have even presented a letter to the Prime Minister off the back of one of our studies. We are seeing that data helps evidence an issue which in turn builds exposure and potential action.
Your recent survey on student loans was well received within the Muslim community. What kind of response have you had from policy makers?
Our student loan study looked into the impact of delaying an alternative student finance model on Muslims in the UK. With almost 40,000 responses (the largest Muslim survey sample size in history), we received an incredible response from both media and policy makers.
The government had signalled that a new alternative financing option was being taken off the table. After our study, and the media attention from the likes of The Times, The Independent, BBC and Financial Times (some of the largest publications in the UK), the government promised that this alternative option would now be implemented. We have even received vocal support from several MPs, both Muslim and non-Muslim, which has helped drive the action we were hoping for. The next stage is to get clear timelines for when this option will be available but we can say this has been a powerful case study for why data is so important for mobilising action.
What kind of issues do Muslim Census look to tackle?
Since launch, we have looked into several topics such as anti-blackness amongst Muslims in the UK, the financial impact of COVID-19, Muslim’s perceptions of Islamophobia within the Government and pornography addiction.
We decide on what issue to look into in 3 ways; driven from our internal team, highlighted by our community and surroundings, and an issue brought to us by an organisation. We always aim to conduct studies which we know will have an impact on Muslims in the UK. We have our own set principles framework that essentially allows us to protect the dignity of Muslims in this country, whilst helping to tackle the issues affecting us the most.
How is Muslim Census different from other institutions/organizations carrying out survey research?
There are many ways in which I believe Muslim Census is unique in what it does. For starters, we are the first organisation built in the UK that has the sole focus of gaining insights from the Muslim population.
Not only that, with a team of expert researchers and data scientists, we are heavily focused on making sure we make the data as accessible as possible. It’s no good locking away valuable insight in a 500 page pdf report that looks like a nightmare. That is why we put massive importance on design and community building. With how we showcase our findings, we are confident that we put people in a greater position to take our insight and act on it.
We also take pride in the fact that we are transparent with what we do, and how we do it. As mentioned earlier, we are in continuous conversations with our community to understand the best way we can provide value.
Any plans to expand Muslim Census to other countries like the US?
I strongly believe that what we are doing here in the UK is needed across the world too! I can’t say we have plans at the moment, but it is something on our radar for sure. We are conscious of the fact that we are just 18 months old and there are many things we need to do before we expand globally Insha’Allah.
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