After Christianity, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world with more than 1.5 billion followers. Emily Buchanan is a BBC world affairs correspondent.

All Muslims believe there is only one God, Allah.  

Islam has no living leader – and no single person or organisation represents all Muslims. This is the case both in Britain or anywhere else in the world.  

There are 1,591,000 Muslims in the UK, according to the most recent Census figures available. 

In this film, Emily Buchanan explores some of the beliefs and religious practices of the followers of Islam and discusses some of the issues facing them. 


All Muslims have the same core beliefs but there are some divisions and different interpretations of Islam. 

There are two major branches. About 85% of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis, while the remaining 15% are Shi’as. The main differences relate to political leadership rather than faith. 

According to Muslim belief, God sent a number of prophets to teach humankind how to live in accordance with his laws. Muhammad was the last prophet sent by God. 

Muslims do not worship Muhammad and there are few more serious mistakes a journalist can make when reporting the beliefs of Muslims than implying that they do. 

In Islam, images of Muhammad are not allowed – this can often cause conflict with cultures that do not share the prohibition. 

Muhammad is, however, held in the highest esteem and you will often hear the phrase ‘peace be upon him’ after each mention of his name. 

The Muslim place of congregational prayer is called a mosque. The person who leads the prayer is called an imam, which means leader. 

A mosque’s trustees are responsible for everything that happens in it, including the appointment of an imam.  

Muslims base their laws on their holy book, the Qur’an, and the Sunnah. They believe the Qur’an contains God’s words, spoken to the Angel Gabriel and passed onto the Prophet Muhammad. There is only one version of the Qur’an and it was written in Arabic. 


Journalists working on a story about Islam should remember that not all Muslims are, in religious terms, the same. So it’s very important when quoting a person or group with influence among Muslims to check precisely what that influence amounts to. 

There are religious leaders and community leaders as well as respected scholars – but they don’t have a formal role or position such as, say, bishops have in Christianity. 

There are at least 1,600 mosques in Britain and they play an important role in Muslim communities. An increasing number provide educational and social as well as religious activities. 

An imam is a spiritual leader whose main job is to lead prayers in a mosque. He does not run a mosque, but he is looked up to by people in his community. 

In all but the largest mosques, it can be a part-time or even a voluntary position. The world ‘imam’ may also be used as a term of respect for a senior scholar. 

Doing a story 

If you’re covering a story, keep in mind that different groups have different traditions and follow different practices. 

While the majority of Muslims in the UK are of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Indian descent, there are also communities as diverse as Somalia, Bosnia and Afghanistan. 

Differences between groups may derive from ancient divisions between Sunni and Sh’ia, or from other religious or legal issues. 

Some Muslim groups in the UK are large umbrella organisations representing several bodies, but no organisation says it represents all Muslims. 

If journalists want to film or record in a mosque, they should contact the Imam or a member of the Mosque Committee beforehand.