The viral fake news around Muslim council tax exemption
Fake news about Muslims is ever-present online. But in recent weeks, we've seen a resurgence of these myths - including the false claim that Muslims are exempt from council tax if they have a prayer room in their home.
Despite being debunked multiple times, this untrue assertion continues to spread online and on social media. A quick search on Google shows an old UK government online petition as the top search.
The “Muslim Council Tax Exception” petition says: “Muslims who use their living area's within their homes as a place of Worship, are exempt from paying Council Tax.”
A big banner at the top of the article indicates that the petition “has been identified as misleading.” It links to a page on Full Fact, a charity that fact-checks and corrects misleading news, which thoroughly discredits the rumours.
Full Fact says the claim is incorrect. “Places of worship for all religions can be exempt from business rates, but only if they’re officially recognised as such. The principal use of the site has to be worship,” it adds.
The recent online activity highlights how conspiracy theories about Muslims persist online, even when proven untrue.
But the myth about council tax exemptions for Muslims with prayer rooms isn't the only false claim to resurface.
Viral Facebook post
Just before Christmas, Full Fact published another page debunking a viral Facebook post that made several misleading claims about Muslims in the UK.
“Almost all of the claims are wrong, unevidenced or unlikely to be true given the information we have,” said Full Fact.
One of the post's claims says there are over 3,000 mosques in the UK. However, Full Fact refutes this, stating that in 2018, the government estimated around 1500 mosques and prayer halls in England. The Muslim Council of Britain also reported in 2020 that there were roughly 1,200 mosques.
The discredited “Muslim-only no-go areas” also resurface in this post. Full Fact points out how various media outlets have fuelled this false narrative, which the police have denied on countless occasions.
“There are no areas of the UK that UK law doesn’t cover or where police cannot do their work,” it says.
The post also claims there are over 130 “Sharia Courts” and over 50 “Sharia Councils.” But these councils are not formal ‘courts’ of Law and only deal with Islamic marriage and divorce issues.
A 2018 Home Office review found that these have "no legal status or binding authority under civil law." And it only estimated the number to be between 30-85.
One of the other false statements in the post says that the mayors of London, Birmingham, Leeds, Blackburn, Sheffield, Oxford, Luton, Oldham and Rochdale are all Muslim.
Full Fact says this “is almost certainly not true now”, but these places have had Muslim mayors at some point in their history.
“The religions of mayors is not a matter of public record, so we’re not sure how the author of this post could know that all those listed are Muslims,” it added, pointing out the current Mayor of Leeds, Bob Gettings, was reportedly christened as a child.
Another thing the post claims is that: “Muslim women…78% don’t work and are on free benefits/housing. Muslim men…63% don’t work and are on free benefits/housing.”
Again, Full Fact says the “numbers in the post are exaggerated.”
According to data from June 2022, less than 6% of Muslims over 16 were unemployed, and 38% were economically inactive, which included those studying, retired, or taking care of families or homes.
Full Fact also notes that no data is available to break down benefit claimants by religion. Previously, Full Fact reported that according to the 2011 census, 27% of Muslim households in England and Wales lived in poverty compared to 18% of all households.
Although the figure for Muslim households is slightly higher, this is understandable given that Muslims are more likely to live in poverty in the UK than other groups.
Another ludicrous statement in the post says: "all UK schools ONLY serving HALAL MEAT.”
Full Fact says that while some schools may offer only halal meat, it is not true for all schools. For example, many school menus also include pork - so how can all UK schools ‘only’ serve halal?
This viral post shows the need for people to be vigilant and critical of the information they encounter online. But it also shows how extra effort is needed around information about Muslims, as there is a more receptive environment for spreading and amplifying fake news about Muslims than other group.