Number of Iraqis in London
According to the 2011 Census of Britain, there are an estimated 73,000 Iraqi-born individuals living in the UK, some of which belong to the group of Iraqi Shias in London. Since this figure is neither up to date nor takes into account second- or third-generation Iraqis born in Britain, it is safe to assume that the total number of diasporic Iraqis in the UK is much higher; for example, Al-Ali estimates there are at least 100,000 individuals, while the Iraqi Embassy estimates between 350,000 and 400,000 and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) gives figures of 240,000, including 125,000 in London alone.
The Origin of the Iraqis in the UK
As with any migrant population, Iraqi Shi‘ites in London represent a diverse amalgam of individuals from a variety of socio-economic, class, regional, ideational and generational backgrounds, and who may have come to the UK at different times and under very different circumstances. However, although no official figures exist regarding the ethnic and religious orientations of Iraqis in the UK, anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of these individuals come from Arab Shi‘a backgrounds, and originally arrived in Britain during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Iraqi Shias in London
There is evidence to suggest that practicing Iraqi Shi‘ites are the most active and engaged members of the Iraqi Arab diaspora in London. Of the ninety-seven London-based Iraqi organisations, a total of fifty-four (or 55 per cent) either have Shi‘a religious leanings or have social and/or political ties to the Shi‘a religious establishment or to Shi‘a political parties in Iraq.
Centers of Iraqi Shias in London
As well as being well-represented in civil society institutions, Iraqi Shi‘ites in London also attend a number of Shi‘a religious centres (known as hussayniyyat) in the city, most of which are located in the northwest borough of Brent in and around the neighbourhoods of Wembley, Cricklewood, Kilburn, Queen’s Park and Brondesbury.
Most, but not all, of these hussayniyyat are run by Iraqis with a notable exception being the Iranian-run Islamic Centre of England in Maida Vale, which has links to the government of Iran. The concentration of Iraqi Shi‘a religious centres and institutions in one corner of northwest London has shaped the lived experience of practicing Iraqi Shi‘ites in the diaspora such that individuals often speak about feeling part of an ‘Iraqi-Shi‘a community’ that is defined through its relation to the material and social fabric of the city of London.
In the London context, the husayniyyat engendered a sense of community by acting as a physical meeting place for diasporic Iraqi Shi‘ites; one that was simultaneously inscribed with religious meaning through the observance of religious rites and practices such as the annual ‘Ashura’ commemorations and that was oriented towards religious and political engagement with domestic developments in Iraq. Many of these institutions also maintain direct links to the political and religious establishment in Iraq and act as channels for diasporic Iraqis to send and receive money, resources and information across international borders.
Taken from SHI‘A MINORITIES IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD, MIGRATION, TRANSNATIONALISM
AND MULTILOCALITY, Oliver Scharbrodt and Yafa Shanneik, 2020, EDINBURGH University Press.