On 5 March 2018, conspiracy blog Your News Wire published an article warning about the alleged "Islamization" of London, claiming that the city had closed 500 churches — and opened 423 new mosques:
The creeping Islamization of London is almost complete, with hundreds of official sharia courts operating in the capital, and mosques opening where famous Christian churches have stood for many hundreds of years.
“London is more Islamic than many Muslim countries put together“, according to Maulana Syed Raza Rizvi, one of the Islamic preachers who now lead “Londonistan“, as the journalist Melanie Phillips has called the English capital. No, Rizvi is not a right-wing extremist.
The Your News Wire piece was based on an April 2017 post by the Gatestone Institute, a right-wing think tank that used extremist language to describe an alleged Muslim takeover of London. (We employ the term "based" lightly here, as Your News Wire simply wrote a few of their own fear-mongering paragraphs before producing a near-verbatim copy of the Gatestone post.) In their piece, Gatestone offered shoddy research and cherry-picked data — including the claim that London is home to 423 "new" mosques and that 500 of the city's churches have closed since 2001.
423 New Mosques?
For their "new" mosque claim, Gatestone used a map of mosques in London from MuslimsInBritain.org, a blog dedicated to cataloging British mosques. Yet the map itself didn't claim to be a catalog of "new" mosques, and a number of mosques included on the map were built well before the year 2000. The Finsbury Park Mosque, for instance, was constructed in the 1990s, and the Leytonstone Mosque in 1976.
While Your News Wire and Gatestone both sought to create the impression that large cathedral-like mosques are being "built on the ruins of Christianity," many British mosques are small communities that meet in converted houses or buildings. According to MuslimsInBritain.org, the majority of mosques in the United Kingdom are small establishments with fewer than 300 members.
A 2012 report in ArchitectsJournal.com also noted that the majority of mosques in Britain are not purpose-built structures: "There is no definitive figure for how many mosques there are in Britain today, although the best estimate is in the region of 1,500. Of these, approximately 200 are purpose-built, the rest being either converted houses or other non-residential conversions."
500 Closed Churches?
Gatestone's claim that 500 churches had closed since 2001 was also based on shoddy research. The number came from a 2012 Wall Street Journal article about a British trend of converting old churches into private homes:
Although it's still relatively rare in the U.S., the adaptive reuse of churches has become a popular practice in other countries, like the U.K. In 2006, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors found that since 2001, about 500 churches in London alone had been converted into homes. In other countries, such as Germany and Russia, people still regard the concept of living in a church as disrespectful, says Bart Kellerhuis of Utrecht-based firm Zecc Architects, which has done several church-to-home conversions in the Netherlands.
However, what the article did not state was when these churches had actually closed, meaning that some of the converted churches may have closed prior to 2001. The figure also excluded any churches that had closed since 2001 and were not converted into houses.
The figure also didn't account for how many churches in London had opened their doors since 2001. Dr. Peter Brierley, a leading expert on British religious statistics and author of the report UK Church Statistics, found that London saw the opening of 700 new churches between 2005 and 2012, and that the total number of churches in the United Kingdom actually increased between 2008 and 2013:
While the overall numbers are only changing slowly, the actual number of churches increased between 2008 and 2013 and is expected to continue between 2013 and 2020. Why is this? The answer comes in two broad ways. There are 600 more Pentecostal churches in the UK than 5 years ago, the large majority being new black churches, of which the RCCOG is the largest denomination.
The Black Majority Churches’ [BMCs] “explosion” has been significant, especially in Greater London where of the 700 new churches which began between 2005 and 2012, at least 400 were BMCs. The Redeemed Christian Church of God [RCCOG] alone has started 296 new churches in the UK in the last 5 years, the largest number for any single denomination.
Bierley predicted that there would be 40,080 churches in England by 2020.
The Your News Wire article was meant to inflame fears that Muslims in London are starting to outnumber Christians, and that Christians (or their culture) will soon be displaced — but thanks to poor research and cherry-picked numbers, it provided a false impression of Britain's current reality.