Jan. 27, 2011
New York: A new report forecasts that the number of Muslims around the world will grow over the next 20 years at twice the rate of non-Muslims, but that the rapid growth will level off. With more Muslim women getting educations and jobs, people migrating to cities, and living standards improving, the report says, the birthrate in majority-Muslim countries will come to more closely resemble the pattern in other nations.
Predictions that Europe will become a majority-Muslim "Eurabia" are unfounded, according to the report by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, a nonpartisan research group.
Muslims in Europe made up only 6 percent of the population in 2010, and will grow to 8 percent by 2030, the report says. In France and Belgium, Muslims will be about 10 percent of the population in 20 years, and in Britain, 8 percent.
Globally, Muslims now make up 23.4 percent of the population, and if current trends continue, will be 26.4 percent by 2030. Such growth is not enough to create a drastic shift in the world's religious balance, experts said. The world's Christian population has been estimated in other reports to be 30 percent to 33 percent.
Amaney A. Jamal, associate professor of politics at Princeton and a consultant for Pew on global Islam, said that the report could challenge assertions by some scholars and far-right political parties about future demographic domination by Muslims.
"There's this overwhelming assumption that Muslims are populating the earth, and not only are they growing at this exponential rate in the Muslim world, they're going to be dominating Europe and, soon after, the United States," she said. "But the figures don't even come close. I'm looking at all this and wondering, where is all the hysteria coming from?"
In the United States, the report found about 2.6 million Muslims in 2010, a number projected to rise to 6.2 million in 20 years. (The 2.6 million figure is far lower than the numbers claimed by some American Muslim groups, but not out of line with some previous studies.) At that rate of growth, Muslims would still be a religious minority in 2030, 1.7 percent of the American population -- about the equivalent of Jews in the United States today.
The report also finds that the so-called Muslim youth bulge -- the high percentage of Muslims worldwide in their teens and 20s -- has peaked. That trend could affect politics in countries with restive youthful populations.
Peter Mandaville, the director of the Center for Global Studies at George Mason University and the author of "Global Political Islam," said: "Over time, there will be a diminution of the youth bulge, but we're at the crisis level of it now. As events in Tunisia and Egypt show, the number of under-30s who are un- or underemployed is still enormous, and the possibility of that youth bulge producing political and economic tension is still very present."
By 2030, Pakistan will have the largest Muslim population, surpassing Indonesia, and Nigeria will surpass Egypt.
The report suggests that economic and educational factors affect population growth rates among Muslims far more than the religious factor. In Iran, which encourages family planning and birth control, the fertility rate of only 1.7 children per woman resembles that of many European countries. It has the lowest fertility rate of any Muslim-majority nation, while Niger, a poor African nation, has the highest, at 6.9 children per woman. Iranian girls receive 15 years of schooling on average; in Niger, it is four years.