Friday, January 28, 2011

Hysteria Over Muslim Growth: A Myth Shared by Jihadists and Islamophobes Alike

The New York Times has an excellent article by religion writer Laurie Goodstein, covering a report by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life on the pace of Muslim growth globally over the next twenty years. The upshot for that time period is that even though the number of Muslims will increase at twice the rate of non-Muslims, the growth rate will level off and will occur at a rate too slow to create any drastic shift in balance among world religions.

(I learned of Ms. Goodstein's report from a reprint in the
Belief section of today's Houston Chronicle. I have not been able to find an electronic link to the Chronicle's version, but it appears they published the New York Times article in full.)

The Pew Research Center has a strong track record of gathering actual facts about peoples' religious beliefs and behaviors, and of using expert analysis to dispel myths and misunderstanding. The myth in this case is a pretty much global hysteria about the pace of Muslim growth--shared, ironically, both by Jihadists who want non-Muslims to fear a Muslim tide of global dominance and by Islamophobes who feel compelled to do all in their power to stem that tide.

The Pew findings show that the tide is imaginary. As Muslim economic, education and political levels improve, birthrates in majority-Muslim countries (and among Muslims in majority-non-Muslim countries) will become more like the birthrates among non-Muslims.

The following are excerpts from Laurie Goodstein's report:

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 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.

No comments: