What that Muslim study means: 1-31-11
January 31, 2011
Today I want to back up a few days and do a bit of unpacking of the new report about global Islam from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public LIfe and the John Templeton Foundation. For the Washington Post report on the study, click here.
First, to remind you of the highlights:
* The world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35 percent in the next 20 years, rising from just over 1.6 billion in 2010 to just under 2.2 billion by 2030. As a result of this growth, Muslims will make up 26.4 percent of the world’s projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030. That would be up 3 percentage points from 23.4 percent of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.
* Over the next two decades, the report estimates, the number of Muslims in the United States will go from less than 1 percent of the population to 1.7 percent, which means growing from about 2.6 million people in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030. (Please note, however, that counting Muslims is a difficult task because they don't keep track of themselves in quite the almost compulsive/orderly way that, say, Presbyterians do. So you'll find guesses about the current Muslim population of the U.S. that range from less than 2.5 million to more than 10 million. But the 2.6 million figure that Pew uses probably is a good, if conservative, estimate.)
I found several things about the report particularly interesting.
The first is that the Muslim population of Europe, currently estimated at 6 percent of the population will wind up 20 years from now at 8 percent of the population. Thus visions of a thoroughly Islamicized Europe simply don't hold much water. Today Europe accounts for about 2.7 percent of the global Islamic population. In 2030, Pew says, Europe will be home to, well, 2.7 percent of the global Islamic population. Not much change there.
Similarly, as the report's executive summary notes, "A majority of the world’s Muslims (about 60 percent) will continue to live in the Asia-Pacific region, while about 20 percent will live in the Middle East and North Africa, as is the case today." Indeed, many people don't realize that the largest predominantly Muslim country in the world today is not in the Arab world. Rather, it's Indonesia.
Also, the rate of growth among Muslims has been slowing in recent decades and is likely to continue that decline between now and 2030, the report suggests.
At the end of those 20 years, will Islam be the world religion with the most adherents? Well, that seems quite doubtful. After all, Islam isn't the biggest religion today. Christianity is (with estimates ranging from 2.1 to more than 2.5 billion adherents). And the 20-year growth projected for Islam looks as if it will give Islam numbers in 2030 still less than Christianity has today. For Islam to become the biggest religion Christianity would have to go into a fairly precipitous decline. We see some of that decline in Europe, but in Africa and Asia we see Christianity booming. So my guess is that Christianity will continue to be the religion with the most adherents for as far as the eye can see.
These kinds of reports, based on good observations and facts, are especially helpful in a world that suffers from unneccessary fear of Islam. This is not to say that there aren't people who identify themselves as Muslims who are violent extremists engaging in terror. There are and they must be stopped. But legitimate concern about those radicals should not cloud our picture of the whole of Islam.
In that regard, I liked this paragraph in the Washington Post account of the new study:
"This will provide a garbage filter for hysterical claims people make about the size and growth of the Muslim population," said Philip Jenkins, a religious history scholar known for his books on Christianity and Islam.
For more about the Piew study and additional helpful resources about Islam from the Religion Newswriters Association, click here. And for more religious data than you can throw a stick at, go to the Web site of the Association of Religious Data Archives. For other data on world religions by ranking of size, see this ReligiousTolerance.org site.
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A NEW 'ISLAMIST' LEADER IN TUNISIA
As the Twitter/Facebook revolutions continue to unfold in several Middle East countries, the leader of what's called an Islamist party in Tunisia, where all this began, has returned to the country, and wants people to know he's no Osama bin Laden and no Ayatollah Khomeini. In an interview with the Associated Press, he describes his goals and approaches. As for Egypt: As I mentioned here recently, I was last there in 2002 on a post-9/11 writing assignment for The Kansas City Star. So just a heads-up: On Wednesday of this week, I plan to reprint here on the blog the primary piece about Egypt that I wrote then because I think it provides some useful insight into where the country was then and some clues about how the country moved toward all of this unrest in just the few years since then.