The fu­ture: A mostly Mus­lim world

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - RAFIA ZAKARIA

By the year 2030, Pak­istan will over­take In­done­sia as the largest Mus­lim coun­try in the world.

This and other no­table de­mo­graphic trends were an­nounced by the Pew Re­search Cen­tre in its lat­est sur­vey, The Fu­ture of World Re­li­gions: Pop­u­la­tion Growth and Pro­jec­tions 2010-2050.

The sur­vey’s find­ings also fore­cast that by 2070 Is­lam will over­take Chris­tian­ity as the world’s most pop­u­lous faith for the first time in world his­tory.

The world’s largest Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, how­ever, will not live in a Mus­lim coun­try but in In­dia, which, while re­tain­ing its Hindu ma­jor­ity, will see its Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion rise from the cur­rent 15 per­cent to 17 per­cent.

Other pro­jec­tions of the sur­vey in­clude the fact that Is­lam, which has for a while been the largest-grow­ing reli­gion in Europe, will see a dou­bling of its de­mo­graphic share.

In 2010, there were 43 mil­lion Mus­lims in Europe, which made up 6 per­cent of the to­tal Euro­pean pop­u­la­tion. In 2050, there will be 71 mil­lion Mus­lims in Europe, mak­ing up more than 10 per­cent of the con­ti­nent’s pop­u­la­tion.

Nu­meric ma­jori­ties are mean­ing­less if they are sub­merged in poverty and con­flict, largely un­e­d­u­cated and vul­ner­a­ble to strife.

In the United King­dom, this will mean a rise from the ap­prox­i­mate 4.6 per­cent to­day to 8 per­cent in 2030. Sim­i­larly, in the United States the num­ber of Mus­lims will dou­ble over the next two decades, ris­ing from 2.6 mil­lion in 2010 to 6.2 mil­lion in 2030.

While Mus­lims will still con­sti­tute a small por­tion of the to­tal U.S. pop­u­la­tion, ris­ing from 0.8 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion to 1.7 per­cent, they are likely to be­come just as nu­mer­ous as Amer­ica’s Jewish and Epis­co­palian pop­u­la­tions.

Most of the world’s Mus­lims, how­ever, will not be living in the de­vel­oped na­tions of the West. More than 60 per­cent of the world’s swelled-up Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion will be living in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.

The num­ber of Mus­lims in Sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa will also be experiencing an in­crease in the com­ing decades, with more Mus­lims living in Nige­ria than in Egypt.

A vast ma­jor­ity of the world’s Mus­lims will con­se­quently be living in coun­tries like Pak­istan, In­done­sia, Bangladesh and In­dia, which will all ex­pe­ri­ence the cost of swelling pop­u­la­tions in terms of greater com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources. Sim­ply put, if more is bet­ter than the news pre­sented by the Pew sur­vey would be un­equiv­o­cally wel­come.

Mus­lims ev­ery­where could cel­e­brate the news that in con­sti­tut­ing a ma­jor­ity of the world’s pop­u­la­tion they would con­se­quently com­mand an equal pro­por­tion of the world’s re­sources.

This is where the com­pli­ca­tions begin. Even while there will be a ma­jor­ity of Mus­lims in the world be­fore the end of this cen­tury, the fact that a vast ma­jor­ity of them will be rel­e­gated to coun­tries with limited re­sources is mean­ing­ful.

Mus­lims may soon con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, but it will be a ma­jor­ity that lives in poverty, faces dis­ease and is likely squashed by civil and in­ter­na­tional con­flict.

The truth of this as­pect of the world’s ma­jor­ity can only be found in the de­tails (and not the head­lines) of the Pew re­port.

Coun­tries such as Pak­istan and Nige­ria, both of which will be home to enor­mous chunks of the ma­jor­ity Mus­lim world pop­u­la­tion of the fu­ture, are cur­rently also ranked among the 10 most danger­ous coun­tries in the world.

While the Pew sur­vey care­fully hedges against the pos­si­bil­ity of war and nat­u­ral dis­as­ter al­ter­ing the course of its pre­dic­tions, this fact is even more no­table given where the ma­jor­ity of Mus­lims will live.

The fact that high birth rates will re­sult in a larger Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion must there­fore be tem­pered by the re­al­ity that in at least th­ese two coun­tries — Nige­ria and Pak­istan — ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence is an­ni­hi­lat­ing young peo­ple, most of them Mus­lim, at a rate un­seen in most other coun­tries.

Also no­table is the re­la­tion­ship of fer­til­ity rates to the level of women’s ed­u­ca­tion. Fer­til­ity rates are high­est in those Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries where Mus­lim girls re­ceive the least ed­u­ca­tion.

So in the Mus­lim coun­tries where girls re­ceive the most ed­u­ca­tion fer­til­ity rates are low.

This means sim­ply that most chil­dren are be­ing pro­duced by the poor­est and most un­e­d­u­cated moth­ers, who bring new souls into the world but can­not guar­an­tee ei­ther the qual­ity of their lives or in­deed how long or pro­duc­tive those lives may be.

Mus­lim ma­jori­ties, then, are pro­duced by women who have few other prospects than to pro­duce chil­dren, who are de­nied the choices that would give them a bet­ter life. In terms of quan­tity alone, then, the birthing of their chil­dren is a victory, a mark to add to all the other mil­lions of Mus­lims; but a closer look is likely to re­veal cracks in this def­i­ni­tion of tri­umph that as­sumes that mere ex­is­tence is some­how an achieve­ment.

While a Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity world may seem like a victory many would be ea­ger to em­brace, it must not be imag­ined as a “Mus­lim-con­trolled” world or even one where this mag­nif­i­cent ma­jor­ity ex­erts any form of mean­ing­ful con­trol over it­self.

Nu­meric ma­jori­ties are mean­ing­less if they are ma­jori­ties that are sub­merged in poverty and con­flict, largely un­e­d­u­cated and in­her­ently vul­ner­a­ble to di­vi­sive­ness and strife.

Pak­istan’s own sit­u­a­tion is an ex­am­ple: hav­ing en­joyed a Mus­lim ma­jor­ity for all of its ex­is­tence, the coun­try is nev­er­the­less sus­cep­ti­ble to a stag­ger­ing va­ri­ety of di­vi­sions, which in turn births an equally var­ied panorama of con­flict.

If be­ing Mus­lim were enough and equiv­a­lent to some guar­an­tee of communal har­mony, hope­ful progress and global lever­age, then in­deed all of th­ese would be in the lap of the na­tion as a con­se­quence of its nearly mono-re­li­gious de­mo­graph­ics.

Pak­istan’s re­al­ity, one riven by communal con­flict, where even be­long­ing to the same sect is an in­suf­fi­cient guar­an­tee of co­ex­is­tence, de­fies the value of such a the­sis. In sum, it sug­gests that a mostly Mus­lim world will likely not be a mostly peace­ful one. The writer is an at­tor­ney teach­ing con­sti­tu­tional law and po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.

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