High Muslim birthrate causes alarm in Russia
MOSCOW — Low domestic birthrates and rising immigration from the former Soviet republics are producing explosive growth in Russia’s Muslim community, which is on a track to account for more than half the population by midcentury.
“Russia is going through a religious transformation that will be of even greater consequence for the international community than the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Paul Goble,aspecialistonIslaminRussia and research associate at the University of Tartu in Estonia.
Two decades ago, the Sobornaya Mosque was the only Islamic house of worship allowed in the Soviet Union. It stood largely empty, filling onlywiththeoccasionallargeforeign delegation from an Islamic country.
Today, it is one of four mosques in MoscowservingaMuslimpopulation of about 2.5 million. On Fridays and holy days, it overflows with worshippers, leaving many to kneel on newspapers outside, their foreheads pressed against the concrete.
Asinmanycountrieswithgrowing Islamicpopulations,tensionsarealso ontherise.ManyethnicRussiansfear their country is losing its traditional identity, while many Muslims are offended by widespread discrimination and a lack of respect for their faith.
Russia’s Muslim community is extremely diverse, including Volga Tatars, the myriad ethnicities of the North Caucasus and newly arrived immigrants from Central Asia. But they all share birthrates that are far higher than Russia’s ethnic Slavs, most of whom are Orthodox Christians.
Russia’soverallpopulationisdropping at a rate of 700,000 people a year, largely because of the short life spans and low birthrates of ethnic Russians.AccordingtotheCIAWorld Factbook, the national fertility rate is 1.28 children per woman, far below what is needed to maintain the coun- try’spopulationofnearly143million. The rate in Moscow is even lower, at 1.1 children per woman.
Russia’s Muslims, however, are bucking that trend. The fertility rate forTatarslivinginMoscowissixchildren per woman, Mr. Goble said, while the Chechen and Ingush communities are averaging 10 children per woman. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Muslims from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been flocking to Russia in search of work.
Russia’sMuslimpopulationhasincreased by 40 percent since 1989, to about 25 million. By 2015, Muslims will make up a majority of Russia’s conscriptarmyandby2020one-fifth of the population.
“If nothing changes, in 30 years, people of Muslim descent will definitely outnumber ethnic Russians,” Mr. Goble said.
For many Slavic Russians, the prospect of becoming a minority in their country is terrifying.
“RussiaishistoricallyaSlavic,OrthodoxChristianland,andweneedto make sure it stays that way,” said Alexander Belov, the head of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, an increasingly powerful lobby thathasorganizeddozensofralliesin recent months.
Attacks on mosques have been on the rise, and in September an imam in the southern city of Kislovodsk was fatally shot outside his home. During days of rioting in August, mobschasedChechensandothermigrants out of the northwestern town of Kondopoga.
Sensing the nationalist mood, Russian authorities have begun to crack down with laws designed to defend Orthodox Christianity and restrict the activities and movement of Muslims.
MostMuslimslivinginRussiaare not immigrants, but natives of lands seizedbytheexpandingRussianempire. Islam is recognized as one of Russia’s official religions, along with Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.