High Mus­lim birthrate causes alarm in Rus­sia

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Michael Mainville

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.

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