Will Western Europe Become Muslim?
No, Muslim Growth Was Rapid before 1990.
Are the Muslims taking over Western Europe? The press is talking about Eurabia. For example, the June 24 2006 Economist magazine did a cover story on it. But if you accept the statistics in the World Christian Encyclopedia, which is a major source of religious statistics for most reference works, particularly Britannica, none of the countries in Western Europe are becoming Muslim.
The Muslim population did increase rapidly in many First World countries between 1970 and 1990, but grew much more slowly between 1990 and 2000. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, in all rich free industrial democracies with more than a million population except France and Israel the percentage of the population that is Muslim is less than five percent. So while there has been a period of very rapid Muslim population growth, growth in most European countries has slowed dramatically. The percentage of the population that is Muslim seemed to be fairly stable in most European and more generally most First World nations at the end of the 20th century.
The World Christian Encyclopedia has been used as the principal source of statistics by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and other reference works for many years. On the other hand there are other opinions. Here is a web page on Islam in Europe from the BBC. It gives generally higher statistics for Islam in most European countries but does not give information of Islam's growth in Europe. Even if the higher figures are right but the World Christian Encyclopedia's growth figures are accurate it would not change the message of this essay much. At any rate this is a conditional essay, if the World Christian Encyclopedia that came out in 2000 is accurate and the trends have not changed dramatically since then, then the following essay is correct.
FranceTake France for example, the Muslim portion of the population increased from one tenth of a percent to 2.7 percent between 1900 and 1970. In seventy years the Muslim portion of the population increased 27 fold. That is a growth rate of almost 5 percent a year above that of the rest of the population.
Between 1970 and 1990 the Muslim portion of the population more than doubled to 6.8 percent. That is still close to five percent a year faster than the rest of the population, virtually identical with the growth rate of the previous 70 years.
However, between 1990 and 2000 the Muslim portion of the population only increased slightly from 6.8 to 7.1 percent. In the last five years of the millennium it only increased a tenth of a percent, from 7.0 to 7.1 percent. At the rate established in the last half of the nineties it would take about two and a half centuries for the Muslim portion of the French population to double and about seven centuries for the French Muslims to become a majority.
Singapore, the most Muslim Industrial NationAmong rich industrial nations with more than a million population Singapore has the highest portion of its population that are Muslim. In Singapore 18.4 percent of the population is Muslim. This is up only a little higher than the 18 percent which was Muslim in 1970.
Singapore is the only high income industrial nation with more than a million population that is not considered free by Freedom House. Freedom House classifies Singapore as partially free. I am excluding high income oil exporters like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from the industrial category.
Other Major European NationsIn all the rich industrial countries with more than a million population, other than France, Israel, and Singapore, Muslims are less than five percent of the population. In almost all cases Muslims are a growing portion of the population, but that growth is slowing.
In Germany the Muslim portion of the population increased six fold from .6 percent to 3.6 percent between 1970 and 1990, but it only increased to 4.4 percent by 2000. That is a reasonably big increase in ten years, but far slower than the earlier growth rate.
In Italy the Muslim portion of the population increased eleven fold from .1 percent to 1.1 percent between 1970 and 1990. It only grew a tenth of a percent to 1.2 percent in the year 2000.
In Britain the Muslim population went from 1.1 percent to 1.8 percent in the twenty years between 1970 and 1990. In the next ten years it rose from 1.8 to 2.0 percent.
In Spain the Muslim population went from zero to .4 percent between 1970 and 1990, but only increased to .5 percent in the decade of the 90's.
The Netherlands had a more than seven fold increase in the Muslim portion of its population in the 70's and 80's, form .5 percent to 3.6 percent, but only a relatively slight increase to 3.8 in the 90s.
I have covered France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Spain, and the Netherlands, which are the six most populous nations of the old free Western Europe.
Through out the rest of the industrial world it is much the same story, rapid increases between 1970 and 1990 followed by a much slower growth rate from 1990 to 2000. There are 25 counties with over a million population that are rated high income by the World Bank and free by Freedom House. Almost all of these countries follow this pattern with the exception of a few that that have very small Muslim populations.
This is analysis is of course based on the World Christian Encyclopedia which is is used as a source by the Encyclopaedia Britannica
Perhaps these trends have dramatically reversed in the last few years, but I have not heard that. No one seems to be saying that 1st World Muslim population growth slowed dramatically in the nineties but has dramatically increased since then.
Furthermore, I would expect that 9/11 to dramatically slow the rate of immigration from Muslim countries to the west.
I Do Not Know WhyI do not know why this pattern holds so consistently. It is not a matter of conversion. Islam is winning more converts than it loses in all the industrial nations I checked, so conversion away from Islam does not explain why the Muslim population growth rates have slowed.
In fact exactly the opposite is the case, Muslim population growth in the First World is now largely driven by conversion. In the United States Muslim population growth from conversion was more than two thirds of population growth from immigration and natural increase, i.e. the excess of births over deaths. In the six most populous industrial democracies of Western Europe net conversion was larger than the combination of net immigration and natural increase. In Italy net conversions exceeded natural increase and net immigration by more than 24 to one, in Spain by more than 13 to one, in Germany almost 7 to one, and in the U.K. more than 5 to one. In France and the Netherlands the two figures are about equal, with conversion exceeding natural increase and net immigration.
Note, if you actually read the statistics of the World Christian Encyclopedia, or a reference that quotes it, like the Encyclopedia Britannica, natural increase is used to mean natural increase and net immigration. They do not separate the two factors.
I have noted from the CIA Fact Book that the net immigration from Turkey to the rest of the world is zero. Net immigration out of Egypt is less than 20 thousand a year. Net migration out of Algeria is a little more than 10 thousand a year. As these countries have been major sources of European Muslims this tends to confirm the idea that the Europeans have managed to cut off Muslim immigration. That is if you trust the CIA fact book.
What the above figures on conversion mean is that net immigration and high birth rates do not appear to be big factors at all. This is very surprising.
What the above figures do not mean is that conversion is very important to the world wide growth of Islam. World wide net conversions to Christianity are many times higher than net conversions to Islam, even though Islam is gaining and Christianity is losing in the First World.
Furthermore relative to the size of the populations of major First World countries conversion to Islam is a small factor.
I suspect that many European countries have figured out how to prevent Muslim immigration. They also may be encouraging non-Muslim immigration.
Another factor could be Muslims returning to their homelands. If Muslims are not allowed to immigrate to First World countries and many Muslims who are already in the First World decide to return to their homelands this may explain why the portion of the population that is Muslim tends to plateau.
Still another factor could be the fall of Communism and the break up the Soviet Block. Perhaps Eastern European immigrants are replacing the Muslim immigrants.
Future TrendsAs mentioned above it is widely believed that the Muslim population of Europe in particular will inevitably rise rapidly. The statistics suggest otherwise. But perhaps just the opposite will happen. The Muslims might simply return to the dominantly Muslim nations.
Third World economies are now growing quite rapidly. The typical rate seems to be about five and a half percent a year per person. This will rapidly lift developing economies to developed status. Almost all of the old Soviet Block nations that border on the West are now high income, developed nations according to the World Bank. Chile and Uruguay made the developed category in 2012. Much of the rest of Latin America will rapidly follow. As this happened many people have returned to their homelands.
If these trends continue it seems likely that eventually there will be Muslim nations with industrial economies. Muslims may choose to live in these countries rather that be marginalized in First World nations, as they have been in many European nations. This could lead to a declining Muslim population in many First World nations.
Let me also mention that until recently it has been widely accepted teaching that Muslims should not take up permanent residence in predominately non-Muslim nations. Once the economic incentives to live in non-Muslim countries disappear or are at least radically reduced the more serious Muslims may well choose to leave.
Changing Media EnvironmentThe rapidly changing media environment could lead to other changes. The rise of conservative religion in recent years is in part a function of the Internet, and TV broadcasts that may be delivered to the home by satellite dish or cable but either way reached the community through a satellite. The new technology has opened up many more channels than existed previously which made room for conservative religious programs.
Another factor is AM talk radio, an old technology. However, this old technology has become more available to religious broadcasters as music has moved to FM, CDs, and now iPods. New technologies can make old technologies cheap, thus opening up room for voices that were previously marginalized. So new technologies can make old technologies act like old technologies.
As we move from broadcasting to narrow-casting people can exclude messages they do not like, including those of the mainstream of society. This allows them to create a cocoon that reinforces rather than challenges their faith. Let me note that I am all in favor of this when it involves my own Catholic faith. While the recent changes may have strengthened conservative religion including, radical Islam, future changes could change the game yet again in unexpected ways.
Many people may not want to consider the Internet and other media. Let me remind you that several studies have shown that Americans spend the majority of their waking hours consuming some type of media. It is their number one activity, sleeping is second. There is little reason to think that other advanced countries are much different.
More generally, the rapidly changing situation means that very long term predictions are pretty meaningless. The fact that Islam is a growing portion of the population in most First World nations does not mean that they will eventually have a majority.
Strategy for ChristianityIf Islam is going to remain a small minority, perhaps Christians should recruit the Muslims as allies in their struggle with the secularists, rather than treating them as dangerous competitors. As I have mentioned on my web page on the future of atheism, atheism is a growing portion of almost every First World population. Furthermore, secularists have dominated politics and society in many Western societies in ways that Christians object to. The Vatican has allied with Muslims on life issues in international forums.
Many Christians might object, saying that the Muslims are just too dangerous. My point is that at very least Christians should be studying the numbers carefully instead of acting in ignorance.
Other Pages on Religious StatisticsThe world wide growth of Islam.
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Last updated April 21, 2007