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Will the Rapid Growth of Islam Continue?


The total number of Muslims is huge, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a report that says that 23 percent of the World's population is Muslim. The growth rate of the Muslim population, which averaged 1.9 between 2000 and 2006, is also far higher than the world's population growth rate, which averaged 1.22% in the same period. It is also much faster than any other major religious group.

Muslim Population Growth Rate Declining Rapidly

But Muslim population growth is declining faster than the total world population growth. For example, consider the following table of growth rates based on the figures in the World Christian Encyclopedia.

The first column is the world's population growth, the second Islam's population growth, the third is the difference between the two growth rates, and the fourth column is the approximate time it would take for the Muslim portion of the world's population to double, for example, from 20 percent to 40 percent if both the total population and the Muslim population continued to grow at the same rates given in the first two columns.

Time Periods World Muslim Difference Doubling Time
1970-2000 1.66% 2.61% .95% 74 years
1990-2000 1.41% 2.13% .72% 96 years
2000-2006 1.22% 1.9% .68% 103 years
2000-2025 1.03% 1.64% .61% 115 years

Clearly the growth rates of both the world's population and the Muslim population are declining, but the Muslim population's growth is declining more quickly and the difference between the world's population growth and Islam's is getting smaller.

As the Muslim portion of the population is about 23 percent, it would take a little longer for the Muslims to become a majority of the world's population than it would take them to double their portion of the world's population.

Furthermore, if the Muslim population growth continues to decline more rapidly than the world's population it would take progressively longer for the Muslims to become a majority.

World Bank Figures Suggest Rapid Decline in Muslim Fertility

The rapidly declining fertility of Muslim nations reported by the World Bank suggests that Muslim population growth may slow to levels closer to that of the rest of the world's population.

For the World as a whole the fertility rate, total births per woman, was 2.5 in 2007.

I don't have statistics on the average fertility rate of Muslims, I suspect they do not exist. So to create a crude estimate I put the population and fertility rates for North Africa and the Middle East plus four other overwhelmingly Muslim countries Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan into a spreadsheet. I believe this includes all but one of the thirteen most populous countries that are overwhelmingly Muslim, the exception being Afghanistan for which there were no figures. A number of smaller overwhelmingly Muslim countries from North Africa and the Middle East were also included. See the World Bank's list of North African and Near Eastern countries for the exact list. At any rate, the average fertility rate in 2007 was 2.8. This is three-tenths of a percent above the world average. Note that the fertility rate of 2.8 was weighted for the population, so this is the fertility rate for the 864 million people in those overwhelmingly Muslim countries.

Three-tenths may not seem like much of a difference, but for the human race to replace itself women must have about 2.3 children, according to a study published in 2006 by population action. So the world average was only .2 above replacement level, while the Muslims were .5 above the world's replacement level, more than twice as high. I do not know what the replacement level is for Muslims. I suspect no one else does as it is hard to calculate and replacement level statistics are even harder to find than fertility statistics.

Replacement Level Fertility

Many people believe the replacement level is always 2.1, but actually, the replacement level varies over time and for different groups. If no girl died before reproductive age and there was no sex-selective abortion then it would take 205 babies to reproduce 100 women. This is because 105 boys are naturally born for every 100 girls. Several years ago about 5 girls died before reproductive age in a rich country so the idea took hold that 2.1, was the replacement level, but 2.008 is closer to the typical figure for advanced industrial nations today. As mentioned above the world figure is 2.3.

I do not know if the world or the Muslims have the higher replacement level. If Muslims are less likely to practice sex-selective abortions, which I think they are, that would lower their replacement level. The AIDS epidemic has largely skipped the Muslim nations, which would also lower their replacement level. On the other hand, predominantly Muslim nations are on average not as rich and have lower life expectancies than the non-Muslim nations outside of sub-Sahara Africa. I do not have any figures on how these factors balance out.

Muslim Fertility Falling Faster

While the Muslim fertility rate is significantly higher it is falling much faster. Between 2000 and 2007 the average fertility of the world fell from 2.7 per woman to 2.5. This is a two-tenths of a percent decline. Using the fertility figures for North Africa and the Middle East, and the four other overwhelmingly Muslim nations mentioned above average fertility fell four-tenths of a percent from 3.2 to 2.8. If these countries are representative of Islam as a whole then Muslim fertility is falling about twice as fast as the world as a whole.

The Muslim decline in fertility is a large portion of the whole world's decline which means the non-Muslim decline is even slower. The non-Muslim fertility rate is lower than the world average, but it is also declining more slowly. So the Muslim fertility rates are probably declining about three to four times as fast as the non-Muslim population growth rates. Of course, a large portion of the non-Muslim world has fertility rates considerably below the replacement level and are trying to increase their fertility. Fertility in many of these countries is not declining at all. Several European countries have recently increased their fertility rates.

Muslims Are Younger So Their % will Grow Even When Fertility Equal

If the rates of decline we saw from 2000 to 2007 continued for another ten years then in 2017 the fertility rate of the Muslim world and the whole world would be about the same. As the Muslim population is much younger it would continue to grow more rapidly than the non-Muslim for some time, but eventually, the growth rate of both populations would be the same and the Muslim portion of the world's population would tend to stabilize.

To get a ballpark estimate of how important the younger Muslim population is I put the population for the five biggest predominately non-Muslim countries and the five largest predominately Muslim nations into a spreadsheet along with the percentage of the population under 14 for each country. I multiplied the population by the percentage of the population under 14 and added the results for both groups to find the population under 14 for both groups. Then I used that to adjust the Pew figure that 23 percent of the World's population is Muslim. My very crude figure suggests that maybe somewhere near 30 percent of the population under 14 is Muslim. The point is that there will be fairly massive shifts in World population toward Islam even if both Muslims and non-Muslims soon have the same fertility rates. These figures also suggest that Islam may already be the number one religion in the world among people under 14 years of age.

At about the same time the Muslim and non-Muslim fertility rates are equal the fertility rate for the whole world will reach break even, but of course, both the Muslim population and the world population will continue to climb because there are many more young people than elderly in both the Muslim and World populations. As the Muslim population is particularly young their population will continue to be an increasing percentage of the whole.

Muslim Fertility Likely to Stabilize at Higher Level

Of course, we do not know that the rapidly declining fertility of Muslim women will continue. It would not be surprising if Muslim fertility stabilized at a higher level than non-Muslim fertility. Muslims may maintain a population growth rate somewhat higher than other groups and their percentage of world population might slowly grow. One reason to suspect that this may happen is that many non-Muslim populations are far below break-even fertility, but I have not seen fertility statistics for any Muslim population that was far below break-even fertility. In the most extreme cases, Muslim countries drop slightly below break even fertility.

The most rapid declines in fertility are in those countries that presently have high rates of fertility, this is true for both Muslim and non-Muslim countries. As fertility declines the rate of decline slows. So the differences in fertility are getting smaller. This is true as we compare both particular nations to each other and Islam versus the rest of the world.

I have provided my analysis of Muslim population growth here, including many novel insights, most are below. But in fairness, I thought I should mention that Pew has a new article, "The Future of the Global Muslim Population." It is very interesting but once again this article discusses many relevant topics that the Pew article does not begin to address.

A Muslim Majority Is A Long Way Off, If It Ever Comes

Nevertheless, even if a Muslim majority is coming it probably will not be soon. Over the last six years, the Muslim population has grown about two-thirds of a percentage point a year faster than the world population. With compounding, that means that it would take about 100 years for the Muslim world to double its percentage from 25% to 50%.

One hundred years is a long time in today's technologically dynamic world. We used to figure that the price of computing power would drop by 50 percent every two years. In twenty years it would drop to one thousandth of the current price. As Moore's Law is now played out, this is not so certain as it once was.

Nevertheless, progress is clearly rapid. The current, easy to use the Internet with browsers is about twenty-four years old. Given the rapid rate of technological change, one could reasonably argue that 100 years into the future is far too far for useful prediction.

Those countries that are close to the tipping point where Muslims become fifty percent of the population may have reason to be concerned, but if the Muslims are a small percentage of the total it will take them a long time to gain a majority if their population growth rate is simply two thirds of a percent a year higher.

There has been considerable concern that in Europe where the population growth of the long-term native population is negative Muslims will become a majority much more rapidly. I have carefully gone over the Muslim population growth statistics for all the Western European nations in the World Christian Encyclopedia. What I found was that while Muslim population growth was often rapid in the period between 1970 and 1990, it slowed between 1990 and 2000. For more detail you can check my new web page on Muslim population growth in Europe.

Muslim Population and One World Democratic Government

Fewer people are looking at what portion of the world's population is Muslim but this could be a major issue in the future. A worldwide democratic government could make the world peaceful, deal more effectively with ecological issues, raise more money for research and development because all the benefits would be internal to the worldwide state, and more effectively manage the world economy because economic stimulus would not leak over international borders. As the Third World countries rapidly catch up with the First World the rich countries may be more willing to join in a union with the formerly poor nations. If that seems unrealistic remember that before the recession low and middle income countries were growing three times as rapidly as the rich countries. But the division between Muslim and non-Muslim nations could prevent unity. We can see this already with the reluctance of Europe to include Turkey. If Muslims are anywhere near a majority, non-Muslims could be very reluctant to join.

Factors That Could Influence Islam's Growth - Economic Progress

Having said that let us look at some of the factors that might influence Muslim growth. Some authorities think Muslims have a higher birth rate simply because they live in poorer nations. There is something to this. The average fertility rate of women living in low and middle-income nations was 2.7 in 2005, about half way between the whole world and the average rate in the ten most populous predominately Muslim nations that the World Bank provided figures for. As only a very small portion of all Muslims live in high income countries it might make sense to compare Muslim population growth to low and middle income countries. In which case we can say that the Muslim and Non-Muslim fertility seems to be about the same.

While it would not be surprising if Muslim population growth continued to be higher even as Muslim incomes rise it seems likely that rising incomes will narrow the difference, this narrowing of the difference can be very important because as I pointed out above it stretches the point where Muslims become a majority way out into the future.

Muslim's Avoid Venereal Disease

Note that Muslim population growth may be driven by other factors than their choice to have more children. Because Muslims are not as promiscuous as the rest of the human race they have largely avoided AIDS. While there is some danger that most of a generation in some sub-Sahara countries will die of AIDS, the rate of infection in Muslim countries is typically less than one in a thousand adults. If large numbers of non-Muslims die of AIDS and Muslims do not then the percentage of the world's population that is Muslim will increase.

But AIDS is only one of many venereal diseases that afflict humanity. If Muslims have avoided AIDS, it is a pretty good guess that they have also avoided the others, and it may be a good guess that AIDS is only one of the medical problems plaguing sub-Sahara Africa. But we are not totally limited to guessing there was a study of various sexually transmitted diseases in Saudi Arabia, and as one might expect STDs in Saudi Arabia were way below the world average.

Other venereal diseases, particularly gonorrhea and chlamydia, do not kill but they do cause infertility. I have heard that infertility is far less common in Egypt than America. While about twenty percent of American couples are infertile only ten percent of Egyptian couples are. So Muslims couples might have more children than non-Muslims even if the Muslims wanted the same number because infertility prevents non-Muslims from having the children they want.

Some of this Muslim advantage in population growth might be eliminated by technological advance, drugs that cure or vaccines that prevent venereal diseases.

On the other hand, venereal diseases are not standing still either. Gonorrhea is progressively becoming immune to more and more antibiotics. In 2011, it was reported that some strains of gonorrhea are resistant to all antibiotics. Incurable strains may already exist, or could evolve soon. As Gonorrhea is something like a hundred times as contagious as AIDS and can cause infertility, this could have a major impact on the fertility and thus the population growth of the non-Muslim population, and perhaps a much smaller impact on Muslim population growth. This could help Islam become the majority religion of the planet.

Various strains of AIDS are becoming immune to the drug cocktails that hold it in check. Once again as AIDS hits non-Muslim developing countries as much as a hundred times as hard as Muslim developing countries this could increase the Muslim portion of the world's population.

Furthermore, no one talks about it, but it seems possible that a new venereal disease could evolve, perhaps one that is as communicable as gonorrhea or chlamydia, but takes as long to develop and is as deadly as AIDS. A disease like that could kill off a large portion of a generation among the non-Muslim world. If something like that struck the Muslims might find themselves quite quickly in a majority.

In defense of Islam and the Muslims it might be noted that the venereal plagues that are afflicting the world are not their fault. Promiscuous people not only spread venereal diseases, they also provide the environment in which new ones evolve, and old ones develop immunities to our drugs. Furthermore, if most of the world's population becomes Muslim, some venereal diseases might become extinct.

Sex Selective Abortion

Another factor is sex-selective abortion. As mentioned above the natural trend is that 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But because girls are selectively aborted that figure can be as high as 130 boys for every 100 girls. This means that those girls must have much higher fertility just to keep the population from declining.

As mentioned above I am fairly sure sex-selective abortion is more common among non-Muslims. It seems to be particularly common in India and China. So even if Muslims and non-Muslims have the same fertility rate the Muslim population could increase more rapidly.

China and the "One Child" policy

China has close to one-fifth of the world's population and as only a small portion of China is Muslim about one-quarter of the world's non-Muslim population. China's "One Child" policy may be acting as a significant drag on the population growth of the non-Muslim world. It should be pointed out that the "One Child" policy, is really one child in the cities, two in the rural areas, and China's fertility rate is about the same as the combined fertility rate for the high income countries. But the Chinese government has said in the past that they want to overtime cut their population by more than half to 600 million. That was sometime ago, I do not have recent figures, nor do I have a source for the 600 million. But of course the present government of China may not survive too long. With a transition to democracy the "One Child" policy would no doubt end.

Islam and Religious Freedom

Switching to still another factor, when Muslims gain dominance in a society they frequently punish and even kill those who convert from Islam to another religion or no religion. This could create a ratchet factor. Once Muslims win a country they rarely lose it. This may strengthen Islam's long term prospects.

Of course the treatment of minorities in Muslim societies raises concern among people who are not Muslims. The non-Muslims are frequently limited to second-class citizenship, but on the other hand, in many cases, the religious minorities have survived for many generations. Recently the non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries have been shrinking rapidly but this usually because they are more likely to immigrate.

One reader pointed out that Muslims ruled India and all or part of Spain for 700+ years and that both have non-Muslim majorities. Furthermore, I have noted that it took centuries for the Muslims to become a majority in Egypt.

Will Islam be Embarrassed by Falling Behind?

Turning to another factor that may influence the future of Islam, Muslims have been embarrassed by the economic and military success of the West and in the future they may have much more to embarrass them. As Muslims had been very proud of their earlier military, cultural, and economic success and had used that success to convince themselves that they were the true faith, it is hard for them to take their relative poverty.

The success of the Christians is not the only difficulty. Muslims also have to deal with the success of Buddhist Japan, and Jewish Israel. For the future Islam will probably face the relative success of China and Hindu India. It is bad enough not being in first place, but the last place maybe even harder to take.

Christianity started with a crucified savior and a church that suffered hundred's of years of martyrdom. Islam is much different, Islam started with great success in this world and Muslims are very proud of that early success. In fact Muslims believe so strongly that God provides success in this world to his followers that they claimed that Jesus was not crucified, contradicting six hundred years of Christian teaching. The Muslim belief in this world success for God's people may make it particularly hard for them to take last place in economic development among the world's nations.

Furthermore, money gives other religious groups dominance in producing movies, television, and other media.

But it is not certain that Muslims will fall behind.

Three Reasons Muslims Will Enjoy Economic Success

First, the growth of China, India, and other developing nations is likely to keep the price of oil high, which should benefit many Muslim countries.

Second, industrial growth may well move to Muslim countries as wages in China, India, and other non-Muslim countries rise. Even if capitalists have a preference for non-Muslim labor eventually the wage differential will prevail and the industry and economic growth will go to Muslim nations.

Third, the expense of medicine for AIDS and other venereal diseases could hold non-Muslim countries back.

Can Islam Survive in Industrialized Society

Some Christians are saying that Christianity has successfully readjusted to technically advanced society, while Islam has not. Sure Christianity took a hit, it is argued, but Christianity survived, Islam might not. Actually Islam seems to be thriving in the immigrant communities of Western Europe and North America. There are claims that more Muslims than Christians attend weekly services in England. Mere income does not seem to have destroyed Islam, last I heard it was doing well in oil-rich countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and others. So while Islam might suffer in a high-income country with a broad-based industrial economy and a free and democratic government the point is speculative and what we know seems to suggest that Islam can survive and even thrive in the modern world.

Will Childless Secularists Take Over Non-Muslim Rich Countries?

Religious belief seems to be fading in many high income non-Muslim societies. At the same time the atheists, agnostics, and other secularists have very low fertility rates. If the secularists convert the non-Muslims but not the Muslims and then these new secularists do not have children, this could help make the Muslims the majority.

Muslims are generally considered the most fertile of the major metaphysically defined groups, the secularists the least fertile. In a breeding contest between the two groups many people would say it would be no contest. Which leads to the question, are Dawkins and his fellow radical atheists busy trying to saw off the branch they are sitting on. The most radically Christian high income nations, Malta, Ireland, Poland, and America, all have the highest possible rating, a one, for freedom and democracy according to Freedom House. No non-Christian country has that rating, and the highest rating a Muslim nation has is I believe a 2.5. That is the lowest rating a country can have and still be considered free. This is the rating for both Indonesia and Mali, the only two predominately Muslim nations that Freedom House rates as free, at least to the best of my knowledge.

The rising tide of secularism in the high-income countries is important because we can expect a larger portion of the world's population to live in high-income countries in the future. So the question is, will secularism defeat non-Muslim religions in high-income countries, and then produce radically shrinking populations, thus turning the world over to the Muslims.

The Internet and Other New Media

The Internet and the other new media have encouraged conservative religion. Some people have expressed hope that their point of view, Christian, secularist, Muslim or whatever, will triumph in the clash of ideas that the Internet permits. So far however, people are using the new media to enter more deeply into their own faith tradition, rather than exploring others.

The Strong Father, Weak Mother Factor

Another factor that could prove crucial is the powerful influence that fathers have on the faith of their children versus the weak influence of mothers. Three studies, two in America, one in Europe, have shown that devout fathers have devout children, but mothers have little influence on their children's faith. The European study even suggested that the influence of mothers was slightly negative. Devout mothers have less devout children. But this is minor, the major finding of all three studies is that Fathers overwhelmingly determine the children's level of devotion. I discovered these three studies on Wikipedia. Here is the link.

As Islam is a more male oriented faith this could give Muslims a major advantage in holding their children in Islam.

Some Weird Figures You See On the Internet

In looking at my site statistics I noted that people were finding me with the words Islam population. I was number four so I checked some of the others, they provide some weird statistics. The number two site, "Statistics of the Muslim's Population Around the World" claimed that United Nations had determined that Muslim population growth was 6.4 percent annually. I am not sure, but I do not think it is biologically possible for a population to maintain that growth rate. Girls do have to grow up and reach sexual maturity before having children. This was perhaps the strangest of the figures I found, but other sites also had unrealistic figures.

Also I do not believe the U.N. collects information on religion. I would be very suspicious of any site that is claiming U.N. figures concerning religion unless they were on a U.N. website.

In Conclusion

There are many factors that may help and hinder the growth of Islam. Clearly I am not an official expert on the subject and this is not the definitive work, but I think I have brought up a number of topics others miss.

Furthermore, the experts often have professional rules that prevent them from stating obvious truths. For example, thou shall not credit conservative religion or chastity until marriage with the prevention of venereal disease. Thou shall pretend that AIDS is the only venereal disease, or the only one that might affect population growth, and many more. So I hope that I have contributed a few relatively original thoughts, though I admit many of them are more a matter of my willingness to cheat and violate intellectual taboos than any genius or insight on my part.

This page has been recommended in a Pakistani Newspaper's Internet forum. The writer said I was balanced. I thank him.

Feburary 2008 I received a message in my guestbook that said, "I would like to thank you for bringing up AIDS problem in your page. We should consider our moral values and care about new generations. I'm Muslim born and still a Muslim, ..." I would also like to thank this writer.

December 2008 I received another message in my guest book that said, "You have probably heard this many times before, but I really appreciate your fairness. I am Muslim and I do research like this often, but usually I come across some fanatic Muslim site boasting ridiculous growth rates or biased anti-Muslim sites denouncing ..." The guest book cut him off after this, but thanks for the message.


Other Pages of Interest

If you have read some interesting new thoughts, perhaps you might want to check out some of my other pages.

I have a web page on Muslim Population Growth in the First World. Is Europe going Muslim? There are some very interesting statistics on this.

I have a couple of web pages like this one on the future of Christianity, and atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers.

If you want to check the present situation you can see my summary of World Religious Statistics. This may well be the most popular site on religious statistics in general written by an individual.

I also have a page of links to major sites for religious statistics.

My main source for the above is David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia. Which is not really Christian or an Encyclopedia. The World Christian Encyclopedia is really a census of all religions. Part of it is on the net, see the links page above.

I have several other pages on Islam, including an index page here.

The president of Iran has recently questioned the Holocaust. Yes there was a holocaust and Hitler wanted to kill the Muslims too. If Hitler had succeeded I would not be writing this web page on Muslim population growth because there would not be any Muslims. Of course, there also wouldn't be any me, I have some native American blood.

This is page on Islam and sexually transmitted disease

I have written a weak attempt at humor, Islam threatens the biodiversity of AIDS and other venereal diseases. No need to click on it, the link pretty much says it all. It is not getting many clicks, but perhaps it makes its point if the title shows up on a Google search, even if no on bothers to click on it.

This page has been moved from geocities.com/richleebruce to richleebruce.com please update your links and bookmarks.

You can leave comments in my guest book. If you leave an email address I will probably get back to you.

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Major rewrite finished January 9, 2008, last up date October 17, 2012