THE world’s Muslim population will grow twice as fast as non-Muslims over the next 20 years and will account for a quarter of people on the planet, a study forecast on Thursday.
But the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life also predicted the growth spurt would level off as living standards improve, more people move to cities and women get better access to education and jobs, which results in a drop in fertility rates.
Using fertility, mortality and migration rates, researchers projected a 1.5 per cent annual population growth rate for the world’s Muslims over the next two decades, and just 0.7 per cent growth each year for non-Muslims.
That’s still lower than the average annual rate of 2.2 per cent for Muslims from 1990 to 2010.
The study said that by 2030, Muslims will make up 26.4 per cent of the world’s population, expected to total around 8.3 billion people by then.
In contrast, Muslims account for 23.4 per cent of today’s estimated total population of 6.9 billion.
The researchers also dismissed fears Europe would become an Islam-dominated “Eurabia,” as Muslims will grow only to eight per cent of the continent’s population in 2030, up from just six per cent last year.
They projected that a majority of Muslims – more than six in 10 – will live in the Asia-Pacific region in 2030, and that nuclear-armed Pakistan, currently battling a rise in extremism, will overtake Indonesia as the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Twenty per cent of the world’s Muslims, or roughly the same percentage as today, will live in the Middle East, which will remain the region home to the largest percentage of Muslim-majority nations.
Israel, the only Middle Eastern country where Muslims are in a minority, is projected to see the biggest increase in the proportion of Muslims – a 5.5-point jump from 17.7 per cent, or 1.3 million, last year to 23.2 per cent, or 2.1 million, over two decades.
The Muslim population in Israel included those living in Jerusalem but not in the West Bank and Gaza.
A key reason for the rapid growth was that Muslim women in the country are relatively young and are in or about to enter their prime childbearing years, the report says.
These same factors also come into play on a global scale.
In Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, Muslims could be in the majority in two decades thanks to the high fertility rate: Nigerian Muslim women have six to seven children, compared an average of five for non-Muslims.
Nigeria is currently divided roughly 50-50 between Christians and Muslims.
Some European Union countries will see double-digit percentages of Muslims in their population.
Belgium’s Muslim population could rise from six per cent to 10.2 per cent over the next 20 years, while France’s is expected to hit 10.3 per cent in 2030, up from 7.5 per cent today, according to the report.
But the birth rate is slowing.
In fact, said Mehtab Karim, a Pakistani visiting senior research fellow at the Pew Forum, the fertility rate of Muslim women who migrate to Europe will drop within a generation as they spend longer in school and their standards of living improve.
The Muslim share of the US population, meanwhile, is projected to more than double from its current level of 0.8 per cent to 1.7 per cent by 2030, meaning there would be nearly as many Muslims as Jews and Episcopalians currently live in the United States, the study said.
In two decades, there will be 6.2 million US Muslims – more than in any European nation except Russia and France. But proportionally, Muslims will make up a much smaller percentage of the US population than they do in Europe.
Pew’s study was part of a broader look at developments in the world’s major faiths. The centre plans to release a similar report later this year on Christianity, the world’s largest religion and the largest in the United States.