Although the estimated demographic changes, which foresee the growth of the Muslim population as a possible threat causing poverty in the future in India, are not based on scientific data, some against the religion of Islam still try to cling their own estimations that are not based on any concrete fact
Muslims are again in the thick of a furious debate in India. The controversy over Muslims' divorce procedures was still burning when the worn out theory of a Muslim population bomb was reignited once again. The latest census data in India has shown some interesting facts. The anti-Muslim lobby has cherry picked findings that suit them to bolster their claims that Muslims pose a population threat.
A common myth perpetuated by the anti-Muslim brigade is that in the long run Muslims will outnumber Hindus. There have been multiple online posts expressing concern that the Indian Muslim population will expand to 925 million and the number of Hindus will decrease to 902 million by 2035. Hindu festivals will no longer be celebrated by 2040. The more hysterical postings claim large-scale conversions to Islam will occur and that there will be widespread killing of non-Muslims. But Muslims are not the only targeted religious group. In fact, in India the growth rate of Muslims has registered a decline.
Global trends also show that the growth of the Muslim population has slowed down and in the foreseeable future will match the average demographic equation. A recent study from the Pew Research Center on religion and public life demonstrates that neither the U.K. nor Europe is in danger of a Muslim takeover, whatever conservative America may believe. "The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030" is a major and comprehensive study that focuses on the Muslim populations in North America, Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific and provides a revealing look into the future of the Muslim population worldwide and the future religious makeup of the world.
According to the report, the global Muslim population is expected to increase about 35 percent over the next two decades, rising from a population of 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion in 2030. The study says that the global Muslim population is expected to grow at a faster rate than the non-Muslim populations, but that the Muslim population is projected to grow at a slower pace than it did during the previous two decades. The Pew findings demonstrate that fear of a Muslim takeover is largely the product of hysteria. France is not headed toward becoming an Islamic republic by 2048, as has been claimed, and Germany is not on its way to becoming a Muslim state by 2050.
Poverty has a direct bearing on family demographics. Those living in extreme poverty feel their children are more vulnerable to sickness for which they cannot afford the expenses. In order to offset the fear of losing children to mortal diseases, they hedge this risk by having a larger number of children. There is a direct relationship between poverty and fertility and inverse relationship between fertility and higher per capita income. That new economic programs are slowly delivering results and improvement in living conditions is bound to transform the mindset of this segment of the population.
Rural women particularly Muslim women, live in the stranglehold of harsh customs. They are mostly un-empowered and are often unable to act on their own behalf to obtain family planning services to regulate their childbearing. They are also the group most likely to believe that bearing many children will provide a bulwark against poverty in their old age. The financially better-off have easy access to many financial security programs for planning for a peaceful and hassle-free old age. The poor carry a wrong perception that having more children will provide additional sources of earnings and thus they will have a better kitty to cope with life's eventualities.
Fortunately, there is a growing awareness among the new generation for women. Muslim women are also challenging patriarchy that all women experience around unequal power hierarchies in society. Muslim women's activism for education and equal opportunities are often underpinned by their emancipatory readings of foundational Islamic texts. The new wave of awareness of the priority of education has catapulted Muslim women from the hearth to positions in various fields. The ripple benefits of this new development are bound to impact their thinking and will definitely impact demographic profiles.
The current decline also is directly related to the fact that the younger generation of Muslims is more educated and aspirational. Educated and aspirational Muslim women are as careful about family planning as their Hindu counterparts in India. I know countless young Muslim couples in their 30s who have no children despite family pressures because they do not want a child unless they could give it their best.
Muslim population growth is still out of sync with global trends, but if the latest findings hold up, it should get there soon. The truism is that there is not much to despair about on the population front or to conjure fantasies of Muslims hegemony. What is required is not a political lens. It is the economic prism through which we should view the whole issue and focus on programs that can further refine the demographic equation and correct the skewed profile.
It is strange that the findings and projections of authoritative studies are less likely to circulate as widely or quickly as statistics about predictions of a Muslim takeover. Commentators seem more focused on ringing false alarm bells than on presenting facts. The reality is that there is no takeover, but that there is a danger of intolerance that threatens the very fabric of society. We are not witnessing a clash of civilizations, but a clash of cultures fostered by those who portray Islam as a monolith. These people see religious and cultural diversity solely as a threat rather than as a potential source of strength and enrichment. The liberal democratic heritage and fabric of our societies must be safeguarded and fear mongering, religious and racial discrimination rejected and marginalized in a future based on facts, not fiction.
* Ph.D. in economics and English. He is based at Nagpur, India
About the author
Based in Napur, Ph.D., Economics, author of several books on Islam including bestselling biographies of Prophet Muhammad and Caliph Umar