Being the majority is not success in itself
BY 2030, Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the largest Muslim country in the world. This and other notable demographic trends were announced by the Pew Research Centre in its latest survey, The Future Of World Religions: Population Growth And Projections 2010-2050.
The survey's findings also forecast that, by 2070, Islam will overtake Christianity as the world's most populous faith for the first time in world history. However, the world's largest Muslim population will not live in a Muslim country but in India, which - while retaining its Hindu majority - will see its Muslim population rise from the current 15 per cent to 17 per cent.
Other projections of the survey include the fact that Islam, which has for a while been the largest-growing religion in Europe, will see a doubling of its demographic share. In 2010, there were 43 million Muslims in Europe, which made up 6 per cent of the total European population. In 2050, there will be 71 million Muslims in Europe, making up more than 10 per cent of the continent's population.
In Britain, this will mean a rise from the approximate 4.6 per cent today to 8 per cent in 2030. Similarly, in the United States, the number of Muslims will double over the next two decades, rising from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030. While Muslims will still constitute a small portion of the total US population, rising from 0.8 per cent of the population to 1.7 per cent, they are likely to become just as numerous as America's Jewish and Episcopalian populations.
However, most of the world's Muslims will not be living in the developed nations of the West. More than 60 per cent of the world's swelled-up Muslim population will be living in the Asia-Pacific region. The number of Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa will also be experiencing an increase in the coming decades, with more Muslims living in Nigeria than in Egypt.
A vast majority of the world's Muslims will consequently be living in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India, which will all experience the cost of swelling populations in terms of greater competition for resources.
Simply put, if more is better, then Muslims everywhere could celebrate the news that, in constituting a majority of the world's population, they would consequently command an equal proportion of the world's resources.
This is where the complications begin. Even while there will be a majority of Muslims in the world before the end of this century, the fact that the vast majority of them will be relegated to countries with limited resources is significant. Muslims may soon constitute the majority of the world's population, but it will be a majority that lives in poverty, faces disease and likely to be affected by civil and international conflict.
The truth of this aspect of the world's majority can only be found in the details (and not the headlines) of the Pew report. Countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria, both of which will be home to enormous chunks of the majority Muslim world population of the future, are also ranked among the 10 most dangerous countries in the world.
While the Pew survey carefully hedges against the possibility of war and natural disaster altering the course of its predictions, this fact is even more notable given where the majority of Muslims will live. The fact that high birth rates will result in a larger Muslim population must therefore be tempered by the reality that in at least two countries - Nigeria and Pakistan - terrorist violence is annihilating young people, most of them Muslim, at a rate unseen in most other countries.
Also notable is the relationship of fertility rates to the level of women's education. Fertility rates are highest in Muslim-majority countries where Muslim girls receive the least education. So, in the Muslim countries where girls receive the most education, fertility rates are low.
This means that most children are being produced by the poorest and most uneducated mothers, who bring new souls into the world but cannot guarantee either the quality of their lives or, indeed, how long or productive those lives may be.
Muslim majorities, then, are produced by women who have few other prospects than to produce children who are denied the choices that would give them a better life. In terms of quantity alone, then, the birthing of their children is a victory, a mark to add to all the other millions of Muslims; but a closer look is likely to reveal cracks in this definition of triumph which assumes that mere existence is somehow an achievement.
A Muslim-majority world must not be imagined as a "Muslim-controlled" world or even one where this majority exerts any form of meaningful control over itself. Numeric majorities are meaningless if they are submerged in poverty and conflict, largely uneducated and inherently vulnerable to divisiveness and strife.
Pakistan's own situation is an example: Having enjoyed a Muslim majority for all of its existence, the country is nevertheless susceptible to a staggering variety of divisions, which in turn creates an equally varied panorama of conflict.
If being Muslim were enough and equivalent to some guarantee of communal harmony, hopeful progress and global leverage, then indeed all of these would be in the lap of the nation as a consequence of its nearly monoreligious demographics. Pakistan's reality, one riven by communal conflict, where even belonging to the same sect is an insufficient guarantee of coexistence, defies the value of such a thesis. In summary, it suggests that a mostly Muslim world will likely not be a mostly peaceful one.
DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.