Islamophobic claims in Europe and the US that Muslims will soon be a majority in the world are statistically unfounded, a new report said yesterday.
Although the world's Muslim population will grow at twice the rate of non-Muslims until 2030, a predicted decline in the birth rate among Muslims means there will be only a small overall increase in the global percentage.
The report, compiled by the US-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, estimates that Muslims will number 2.2 billion by 2030, or 26.4 per cent of the world's population, up from 1.6 billion, or 23.4 per cent, now.
Birth rates among Muslims, running at an average of 2.2 per woman of childbearing age between 1990-2010, are said to have peaked and will gradually decline to 1.5 per cent by 2030 as more Muslim women have access to education and jobs, living standards improve and more people move to cities.
The report says right-wing claims that Europe will become a majority-Muslim "Eurabia" are unfounded. According to the report, Sunni Muslims will continue to comprise the overwhelming majority in Islam with 87-90 per cent of the total.
Shiite numbers, on the other hand, could decline, the report forecasts, because of relatively low birth rates in Iran, where a third of the world's Shiites live.
The report said that in 20 years, about 60 per cent of Muslims would live in the Asia-Pacific region, 20 per cent in the Middle East, 17.6 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, 2.7 per cent in Europe and 0.5 per cent in the Americas.
By 2030, Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the nation with the largest Muslim population. The Muslim minority in India will retain the world's third largest Muslim population.
Migration is expected to increase the number of Muslims in Europe by a third by 2030, with the population in France increasing to 6.9 million, or 10 per cent of the national total.
In the UK, the total is predicted to rise to 5.6 million from the current 2.9 million and, in Germany, from 4.1 million to 5.5 million.
These figure are a far cry from forecasts of right-wing groups who have claimed that Muslims will account for 40 per cent or more of the European population over the next two decades. Muslims in the US are expected to increase from 0.8 per cent of the population in 2010 to 1.7 per cent (6.2 million) in 2030, "making Muslims roughly as numerous as Jews or Episcopalians are in the United States today", the report says.
Amaney A Jamal, associate professor of politics at Princeton University and a consultant on the report, said the findings could challenge assertions by some scholars and far-right political parties about future demographic domination by Muslims.
"There's this overwhelming assumption that Muslims are populating the Earth, and not only are they growing at this exponential rate in the Muslim world, they're going to be dominating Europe and, soon after, the United States," she told the New York Times.
"But the figures don't even come close. I'm looking at all this and wondering, where is all the hysteria coming from?"
The report said that the declining growth rate of the Muslim population would be due primarily to falling fertility rates in many Muslim-majority countries.
"The slowdown in Muslim population growth is most pronounced in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East/North Africa and Europe, and less sharp in sub-Saharan Africa," it says.
"Globally, the Muslim population is forecast to grow at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades - an average annual growth rate of 1.5 per cent for Muslims, compared with 0.7 per cent for non-Muslims."
While the report says that Muslim populations worldwide are still younger on average than others, the so-called "youth bulge" - the high percentage of Muslims in their teenagers and 20s - peaked in 2000 and is now declining.
The Pew Forum is now planning future reports on growth prospects for worldwide populations of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jews.
The study said it counted "all groups and individuals who self-identify as Muslims", including secular or non-observant people, without measuring levels of religious commitment.
It said measuring the impact of Islam on birth rates was difficult because "cultural, social, economic, political, historical and other factors may play equal or greater roles".
* With additional reporting by Reuters