Nearly One in Four Persons on Globe is Muslim

CNN reports that nearly one in four human beings is Muslim, based on a new extensive survey by the Pew Forum for Religion in Public Life.

The number of Muslims they estimate, about 1.5 billion, is the one I have been using for some time based on my own back of the napkin calculations, but one often sees in the press estimates of one billion or 1.2 billion. The Pew conclusions are higher than the researchers had expected going into the study.

If current demographic trends continue, moreover, the world could level off at about 9 billion persons in 2050, and nearly 1/3 of those could well be Muslim. The really big Muslim populations are not in the Middle East, which is largely arid and wouldn’t support such populations. It is in relatively well-watered places such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia in Asia where the bulk of Muslims live. Pakistan now has about 170 million people but is likely to rival the current US population of 300 million in the next few decades. (When I first went to Pakistan in 1981 I think its population was, like, 70 million).

I don’t think most people in the West realize the implications of the likelihood that one-third of humankind may soon be Muslim. We don’t have a real sense of scale in the US. We don’t realize that Brazil alone is nearly as big as the US in area, or that the US could be fitted into East Africa. We don’t realize how huge Iran is, or what it implies when we call India a subcontinent.

One of the implications is that the US is a little unlikely to thrive as a superpower in the 21st century if its more venal and bloodthirsty politicians go on barking about “Islamo-fascism” (they never said Christo-Fascism even though Gen. Franco in Spain was a good candidate for the label) and denigrating Islam and Muslims and seeking to militarily occupy their countries and siphon off their resources. That kind of behavior may have worked in the 19th century before Muslims were mobilized, but it does not work now.

The Muslim world is the labor pool of the next century, and is also the custodian of much of the world’s fuel. New American crusades of the sort favored on the right of the Republican Party may finally induce imperial overstretch and deeply harm the US. Some 5 percent of the population cannot dominate by force 25 percent of the globe and what may eventually be 33% of the globe.

Obama’s strategy, of positive engagement, is the only viable way forward.

I underline this need in my recent book, Engaging the Muslim World.

End/ (Not Continued)

18 Responses

  1. Notwithstanding Western Islamophobia, the U.S. does not have a problem with the "Muslim world". It has a problem with the areas it and its Israeli "allies" can't keep their paws off, IE, the area between Egypt and Pakistan.

    As you point out, much of the growth will not be in these areas. In fact, the majority will be in Southeast Asia and, especially, sub-Saharan Africa (population slated to almost triple within 50 years).

    None of America's Carter Doctrine/Gulf War I/Dual Containment/GWOT-related imperialism is of much relevance to either area. (Or, for that matter, is going to affect the West all that much directly. It is something that will chiefly affect the neighbors of the booming countries.)

  2. That raises an important question for US and Western policy:

    What does it do to the viability of Israel as a Jewish state as Muslims become more numerous and resourceful?

    We have an interesting situation where radical supporters of Israel somehow believe time is on Zionism's side, while radical opponents of Israel believe – partly because the world is becoming even less West-centric, partly because of demographic trends both in Israel's immediate region and globally – that time is on their side.

    Only one can be right, but if both sides had the same idea of where trends are leading, an agreement would be easier to reach.

  3. Time is not on the side of Islam. After Oil is depleted from the M.E. the despots that rule the M.E. will be out of power and will leave the region with Western forces soon after.

    Al Queda will fade away as its enemies (Arabsmade rich by Oil money) will no longer be in power.

    Granted this may take a century. In the long run the future looks good for Israel as their neighbors will soon be toothless and revert back to an 8th century dustbowl.

  4. As usual Juan you remain a big thinker.

    Do you think there are any really big thinkers in the U.S. government? Is this not what we pay the CIA and others for?

    You would hardly know there was any big thinkers in the U.S. government, given the track record over the last few years.

    Juan with the new adminstration, hopefully you personally are having some real influence. I am not sure if they don't already, but the "big thinkers" in the U.S. government should be listening directly to you, if not Obama himself.

    Continue with the good work. Your insights will only become increasingly valuable over time.

  5. Numbers matter very little. Groupthink cultures may have vast populations, but add little to the dignity or progress or creativity of its people. Quality of life, inventiveneess, skepticism, happiness, equality for women and minorities and openess to dissent are hallmarks of Western, Christian civilization. In the end, do not people vote with their feet? Noone with a choice migrates to the Muslim world. Case closed.

  6. Arnold,

    It seems self-evident to me that time is most definately not on the side of Israel. The growth of the worldwide Muslim population isn't really an issue though. I think the global shift in power – away from Israel's benefactor, the US, and towards countries which are at best indifferent, at worst hostile, to Israel – is far more crucial.

    Also, local demographics are obviously not in Israel's favour. Jewish immigration has stalled, while the Palestinian population continues to grow to the point where there will soon be equal numbers of Jews and Arabs in Israel/the OT. The rise of Iran is also a factor, not because it's going to 'wipe Israel off the map;' or any such nonsense, but becasue, with or without nukes, Iran is now a major player which cannot be dictated to.

    In other words, the balance of power regionally and internationally is shifting, and Israel can only be the loser. Besides, all colonial entities – when faced with a sustained local resistance, have lost in the end. No reason to think Israel will be the exception.

  7. Juan, consider another scenario. By 2050 there will 3.5 billion humans. There is plenty of oil, but it is no longer cheap oil. One barrel to produce 100 is long past, likely 30 barrels to produce 100 today. Cheap oil/energy/fertilizer/etc. Expensive oil/energy/you get the idea. Who will suffer most under this contractive scenario, who will gain?

  8. Christina incorrectly calls Israel a colonial entity. The Hebrews are not like the Dutch who landed in SO Africa and decided to take it. Arab fulminations and denials notwithstanding, Israel is the ancient, present and future of the Hebrew people. They're not the English pulling out of Rhodesia. They're not going anywhere. As Western people, the quality of theirs lives are far more powerful than the Groupthink cultures' vast hordes of sheep.

  9. "Obama's strategy, of positive engagement, "

    Excuse me?!? – By keeping Bush's Sec. of defense? By putting the man responsible for Task Force 6-26 (McChrystal) in charge of his Afghan policy? By not closing torture centers like Bagram and Guantanamo? Occupying Iraq and Afghanistan? Bombing Pakistan? Supporting autocratic regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia? Openly threatening Iran with aggressive warfare? By supporting and arming Israel to wage war against it's Muslim neighbors?

    I suppose if you ignore those pesky details than your statement makes sense.

  10. Mr Snow makes a good point. One cannot think of oil in todays popular terms, as whether your choices will be Chevrolet, Ford, or Hummer. Think of oil as directly equivalent to food and you have a better picture of what the future holds. That is why endlessly bumbling about and ideological adventurism in the MidEast is suicidal. The US has a nearly insurmountable set of tasks at home given oil=food, and the military will be of absolutely no help in that effort.

  11. I tend to agree with Cole's post that the U.S. ignores the growing Muslim population at its own peril; this country will ultimately have to do more than just give lip service to Muslims.

    The longer we (U.S) refuse to confront the problem of oil-dependency, the worse it will become. Although there are some predictions that many of the major oil fields—including Saudi Arabia–have already peaked, I don't think anyone's going to literally going to run out of oil to produce any time soon. However, oil will become more expensive.

  12. Of course, Christina IS right. Zionism was (and is) a typical white colonial movement, their claims of owneship of Palestina (by god's will) are not different from any other white colonial power. Mizrahim (ME Jews) were NOT Zionists, and was forced and conned into becoming cannon fodder for Zionism.

    Non-Zionist religious Jews (Naturey Karta, for ex.) say they want to live in Muslim Palestine as a protected minority, as it was before Zionsm (till Mashiam come)

  13. Lidia incorrectly states:

    "… Zionism was (and is) a typical white colonial movement …"

    I'd suggest a trip to Israel. Take a good look at the folks you meet on the street.

    The majority of Israelis exhibit a much darker complexion that you would think, based on what you see in the New York Times.

    Not to mention the 800,000 Jews kicked out of Arab countries after the 1947-1948 agression by the Arabs.

    But don't let actual facts get in the way of your knee-jerk Israeli hatred.

    Europe 1930's – Jews to Palestine
    Europe 2000's – Jews out of Palestine
    "Don't be here. Don't be there. Just don't Be"

  14. With respect Anonymous, the Arab states don't have to fear running out of oil nearly as much as they did ten years. Abu Dhabi itself invests nearly a trillion dollars through its sovereign wealth fund. Considering their population, increased investment savvy and reach, they could run out of oil and still play a trillion dollars on the global market and remain a highly attractive place (Dubai, too, is part of that map.) The oil mattered much more when regimes didn't know what to do with their oil (Iran is less far-sighted, but also has a far more educated, industrial and capable population than other countries in the region.)

  15. Excuse me but the European Zionists have nothign to do with the ancient Hebrews, and the ancient Hebrew have no particular claim over the land that trumps the Palestinians. Even under standard Zionist historiography, the Hebrews were the dominant (but not exclusive) power in the Levant for a grand total of 700 years (out of the thousands of years of history in the region.)

  16. Is it really a surprise that this topic would devolve into yet another debate over Israel?

    Anyway… I would caution Mr. Cole in taking population predictions at face value. Circumstances change: increasing economic prosperity (fairly distributed) tends to decrease population growth rates.

    For those who fear an increasingly Muslim population, either on geopolitical or philosophical grounds, the best way to mitigate this is to integrate these regions into the global economy in a way that helps them become more prosperous (with an equitable distribution of prosperity). Not only will this tend to reduce birth rates, but it will also tend to moderate the extremist fringe.

    States that are isolated from the global economy have little to lose by funding extremism and belligerency. States and peoples with vested interests in peace and trade will be less likely to become troublemakers.

  17. With regards to the debate about Israel, I think Israel's right to exist has been firmly established, it is not going anywhere, and anyone who doubts its right to exist as a Jewish state either needs a history lesson or is an anti-semite. Its ok to criticize the government, but criticism of the state's existence is dangerously close to anti-semitism.
    As for the Muslim boom, what matters most is not numbers but happiness and rights. We need to work to get many Muslim states integrated, educated, as reformed. A more modern Muslim population is needed to ensure stability for all us.

  18. Besides, all colonial entities – when faced with a sustained local resistance, have lost in the end.

    You mean like how the Americans ultimately lost to the native Americans and collapsed? Nice try.

    As for the "demographics", keep in mind that that's only if you include Gaza. The birth rate for Israeli Arabs and the West Bank Palestinians has been falling for decades, and in the former's case, their percentage of the Israeli population is expected to level off at around 25%.

    Of course, Christina IS right. Zionism was (and is) a typical white colonial movement,

    Dude, Israel is "brown town", and chock-full of Sephardic Jews. Most of whom wouldn't be there, by the way, if the Arabs hadn't turned around and expelled most of their Jewish populations in the wake of the 1949 War.

    Abu Dhabi itself invests nearly a trillion dollars through its sovereign wealth fund.

    They'll be one of the bright spots, then. What happens to, say, Saudi Arabia and Iraq when the oil starts to draw low? The former will basically become the chew toy of their neighbors.

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