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scary, to say the least
"Russia's Turning Muslim, Says Mufti" is the startling headline in the Times of London today. Ravil Gaynutdin, head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, announced that Russia's population of 144 million contains 23 million ethnic Muslims – and not, as the census indicates, 14.5 million, or, as the Orthodox Church estimates, nearer to 20 million. An estimated 3-4 million Muslims are migrants from former Soviet regions, including 2 million Azeris, 1 million Kazakhs, and several hundred thousand Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz.
Plus, Russians of Orthodox background are converting to Islam. (For one important case, see the story of Viacheslav Sergeevich Polosin.) The Orthodox church claims 80 million adherents, but observers say the real number is about half that, and falling.
And more: while the Orthodox population is in demographic decline, the Muslim population is surging. Although the total Russian population dropped by 400,000 in the first half of 2005, it increased in 15 regions, such as the Muslim republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. The birth rate is 1.8 children per woman in Dagestan, versus 1.3 for Russia as a whole. Male life expectancy is 68 in Dagestan, versus 58 for Russia.
The Times observes that this growth in the Muslim population "has raised fears among Orthodox Church leaders and nationalists that Russia could eventually become a Muslim-majority nation." Aleksei Malashenko, an expert on Islam, does not expect Russia to become "a Muslim society in several years, although maybe in half a century we'll see something surprising." (August 6, 2005)
Feb. 28, 2006 update: Paul Goble, an expert on minorities in the former Soviet Union, agrees with the mufti.
Within most of our lifetimes the Russian Federation, assuming it stays within current borders, will be a Muslim country. That is it will have a Muslim majority and even before that the growing number of people of Muslim background in Russia will have a profound impact on Russian foreign policy. The assumption in Western Europe or the United States that Moscow is part of the European concert of powers is no longer valid. … The Muslim growth rate, since 1989, is between 40 and 50 percent, depending on ethnic groups. Most of that is in the Caucuses or from immigration from Central Asia or Azerbaijan.
Goble notes the exponential growth in Islam since the demise of the Soviet Union: Russia had about 300 mosques in 1991 and now there are at least 8,000, about half of which were built with money from abroad, especially from Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. There were no Islamic religious schools in 1991 and today there are between 50 and 60, teaching as many as 50,000 students. The number of Russians going on the hajj each year, has jumped from 40 in 1991 to 13,500 in 2005. He quotes a Russian commentator predicting that within the next several decades there will be a mosque on Red Square.
June 7, 2006 update: In an article titled, "Russia faces demographic disaster," BBC analyst Steven Eke focuses on the general problem of the country's population declining by at least 700,000 people annually (for example, the slow depopulation of the northern and eastern regions and the emergence of uninhabited "ghost villages"). He also interviews a Russian demographer, Viktor Perevedentsev, who dismisses the prospect of a Muslim majority:
Mr Perevedentsev dismisses the notion that Russia could become a majority Muslim nation, and says this is a spectre being deliberately whipped up by politicians with little understanding of demography. He acknowledges that there are very high birth-rates among these population groups, but insists they merely reflect an earlier stage of development and will ultimately fall. In 50 years' time, he says, Muslims will still be a small part of Russia's overall population.
Comment: Perevedentsev is, of course, correct that the Muslim birthrate will eventually come down. But, as Mark Steyn points out, "demographics is a game of last man standing. The groups that succumb to demographic apathy last will have a huge advantage." We do not know at this time how long it will be until the Russian Muslim birthrate tumbles, and what the percentage of Muslims in Russia will be at that time. In short, Muslims could be a majority in Russia.
Nov. 19, 2006 update: Goble makes an even more dramatic statement to Michael Mainville of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Russia is going through a religious transformation that will be of even greater consequence for the international community than the collapse of the Soviet Union." Mainville updates some statistics in "Russia has a Muslim dilemma: Ethnic Russians hostile to Muslims"
Russia's overall population is dropping at a rate of 700,000 people a year, largely due to the short life spans and low birth rates of ethnic Russians. The country's 2002 census shows that the national fertility rate is 1.5 children per woman, far below the 2.1 children per woman needed to maintain the country's population of about 143 million. The rate in Moscow is even lower, at 1.1 children per woman.
But Russia's Muslims are bucking that trend. The fertility rate for Tatars living in Moscow, for example, is six children per woman, Goble said, while the Chechen and Ingush communities are averaging 10 children per woman. And hundreds of thousands of Muslims from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been flocking to Russia in search of work. Since 1989, Russia's Muslim population has increased by 40 percent to about 25 million. By 2015, Muslims will make up a majority of Russia's conscript army, and by 2020 a fifth of the population. "If nothing changes, in 30 years people of Muslim descent will definitely outnumber ethnic Russians," Goble said.