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2050: Muslims to be 20% European Union’s population

2050: Muslims to be 20% European Union’s population

By 2050, Muslims will account for over 20 per cent of the European Union’s population, according to a recent forecast by an American institute. Currently, Muslims make up around four per cent of Europe’s population, but a combination of immigration and higher birth rates among Muslims mean that the Muslim population is growing at an exponentially faster rate than other segments of the European population. So much so that we are likely to reach one in five in forty years time, so how will that change the face of Europe?

Muslims are a very diverse group. Globally, Muslims currently make up a little over 23 per cent of the world’s population, a little like the projection for Europe in 2050. Though it is easy to think of a Muslim Umma and to idealise the concept of a unified Muslim population, the reality is far from it. Similarly Muslims in Europe are a highly diverse group and tend to organise themselves along their countries of origin rather than their shared faith. We may well all pray together on a Friday— even then different Mosques tend to attract different groupings—but we all go home to our individual enclaves.

European Muslims also differ greatly in the extent of their integration into their new homelands. The key question is how much more will they integrate by 2050? Will European Muslims become fully fledged European citizens, and by that I mean citizens who are second, third, fourth generation born and who no longer label themselves as children of immigrants? And will they be seen that way by those whose ancestry goes back centuries rather than decades?

During the football world cup earlier this summer, much was said about the German football team. It was young and dynamic, moreover it was ethnically diverse. Of the 23 players in the squad, 11 had foreign backgrounds. This ethnic diversity was seen as both something to be proud of and as an asset for the team. As the national coach Joachim Loew put it speaking about Mesut Oezil, one of the two players in the team with Turkish parents, it is ‘a gift for German football’. Is that team – talented, passionate, proud and united – an example of what will become the norm in 40 years?

There are an estimated 2.9 million Germans of Turkish origin. They make up Germany’s largest Muslim community. How long before they stop being classed as being of Turkish origin and become Germans pure and simple? But religion is a different matter. If integration succeeds, they will no longer see themselves as Turkish-born German citizens, but as German Muslims. Since integration is a two-way process, this new Muslim identity will bring with it German characteristics and enrich Islamic identity. Extrapolate that to the 27 countries that make up the European Union and you can see the opportunities that it could bring.

Of course, Germany did not win the World Cup, Spain did. Spain’s Muslim population is around one million, roughly two per cent of the population. Quite a bit smaller than neighbouring France which has Europe’s largest Muslim population. Spain however has recently seen a surge in immigration. In the space of a decade, the percentage of the population that is foreign born has risen from three to over 13 per cent. Has Spain lost any of its national identity as a result of this influx?

And yet, the knee-jerk reaction to any news that relates immigration figures is one of alarm and panic. Immigrants are scary. Muslim immigrants are terrifying. In some British newspapers, there was talk of a ‘Muslim demographic time bomb’ and as always that kind of talk is accompanied by the face of dominant Islam: the woman wearing a niqab.

The fear of a radical Islam taking over Europe like some kind of black veiled cultural bulldozer could be amusing were it not for its resonance with a growing segment of the European population.

In Spain for instance, a Pew survey found that 65 per cent of Spaniards are somewhat or very concerned about rising Islamic extremism in their country. The fear of extremist Islam is understandable not only because of the atrocities that have been carried out by terrorists branding themselves as Muslims but also by the visibility of a minority of Muslims who practice extreme interpretations of Islam. It is no coincidence that the moment there is talk of a ‘Muslim demographic time bomb’ the image that is shown is of a woman in a niqab. The burka as the niqab is wrongly described has become a flag issue. Of the millions of Muslim women living in Europe only a few thousand wear it and yet several countries – France, Spain and Belgium to name just three – are bringing in legislation to ban it.

A sense of perspective is needed. One in five is still a minority. Islam is hardly going to become the dominant religion in Europe. Furthermore the Islam that is practiced by European Muslims is generally more tolerant and open than the Islam practiced in countries that are overwhelmingly Muslim.

But if Muslims do end up making up one fifth of Europe’s population by 2050, this should be good news. Good news for Europe because it will have incorporated some of Islam’s richness into its already rich cultural heritage, and good news for Islam because it will feed the existence of a more tolerant, critical and spiritual Islam that will better challenge the genuine extremist threat. No Muslim threat to Europe by Iman Kurdi, 12 August 2010

Iman Kurdi is an Arab writer based in Nice, France. For comments, write to opinion@khaleejtimes.com

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