Is Islam the “fastest growing religion”?

This article analyzes the claim that Islam is the “fastest growing religion” in the world.

Introduction

Many have claimed that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. As proof, they usually present unverifiable claims and baseless media quotes. Apparently ABC News had claimed “Already more than a billion-people strong, Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion”, a quote which cannot be traced to its source. Also CNN World News stated “Fast-growing Islam winning converts in Western world”, a statement which they fail to back up with any evidence. Here we examine the actual data available for Islam to see if any of these claims are based on fact.

Analysis

Growth of Islam

Worldwide

According to “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” published in January 2011 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the growth and anticipated future growth of Islam is primarily due to “their relatively high birth rate, the large number of Muslims of childbearing age, and an increase in life expectancy in Muslim-majority countries” and conversions play little part in the increase due to available data suggesting “Islam loses as many adherents via conversion as it gains.”[1][2]

In 2006, countries with a Muslim majority had an average population growth rate of 1.8% per year (when weighted by percentage Muslim and population size).[3]  This compares with a world population growth rate of 1.12% per year[4], and according to the World Christian Encyclopaedia, between 1990 and 2000, Islam received around 865,558 converts each year. This compares with an approximate 2,883,011 converts each year for Christianity during the same period.[5]

United States

Contrary to what is often claimed, Islam is not the fastest growing religion in the United States. Here are the available facts.

From the ARIS polls,[6]  1990 and 2000, percent of change:

Rank Name Change
1 Deity (Deist) +717%
2 Sikhism +338%
3 New Age +240%
4 Hinduism +237%
5 Baha’i +200%
6 Buddhism +170%
7 Native American Religion +119%
8 Nonreligious/Secular +110%
9 Islam +109%
10 Taoist +74%
11 Humanist +69%
12 Eckankar +44%
13 Unitarian Universalist +25%
14 Scientology +22%
15 Christianity +5%
16 Judaism -10%
17 Agnostic -16%

 

  • The American Religious Identification Survey gave Non-Religious groups the largest gain in terms of absolute numbers – 14,300,000 (8.4% of the population) to 29,400,000 (14.1% of the population) for the period 1990 to 2001 in the USA.[7][8] Also, Americans with no religion were the fastest growing segment from 2001 to 2008.[9]
  • According to the Cultural Orientation Resource Center,[10] a massive 60% of all refugees admitted into the United States are from Muslim countries. Likewise, a Pew report published in January 2011 found that “About two-thirds of the Muslims in the U.S. today (64.5%) are first-generation immigrants (foreign-born)”.[11]
  • Contrary to the bloated figures provided by CAIR, and even the President of the United States, and in spite of the massive influx of Muslim refugees, a Pew survey carried-out in October, 2009 found the estimate for the total Muslim population of the U.S to be at only 2.454 million.[12] Percentage-wise, Islam represents a minuscule 0.8 percent of the United States religious make-up. About a third of what had previously been claimed and widely accepted by many apologists and media outlets.
  • According to research carried out by the respected Pakistani-born American Muslim Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus (1932 – 2007),[13][14] 75% of new Muslim converts in the US leave Islam within a few years.[15]
  • According to Ahmed Nassef, the co-founder and editor in chief of MuslimWakeUp.com, less than 7 percent of American Muslims attend mosque regularly, compared with 38 percent of American Christians who attend church weekly.[16]

Russia

There is a wide spread belief that there are around 20 million Russian Muslims and that vast amounts of Russians are converting to Islam. However, there are only about 7 to 9 million Muslims in Russia and less than 3,000 ethnic Russians have converted to Islam within the last fifteen years.

For the same period almost 2 million ethnic Muslims have become Orthodox Christians. Over 400 Russian Orthodox clergy belong to traditionally Muslim ethnic groups, 20 percent of Tatars are Christian, and 70 percent of interfaith marriages result in the Muslim spouse conversion to Christianity.[17]

Africa

Muslims previously outnumbered Christians in sub-Saharan Africa. However, a study published in April 2010 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has found that Christians now outnumber Muslims by 2 to 1 making Islam a minority belief.[18][19]

The number of adherents to Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa grew from fewer than 9 million in 1910 to 516 million today, a 60-fold increase eclipsing the growth of Islam.[20]

United Kingdom

It has been estimated that during 2001 – 2011, about 100,000 people converted to Islam in the United Kingdom, but 75 percent of these converts quickly left Islam, during this period.[21] On the whole, there are about 200,000 apostates from Islam living in the UK, doubling the number that have converted.[22]

Similarly to the rest of Europe,[11] the growth of Islam in the UK is primarily due to higher birthrates among Muslims (27 percent of Muslim families have three or more dependent children, compared with 14 percent of Sikh, 8 percent of Hindu, and 7 percent of Christian families)[23] and immigration (54 percent of all UK Muslims are foreign born).[24]

A NOP poll of British Muslims commissioned by Channel 4 also found that 48% of Muslims never attend a mosque, with another 6% only attending for special occasions.[25]

Europe

A United Nations’ survey showed that between 1989 and 1998, Europe’s Muslim population grew by more than 100 percent, due mainly to the effects of immigration from Muslim countries. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance have an unsourced claim of 2.9 percent per year. And according to a Pew report published in January 2011, the future growth of Islam in Europe will be “driven primarily by continued migration.”[11]

According to data from the extensive 2010 European Social Survey (ESS), Muslims immigrants who have lived less than a year in Europe regularly go to the mosque. But after they’ve lived more than a year in their new homeland, the figure drops to 48.8%. More than half rarely or never go to the mosque to pray.[26]

In the Netherlands, mosque attendance is actually dropping faster than church attendance. In 1998, 47 percent of Muslims would attend mosque at least once a month. This figure fell by 12 percent in 2008 to only 35 percent. Whilst church attendance for Catholics fell by only 8 percent, and church attendance amongst Protestants showed no change, remaining at 63 percent.[27]

China

Islam and Christianity both entered China during the 7th century,[28] and unreferenced claims have been made of around 100 million Muslims in China. However, most reliable estimates put the figures at 20 to 30 million Muslims (1.5% to 2% of the population).[29][30][31][32]

Similarly, some Christian organizations have claimed up to 130 million Christians in China. However, most reliable estimates range from 40 million (3% of the total population) to 54 million (4%),[32][33][34][35] meaning the growth of Christianity in China is almost double that of Islam.

Other Factors to Consider

Worth noting is the fact that apostates will rarely advertise leaving Islam due to the death sentence it imposes on its followers, and that most Islamic countries do not acknowledge conversions out of Islam.

Systematic persecution of religious minorities has been documented in almost every Muslim majority country, leading to some converts to Islam being coerced or forced into their conversion.

For example, following the 2010 murder of a leading Muslim politician who called for modifications to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, it had been reported that at least 20 Pakistani Christians were converting to Islam each week out of fear.[36] Also according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), there were as many as 2,000 women and girls who were forcibly converted in 2011 to Islam through rape, torture and kidnappings in Pakistan.[37]

This is not limited to Muslim-majority countries. In the United Kingdom, it was reported in 2007 that police were working with universities to clamp down on “aggressive conversions” to Islam, during which vulnerable teenage girls are beaten up by Muslims and forced to abandon university courses.[38][39]

Conclusion

All the actual data available reveals that Islam is neither the fastest growing religion by number of adherents or the fastest growing religion by percentage-increase.

The growing number of Muslims in the world is due primarily to the higher than average birth-rates, and consequent population growths of Muslim countries and communities. And their growing presence in non-Muslim societies such as Europe and the Americas is overwhelmingly due to immigration.

Furthermore, converts to Islam are vastly outnumbered by those who choose to leave the religion and embrace another faith or worldview. And the majority of converts that Islam does manage to attract, decide to leave within the first few years of practicing it.

Finally, even if Islam were to be the fastest growing religion in the world, it would be an Argumentum ad populum to claim that this makes it the correct religion.

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