Pew has a nice new report up, Europe’s Growing Muslim Population. Though it is important to read the whole thing, including the methods.
I laugh when people take projections of the year 2100 seriously. That’s because we don’t have a good sense of what might occur over 70+ years (read social and demographic projections from the 1940s and you’ll understand what I mean). Thirty years though is different. In the year 2050 children born today, such as my youngest son, will be entering the peak of their powers.
First, one has to note that these statistics include a lot of people who are what some would term “Muslimish”. That is, they are not religious believers, but have some identification with Muslim culture. That’s explicitly noted in the methods.
The problem with this is that there is a wide range of religious commitment and identification across Europe’s Muslim communities. On the whole, they are more religiously observant than non-Muslims in their nations of residence, but, for example, British Muslims are consistently more religious than French Muslims on surveys (or express views constant with greater religious conservatism).
Here are the results of a 2006 survey:
|Yes, Westerners are respectful of women||77||49||73|
|Yes, there is a conflict between being devout Muslim and living in modern society||28||47||36|
|Yes, sometimes violence against civilian targets in order to defend Islam can be justified||16||15||7|
|Did Arabs carry out 9/11? (yes)||48||17||35|
|People in Western countries are selfish (yes)||51||67||57|
|People in Western countries are arrogant (yes)||45||64||48|
|People in Western countries are violent (yes)||29||52||34|
|Do you consider yourself Muslim first? (yes)||46||81||66|
|In my country Muslims are perceived to adopt customs of nation||78||41||30|
Numbers such as those above indicate even if France and the United Kingdom both have Muslim minorities on the order of 17% of the population, the nature of those populations differs to such an extent that that similarity in value may mislead.
In God’s Continent Philip Jenkins observes that public statistics of Christians often work to exclude cultural Christians, but those of Muslims include cultural Muslims. What many estimates of “Muslims” in the European context do is give a sense of the proportion of the population which is of Muslim background. This is especially true in a nation like France where religious survey data is not collected by government agencies.
Overall I think this data is important to consider, but there’s nothing really new in a qualitative sense. And, it is important to keep in mind the details. It is highly probable that the idea of a European superstate will have faltered by 2050, and each nation will its own Muslim minority, and engage with them differently depending on local values and context. Though Muslims, broadly construed, will form about the same proportion of the French and British general population, I suspect that in Britain the distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim will be much more obvious and strict than in France.