Debunking the ‘Eurabia’ myth

The Pew Center on Religion & Public Life recently released a comprehensive study of Muslim populations around the world that should allay fears among many of an impending global Muslim takeover and debunk widely held beliefs about Muslims. The findings of “The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030” should also challenge the public to reconsider its perception of Islam and Muslims.

Skeptics, particularly those in Europe and North America, have long sounded alarm bells regarding the growth of the Muslim population.

Such scaremongers claim that Islam is a demographic threat, warning of an impending “Eurabia” within a few decades. This picture, of a triumphant Islam over a Europe that has lost its Christian roots, has contributed to the growth of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political parties and to their notable successes in European elections last year. In America, this fear began in the late 1990s with articles that warned “The Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming!” and continued with the recent Park51 debate over a plan to build an Islamic center near ground zero.

This paranoia – based more on fear and misperception – fuels anti-Islam and anti-Muslim hysteria across Europe and North America and undermines our multicultural society.

While Pew finds that the world’s Muslim population is expected to increase from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030, what of an “Islamic wave” across Europe?

Muslims will remain a relatively small minority, but they will make up a growing share of the total population. According to the study, Europe’s Muslim population is projected to grow from 44.1 million in 2010 to 58.2 million in 2030. The greatest rise is expected to be seen in Western and Northern Europe, where Muslims are expected to approach double-digit percentages. For example, in France, the population is expected to rise from 7.5 percent currently to 10.3 percent.

The Muslim share of the U.S. population is projected to grow from 0.8 percent in 2010 to 1.7 percent in 2030, meaning that Muslims will share the same population figures as Jews and Episcopalians. Interestingly, the United States is projected to have a larger number of Muslims by 2030 than any European country, except Russia and France.

Pew’s findings demonstrate that fear of a European Muslim takeover is largely the product of hysteria – France is not destined to become an “Islamic republic” by 2048.

John Esposito and Sheila Lalwani in the San Francisco Chronicle, 7 February 2011