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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 9    Issue 21   16-31 March 2015

Demographic Profile of the Muslim World

Professor A. R. MOMIN

Demography is a specialized field which deals with the composition, territorial distribution and dynamics of human populations in the global as well as the regional context. It straddles across several disciplines, including biology, genetics, sociology and history. Demographers seek to understand and analyze human populations in terms of certain key concepts, such as population growth rate, birthrate, death rate or mortality rate, fertility rate, fecundity, infant mortality rate, life expectancy, sex ratio and demographic transition. This essay provides a global overview of Muslim demographics.

In a report “Mapping the global Muslim population: A report on the size and distribution of the world’s Muslim population,” the Pew Forum, a well-known American think-tank, estimated that the worldwide Muslim population was 1.57 billion in 2009, representing 23 per cent of the world’s population of 6.8 billion. The report was based on an analysis of 1,500 sources, including census reports, demographic studies and population surveys, from more than 200 countries.

A 2011 report of the Pew Forum updated the figures and projected that the world’s Muslim population was expected to increase by about 45 per cent in the next 20 years, from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion in 2030. The projected growth rate of the global Muslim population over the next two decades, according to the report, is 1.5, compared with 0.7 for the rest of the world. However, the rate of growth of Muslim population worldwide over the next two decades will be less than the previous decades (1990-2010), when it was 2.2. According to the report, if current population trends in Muslim countries continue, Muslims will make up 26.4 per cent of the world’s total population of 8.3 billion in 2030. In 2012 The Economist estimated the world’s Muslim population at 1.8 billion. On the basis of an annual growth of 1.5, the present population of Muslims worldwide can be estimated at 2.08 billion.

According to the Pew Forum’s report, nearly 62 per cent of the global Muslim population are concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region while about 20 per cent of the world’s Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa and 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. About three-quarters (74 per cent) of the world’s Muslim population are concentrated in 49 Muslim-majority countries, while 25 per cent live in countries where the majority populations are non-Muslim. Some two-thirds of all Muslims worldwide live in 10 countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Algeria and Morocco. Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population (202 million), followed by Pakistan (185 million). Nearly three-quarters of Muslim minorities – 240 million – live in five countries: India (171 million), Ethiopia (38 million), China (22 million), Russia (20 million) and Tanzania (13 million). According to the Pew Forum’s report, Europe is home to 38 million Muslims, comprising about 5 per cent of the continent’s population. There are about 4.6 million Muslims in the Americas, more than half of them in the US, where they make up just 0.8 per cent of the population.

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy refers to the median number of years a person is expected to live in a given population. On average, women live longer than men. The average life expectancy at birth in the world is 71 years. Patterns of life expectancy in Muslim countries are marked by a good deal of variation and can be divided into three main categories: (i) countries where life expectancy is more than the world average (ii) countries where it is less than the world average but more than 60 (iii) countries where it is less than 60. Muslim-majority countries where life expectancy is more than the world average include Lebanon (80.5), UAE (79.2), Brunei (79), Kuwait (78.2), Bahrain (77), Morocco (76.51), Oman (76), Bosnia-Herzegovina (76), Malaysia (75.7), Qatar (75.5), Syria (75), Tunisia (74.6), Jordan (74.6), Libya (74.5), Turkey (74.4), Saudi Arabia (74.3), Iran (73.5), Egypt (73.2), Indonesia (72), Azerbaijan (71.5) and Bangladesh (70). Muslim-majority countries where life expectancy at birth is lower than the world average but higher than 60 years include Kyrgyzstan (69), Iraq (68.5), Tajikistan (68), Pakistan (67), Turkmenistan (66.5), Kazakhstan (68.25), Yemen (64) and Afghanistan (60). Muslim-majority countries where life expectancy is lower than 60 years include Mauritania (59.5), Gambia (59), Burkina Faso (56.5), Cote d’lvoire (56.5), Niger (56), Guinea (55), Nigeria (53), Chad (51), Mali (51), Guinea Bissau (50), Somalia (50) and Sierra Leone (38).

Maternal Mortality

The maternal mortality rate refers to the annual number of female deaths per thousand live births. Most maternal deaths occur due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. An estimated 275,000 women worldwide die each year during childbirth and pregnancy. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 99 per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. India (with 56,000 annual maternal deaths) and Nigeria (with 40,000 maternal deaths) account for a third of all maternal deaths worldwide. Some of the highest maternal mortality rates are found in Muslim countries, including Sierra Leone (1,100), Chad (980), Somalia (850), Guinea (650), Niger (630), Nigeria (560), Guinea-Bissau (560), Mali (550), Togo (450), Gambia (430), Ethiopia (420), Tanzania (410), Afghanistan (400), Burkina Faso (400), Eritrea (380), Sudan (360), Comoros (350), Senegal (320), Mauritania (320), Yemen (270), Djibouti (230) and Indonesia (190). (Source: World Bank).

One of the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 is to reduce the ratio of maternal mortality over the period 1990-2015 by three-quarters, but the goal is unlikely to be met by 2015. Only 9 out of 74 countries are on track to achieve the target.

Infant and Child Mortality

The world average of infant mortality is 49 per 1,000 live births and child mortality 46 per 1,000 live births. Out of 49 Muslim-majority countries, 18 have infant mortality rates that are higher than the world average, and 21 have child mortality rates lower than the world average. A list of these countries with their respective infant and child mortality rates is provided in the following table.

Country Infant mortality Under-5 mortality
Sierra Leone 101 161
Somalia 90 146
Chad 89 148
Guinea Bissau 78 124
Mali 78 123
Nigeria 74 117
Afghanistan 70 97
Pakistan 69 86
Mauritania 67 90
Guinea 65 101
Burkina Faso 64 98
Niger 60 104
Comoros 58 78
Djibouti 57 70
Sudan 51 77
Gambia NA 74
Senegal NA 55
Turkmenistan NA 55
Yemen NA 51
Tajikistan NA 48
(Source: World Bank)    

Child morbidity is one of the serious problems faced by many Muslim countries. A particularly worrying aspect of child morbidity in the Muslim world is the persistence and recurrence of the polio virus. Though the polio virus has been eradicated in most parts of the world, ten countries continue to be vulnerable to the virus. These include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia and Israel. The polio virus is endemic in just three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Syria, which was polio-free for 14 years, was re-infected with the virus from Pakistan. The World Health Organisation has recently issued a grave warning about the resurgent threat of the polio virus in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Syria.

Pakistan was close to eradicating the polio virus in 2005, when only 28 cases were reported. The efforts by international health agencies, NGOs and the Pakistan government to eradicate the polio virus through mass vaccination programmes have been thwarted by some extremist groups, many of whom have an ideological affinity with the Taliban, who believe that polio vaccinations are a conspiracy by the United States and other Western countries to sterilize male Muslim children. Many health workers were roughed up, kidnapped and even killed. At least 33 health workers have been killed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province since 2012.

According to the WHO, Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio in 2013. Since January 2014, 59 new cases of polio have been reported. Of these, 42 cases have been reported from the tribal areas of North Waziristan, where extremist and hardliner groups do not allow polio vaccinations. These groups use FM radio to spread the false message that polio vaccinations are in reality aimed at decimating the Muslim population. Such false and misleading messages are also spread by extremist groups in Afghanistan and Nigeria. A few years ago, some Muslim groups in Nigeria boycotted immunization programmes on the grounds that they were a Western plot to make Muslim male children impotent and female children infertile. The boycott led to a recurrence of polio, which made the Muslim groups realize their misguided opinion. The vaccination programme was then resumed. In January 2015 officials in Pakistan targeted some 35 million children in a nationwide campaign for polio eradication.

Mandatory and free immunization was introduced in Syria in 1964 and by 1995 polio was completely eliminated. The civil war has brought about particularly disastrous consequences for children. Of the roughly 1.8 million children born in the country since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011, more than half remain completely unvaccinated. According to World Health Organisation estimates, the vaccination rate among two-year-olds has dropped from 83% before the war to 52% in 2012. This leaves more than3 million children vulnerable to serious diseases, including polio. Since May 2013 at least 90 children across Syria, with an average age of two years, have been afflicted with wild type 1 polio. It is estimated that at least 90,000 children have been infected.


In order to maintain the current population level, a country requires a total fertility rate of 2.1 live births per woman of childbearing age, which is known as the replacement level. According to the United Nations, a fertility rate of 1.5 marks a crisis point. If birthrates remain below 1.5 over a period of time, a country’s population is likely to halve in about four decades. Falling fertility rates are positively correlated with female education, better standards of living, migration from rural areas to cities, participation in the workforce, family planning, delayed marriage and pregnancy, and changing attitudes towards marriage and family. Education of females delays marriage and pregnancy and educated women are more likely to go out to work and less likely to have large families.

Fertility rates across the world are falling. According to the United Nations Population Division, the total fertility rate of nearly half of the world’s population is near the replacement level of 2.1. By about 2020, the global fertility rate is expected to fall below the global replacement level of 2.33.

Fertility rates in the Muslim world show a wide range of variation, from 7.5 in Niger to 1.50 in Lebanon. Some of the world’s highest fertility rates are found in 9 Muslim-majority countries in Africa (Niger, Somalia, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Senegal) and 3 Asian countries (Afghanistan, Yemen and Palestinian Territories). Fertility rates are falling in all Muslim countries and in Muslim populations worldwide. The average total fertility rate in 49 Muslim-majority countries declined from 4.3 in 1990-95 to an estimated 2.9 in 2010-2015. The rates are expected to fall further, to 2.6 in 2020-25 and 2.3 in 2030-35. The decline in fertility rates in Muslim populations around the world is attributed to increasing levels of female education, which generally delays the age of marriage and pregnancy, better living standards, migration to urban areas, women’s increasing participation in the workforce, shifting gender roles and growing use of contraception.

In 1956 Iran had a fertility rate of 7.7, one of the highest in the world. By 1986 the country’s population had reached a record high of 50 million. Alarmed by the steep rise in population, Iran’s leadership launched a campaign for family planning. By 2000 the fertility rate declined to 2.2. It has now dropped to 1.92, below the replacement level of 2.2. In Bangladesh there has been a steep fall in fertility rates, from 7 in 1980 to 3 in 2000. The current rate is 2.2. Afghanistan’s fertility rate in 2005-2010 was 6.6 – one of the highest in the world. It dropped to 5.1 in 2012 as a result of urbanization and access to contraception. In Saudi Arabia, fertility rates have fallen from 3.6 in 2004 to 2.8 in 2014. Falling fertility rates in the country are attributed to rising levels of female education, delay in marriage and pregnancy and increasing cases of abortion. http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-arabia/news/712961. Out of 49 Muslim-majority countries, 17 have fertility rates of more than 4.00 while fertility rates in 9 of them are below the replacement level. Muslim countries which continue to have high fertility rates include Niger (7.57), Mali (6.85), Somalia (6.67), Chad (6.38), Nigeria (6.00), Gambia (5.78), Burkina Faso (5.69), Afghanistan (5.14), Guinea-Bissau (5.05), Guinea (5.00), Senegal (4.98), Sierra Leone (4.78), Mauritania (4.73), Comoros (4.80), Sudan (4.49), Yemen (4.21) and Iraq (4.09). Muslim countries where fertility rates have fallen below the replacement level include Lebanon (1.50), Albania (1.76), Iran (1.92), Malaysia (1.98), UAE (1.82), Azerbaijan (2.00), Brunei (2.01), Turkey (2.06) and Bahrain (2.09). Though fertility rates among Muslim minorities are considerably higher than the national average, they are nevertheless declining.

One of the factors in declining fertility rates in Muslim populations around the world is the growing access to and use of contraception. Bangladesh launched a fairly effective and non-coercive family planning programme, which brought about significant reduction in fertility rates. Within a relatively short time, fertility rates fell from around 7 child per woman of child-bearing age in the early 1970s to 4.5 in 1990 and 2.2 in 2011. In Afghanistan less than 20 per cent of women use modern methods of contraception, but family planning has increased threefold in rural areas since 2003.

Turkey’s current fertility rate is 2.06, slightly below the replacement level. Worried by the prospects of population decline, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutgolu announced a package of incentives in February 2015. The government will now offer $4,000 each to women to marry early and start a family. Working mothers will be allowed to work for four hours a day with full salary for at least a year after delivery.

In-vitro Fertilization

One of the most important medical revolutions in the past couple of decades concerns unprecedented advances is assisted reproductive technology. In-vitro fertilization is an assisted reproductive technique for the treatment of infertility, which involves fertilization through the combination of a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm in a laboratory dish, following which the fertilized egg is implanted in the same or another woman’s uterus. Women who are past their reproductive age or are unable to conceive due to serious gynaecological complications or risks can become pregnant with the help of in-vitro fertilization.

Since the birth of the world’s first IVF baby in 1978, an estimated five million babies have been born worldwide with the new reproductive techniques. The US has become the global hub for in-vitro fertilization, where IVF babies account for about 1.5 per cent of all births. The average cost of IVF treatment in the US is $12,400. High-quality eggs in Western countries, such as those from a female student, cost as much as $50,000.

Hundreds of Palestinians charged with terrorism are languishing in Israeli prisons. Some of them have found a novel method to perpetuate their families by getting their sperms smuggled out of the prison, which are then used to impregnate their wives through the IVF procedure.

According to an onislam.net fatwa, the fertilization of an egg from the wife with the sperm of her husband and the implantation of the fertilized egg in the wife’s uterus is permissible, provided the technique is used in the duration of the marriage. However, a third party donor, whether a man or a woman, in IVF is not allowed.


Muslim Fertility and Islamophobia

In some parts of the world, particularly India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Europe, racist and far-right groups are engaged in spreading the belief that Muslims have a very high fertility rate and that they will soon overtake non-Muslim populations. In Myanmar, Ashin Wirathu, the firebrand Buddhist monk, says that Buddhism is under siege by Muslims who are producing more children than Buddhists. In India, a major plank in the electoral rhetoric of organizations and political parties that espouse an ethnocentric and exclusive brand of Hindu nationalism, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is high population growth among Muslims. It is alleged that the Muslim population in India will overtake Hindu population in a few decades, thanks to very high fertility rate among Muslims. Some far-right groups in Europe have raised the cry of “demographic jihad” launched by Muslims, which is aimed at the “Islamization” of Europe by having large families. A seven-minute video called “Muslim Demographics” was uploaded on YouTube by an anonymous user in 2009. It has so far attracted 14 million viewers. The video claims that as a result of extremely high population growth rates in Europe, Muslims will soon overtake the continent’s Christian population. Using dubious and highly questionable statistics, it claims that in the next 39 years France will be an Islamic republic and that Germany will be a Muslim state by the year 2050. The video claims that if the current population trends continue, Britain will be a Muslim-majority nation by 2050. The population of the Netherlands, according to the video, will be half Muslim in the next 15 years. The video warns that “Islam will overwhelm Christendom unless Christians recognize the demographic realities, begin reproducing again and share the gospel with Muslims.” The video is replete with false and misleading statements. It says, for example, that Muslims in France have 8.1 children on average while the ethnic French have 1.8 children. The actual figures are, respectively, 2.8 and 1.9. The video says that 25% of Belgium’s population is Muslim. The actual figure is 6%. A German government official is falsely quoted as saying that Germany will be a Muslim country by 2050. A 2011 report of the Pew Research Centre estimated that the percentage of Muslims in Europe’s population was likely to rise by about two percentile points by 2030, from 6% in 2011 to about 8%.

A Roman Catholic priest, Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Ghanian who is president of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, screened the video at a meeting of bishops at the Vatican in October 2012. The event created an uproar even at the Vatican. The Vatican distanced itself from the row, dismissing the video as anti-Islamic propaganda. Vatican radio called the video “fear mongering.”

The myth of extremely high fertility rate among Muslims in Europe, and elsewhere, has been exposed by Doug Saunders in his book The Mythology of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West? (2012). Saunders shows that family size and population growth rates are falling faster than other groups in large parts of the world, including in Muslim countries. In Iran, for example, where the fertility rate was almost 7 in the 1980s, it has fallen to 1.7. Population growth rates among Muslim immigrants and their descendants in Western countries are also steadily falling. In 2006, Muslim-majority countries, where more than three-fourths of the world’s Muslim population are concentrated, had an average population growth rate of 1.8 per cent per year, compared with the global average of 1.12 per cent per year.

Demographic Dividend

Demographic dividend refers to the correlation between accelerated economic growth and the rising share of working-age people to the population. Demographic dividend plays an important role in a nation’s development. Demographic dividend accounted for a third of economic growth in East Asian countries from 1965 to 1990. In many emerging Asian economies, demographic dividend has added nearly 2 per cent to the annual growth in per capita income. A substantial segment of the population in Muslim countries consists of young people. In 2010 people under 30 accounted for about 60 per cent of the population of Muslim-majority countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 40% of Muslim population is younger than 15 years. The median age among Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa is 17, in the Middle East and North Africa 23, and in the Asia-Pacific region 24. In the Arab region, young people under 25 years of age make up about 60 per cent of the region’s population and represent its fastest-growing segment. The median age in the Arab region is 22, compared with the global average of 28. Nearly three-quarters of Saudi citizens are under 30 years of age. Nearly half of Egypt’s population is under 25. More than 28 per cent of Algeria’s population is under 15. Some 60 per cent of Yemen’s population is under 24. Nearly one-third of the population of Iran is under 30. Nearly 30% of Turkey’s population of 76 million are under 18 years of age. It has a median age of 28.1 years (compared with 44.3 in Germany, 43.7 in Italy, 44.6 in Japan and 39.7 in France). In Pakistan, nearly 60% of the population is below the age of 30.

It needs to be emphasised that demographic dividend is a potential asset and resource and that it can bear fruit only in a conducive climate involving an expansion of education and professional skills and the availability of employment opportunities.

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