Vienna, May 10 – Almost half of Europe’s Muslims – 25 million out of 53 million – live in the Russian Federation, a number and a share that are likely to increase in the future if projections for immigration from Central Asia and the Caucasus over the next several decades turn out to be true.
On Monday, Germany’s Central Institute of Islamic Archives published data on the number of Muslims living in European countries (http://www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=13439&print=1). It said there are now more than 53 million Muslims living in Europe, of whom 16 million live in the European Union.
Among EU countries, France has the largest Muslim community, some 5.5 million strong. It is followed by Germany with 3.3 million Muslims, and Great Britain that has 1.5 million. But the largest Muslim community, some 25 million strong, is in the Russian Federation.
Although the German center stressed that there are almost five times as many Muslims in the Russian Federation as in France, it did not point out a fundamental difference between the Muslim communities of the European Union countries and the one in the Russian Federation.
Virtually all the Muslims in the EU are recent immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa or South Asia and identify themselves as Muslims because they view themselves as Islamic communities and fulfill many if not all of the strictures of their faith.
The 25 million Muslims in the Russian Federation, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly (more than 80 percent) members of indigenous but historically Muslim ethnic communities.. And consequently, many listed as Muslims there are in fact “ethnic Muslims” – that is, members of these nations, not practitioners of the faith.
But on Tuesday, Moscow’s “Vedomosti” reported an increasing flow of immigrants into the Russian Federation from Central Asia and the Caucasus, whose “ethnic Muslims” are more often active believers, could change that dramatically in the next 20 years (http://www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article.shtml?2007/05/08/125472).
According to the newspaper, the Russian government and the Russian people face a kind of Hobson’s choice: If Moscow decided to limit immigration to 250,000 people a year, the demographic decline of the Russian nation will mean that the country’s population will fall some 11.5 million people to 128.7 million in 2026.
But if the Russian authorities do not limit immigration, then the population of the country will be 10.4 million more than now but each fifth resident of the country will be an immigrant, most of whom members of Muslim nations from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
According to projections prepared under the direction of the rector of the Russian Economic School, Sergei Guriyev, without limitations on immigration, the number of immigrants from all CIS countries in the Russian Federation will rise from 5.3 percent of the population in 2002 to 18 percent in 2025.
The number of those coming from Uzbekistan, most of whom will be Muslims, will jump 52 times to 5.77 million over that period, Guriyev’s projections suggested, while the number of Ukrainians, a nation less religiously and culturally distinct from the Russians, arriving will increase only 1.5 times to 4.3 million over the same period.
If these projections prove to be true, Russia’s Muslims will become more numerous – a trend that will be accelerated by their higher birthrates -- and likely become more religious as well. And such a development could heighten tensions between Russia’s Muslims and the rest of Russian society much as it has in France and the EU.