Staunton, April 17 – Because of demographic trends, Muslims are on their way to becoming the dominant group in Russian life sometime within the next generation or so, and they need to begin to think about what that will mean and how they should act in anticipation of that, according to Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov, a Muslim analyst in Moscow.
Mukhametov, an expert advisor at the Council of Muftis of Russia and the editor of several leading Muslim portals, lays out his concerns and his ideas about this development in an article on Ansar.ru entitled “Quantity into Quality: The Muslims of Russia Face the Challenges of Demography and Migration” (http://www.ansar.ru/analytics/2015/04/14/58832).
His article is important because it is a rare example of something that is likely to become more common in the future, Muslim self-confidence about where the Muslims of Russia are heading and a belief that they must think about how best to use their growing share of the population to promote their interests as Muslims and as Russians.
The dramatic change in the share of Muslims in the population of the Russian Federation reflects three trends: the demographic collapse of the Russian nation, the much higher birthrates among Russia’s Muslim nations and in particular the influx of migrant workers from predominantly Muslim countries in Central Asia and the south Caucasus.
Many people, Mukhametov says, have spoken about “the Russian cross,” the combination of a low birthrate, super higher mortality rates among adult males, and the large number of abortions, that has pushed the size of the Russian nation and the overall population of the country down.
At present, the UN estimates that the population of Russia will likely fall to 116 million by 2050. And within that population, the share of Muslims both native born and new immigrants in the population as a whole will rise from over 20 percent now to nearly 50 percent by mid-century.
While the number and share of ethnic Russians has been and will continue to fall, he says, the number and share of Muslims born in Russia will rise. Between 2000 and 2012, for example, the birthrate in the predominantly Muslim republics of the North Caucasus increased by 70 percent, setting the stage for “a baby boom” there in the 2020s.
Immigration will play a key role in the rise of the Muslim community of Russia, Mukhametov says, because about 64 percent of the gastarbeiters now in Russia are from Muslim countries. That share is projected to remain stable, with many of them becoming Russian citizens and having children in the Russian Federation.
As a result of all these factors, Mukhametov says, citing the words of Damir Mukhetdinov, the deputy head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Russian Federation, “mass depopulation, the decline in the share of Russians, the aging of the population, the immigration flows and the demographic successes of the Muslim people … mean that in the near term the role of Islam in Russian social and spiritual activity will essentially grow.”
Some analysts try to minimize this shift by suggesting that many people from Muslim nations are “ethnic” Muslims, people whose culture may have been shaped by Islam but who themselves are not believers. To a certain extent, that is true, Mukhametov says, but people in Muslim cultures are more attached to their faith than many in other cultures are to theirs.
Moreover, there is another phenomenon already seen in Europe that will be true in Russia as well: “Muslim immigrants are not assimilated finally. At the very least, in the second and third generations is observed a burst of interest in their identity and its awakening,” on that is “not so much ethnic as religious.”
But it is not just that the Muslim community of Russia is becoming larger: it is becoming internally different. Immigrants are dominating the parishes in many Russian cities, and there are many unresolved tensions between Muslim gastarbeiters and longtime Muslim residents in Russia. Indeed, some of the latter even oppose immigration.
Russia’s Muslims must work far hard than they have to integrate Muslim gastarbeiters into the Russian umma and Russian society if they are to consolidate the quantitative growth in the number of Muslims and ensure that it becomes a “qualitative” one that will allow for real progress and influence, Mukhametov says.