A world full of Muslims?

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A distant Indian friend seems to spend much of his time scouring world media for all things Islamophobic. He shares the insight thoughtfully with people like yours truly often with his own commentary in big, bold type. His mails often begin with ‘Mad Muslims did this… or that.’ He often trolls me and my types on Twitter, imploring us to “open our eyes” and “go get a life.”

I do not mind the ‘intellectual engagement’ although his ‘love’ of all things Muslim gets a tad overwhelming at times. 

A global study by the Pew Research Center this week suggesting Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and that by 2050 India could overtake Indonesia as the country with the largest number of Muslims got my friend and his ideological kin predictably excited. Already obsessing over the bogey of an ‘alarming rise’ in Muslim population in India, the findings couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time for the Parivar. By the way, if it is any consolation, before India, it is Pakistan which is set to beat Indonesia as the nation with the largest Muslim population in the next 15 years. And if the Pew study is to be believed, this could be the global pattern of population growth in the next few decades. 

 “Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion,” notes the study titled, ‘The Future of World Religions: Population Growth and Projections 2010-2050.’

It suggests that by 2050 there will be near parity between Christians and Muslims (2.9 billion and 2.8 billion respectively), possibly for the first time in world history. And if the trend continues, Islam will emerge ahead of Christianity as the most popular faith in the world by CE 2070. But Hindu friends can take heart from the fact that the Hindu rate of growth will also continue apace with Hinduism emerging as the third largest faith in the world. However, while India will remain a predominantly Hindu majority country, it will also be home to the world’s largest Muslim population, which will grow only marginally, from 15 to 17 percent. 

The Hindu population is projected to rise by 34 percent worldwide, from a little over 1 billion to nearly 1.4 billion by 2050. Interestingly, the next four decades will also see Europe’s Muslim population — Islam is already the fastest growing faith on the continent — nearly double its demographic share, jumping from the present 43 million to 71 million or 10 percent of the white, Caucasian, Christian population. These are fascinating findings and may have quietly lifted the spirits of the easily excitable faithful at a time when there’s so little to celebrate. A mere increase in numbers does not necessarily promise a rosier future and a greater say and share in global affairs and resources though. 

The Pew study must have also been greeted with a groan by many around the world at a time when Muslims aren’t exactly the most popular people around. A world with more “mad Muslims,” as my friend often describes us, may seem like the ultimate nightmare to the rest of the world.

But given the endless shenanigans of IS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Shabab, Taleban and our other benefactors, can you really blame the world if mere mention of Islam and Muslims sets off alarm bells everywhere? Islam is supposed to have come as a blessing and bearer of glad tidings to all of mankind. Muslims believe that Qur’an is the Last Word of God that must be shared with and become the collective legacy of humanity. According to the Book, the Last Prophet (peace be upon him) was sent as ‘Rahmat Al-Alameen,’ a mercy for the whole world. It was Islam’s universal message of peace and oneness of humanity that within a short span of 23 years united the perpetually sparring, cacophonous tribes of Arabia into a force for peace and good and conquered the world.

Yet some lunatics are hell-bent upon painting this liberating, all-embracing faith as a rigid, rabid cult of hate and death. Not a day passes without some shameful atrocity and abomination being carried out in its blessed name. Indeed, the extremists have spawned a whole new ecology of violence and indifference. And the world has gotten so used to these frequent acts of horror and shame that they no longer provoke a strong, popular response.

While the majority of Muslims silently hang their heads in collective shame, many of them simply shut out the obscene reality that these extremists have come to represent. As a consequence, whether one likes it or not, it is the fringe that is increasingly being perceived as representing and speaking for Islam and Muslims.

The Economist magazine, often speaking for the Western intellectual establishment, has concluded that “liberal Islam” has already lost the battle, if not the war, to manic extremists like IS. Which is, to put it mildly, a dangerously flawed and limited view of the complex reality of the Islamic world. Notwithstanding all the havoc that groups like Al-Qaeda and Isis have wreaked in the past few years in the name of Islam and its followers, they remain a very tiny, little fringe.

Despite all their claims and protestations to the contrary, the extremists do not represent or speak for even a fraction of the vast and diverse population of nearly two billion people. Besides, all said and done, much of the violence and destruction unleashed by the extremists, despicable and deplorable as it is, is spawned by a combination of factors including historical injustices and political and economic dispossession. Look at the rise of the so-called Islamic State, for instance.

As President Barack Obama acknowledged recently, it is the US invasion of Iraq and the fine mess that the ‘coalition of the willing’ subsequently made of a proud, prosperous country that gave birth to IS.

A report in the UK’s Independent this week offers eye-opening insight into how former Baathists and generals of Iraq’s disbanded army helped in spawning the phenomenon called IS. Indeed, they are said to be largely running the Isis show, (which perhaps explains the spine-chilling killings and casual brutality, characteristic of the former Baathist regime). Indeed, if the whole of the Muslim world, from Africa to Afghanistan, is in freefall today, much of the credit goes to the self-serving, shortsighted interventionist policies of world powers. Yemen, in the frontline of the US ‘war on terror’ for the past many years, is the latest victim.

That said, Muslims cannot afford to content themselves by blaming the West for this mess. No matter who sowed the seeds of strife and no matter who started the fire, they must do all the firefighting. For it is their house that is on fire. Muslims must speak out more often and more forcefully for reason, tolerance and peace and against the growing extremist attempts to appropriate, taint and distort the universal teachings and message of their faith. What is the point of swelling Muslim ranks if they remain afflicted by perpetual strife and violence? What’s the point of our growing numbers if we do not contribute to the progress and wellbeing of humanity at large?

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