Edition 2 - March 2008
Bruce Sundquist,

Previous Edition: 1-August 2007
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The Muslim world has one of the world's highest rate of population growth if not the highest. This is causing increasing human pressures upon a region of the globe that has suffered from millennia of abuse and degradation. Perhaps for this region, the Muslim world has been involved in more armed conflicts (mainly along the interface between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds) than any other region of the world. (Africa has a similar rate of population growth and a similar number of armed conflicts.) "Islam has bloody borders (93H1)." Examples of sites of armed conflicts include Lebanon, Albania, Bosnia, Sarajevo, Serbia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Russia, Chechnya, Dagestan, the Caucasus, Pakistan, India, Burma, China, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Eritrea/ Ethiopia, Sudan and other northeast African countries, Nigeria, Mauritania, and Algeria. However, before one extrapolates the past into the future, one should examine the changes that are taking place in the Muslim world in terms of falling fertilities, improvements in the status of women, and other evidence suggesting slower rates of population growth in the decades to come. Evidence useful for such an examination is given below. One should also examine the changing religious environment in the Muslim world and seek to determine to what degree the changes in population growth reflect changes in the religious environment. This is done at the end of this document.

High population growth rates in the Muslim world reflect a number of factors. The shortage of financial capital and the degraded state of Middle East lands causes people to use children as a social security system - the only social security system they think they can afford, despite the obvious counter-productivity. The low status of women in religious-fundamentalism-oriented Muslim societies prevents women from obtaining educations and good jobs, narrowing their life-shaping options and increasing their desired family sizes. Many of the more fundamentalist Muslim Mullahs take dim views of such family planning options as tubal ligation and vasectomy if not other forms of contraception. One result: the total fertility rate in India is 3.6 for Muslims, 2.8 for Hindus, and 2.4 for Christians (01U1). So the question arises as to whether it is politically possible to reduce population growth rates in the Muslim world. The tendency of Islamic fundamentalists to favor theocratic governments (e.g. the Taliban and Iran) would suggest that it is not possible. But evidence to the contrary is becoming increasingly easy to find.

The Muslim religion is a faith with no central doctrinal authority analogous to the Vatican. "Fatwahs" (religious edicts) that serve as the "bridge" between the Muslim's principles of their faith and modern life are supposed to be issued by religious scholars who look to the Koran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad for guidance. But this "bridge" is weakening. Now, in Egypt alone, thousands of fatwas are issued every month. Religious and political leaders in the Muslim world are now saying that there is a crisis in Islam because too many fatwas are being issued, and that many of them reflect ideology more than learning. Technically, a fatwah is non-binding, and recipients are free to look elsewhere for a better ruling. There has been an explosion of places offering fatwas, from web sites that respond to written queries, to satellite television shows that take phone calls, to radical and terrorist organizations that set up their own fatwah committees. The relationship between the Koran and fatwas is increasingly a matter of dispute. Some Muslim scholars view the Koran's word and ideas as fixed, with little room for maneuvering. Other scholars see their job as one of reconciling modern life with the text by gently bending the text to fit new circumstances (07S1). This explains the broad range of views on family planning and contraception coming from Islam's Mullahs. As public opinion shifts toward more liberal views on family planning and contraception, fatwas tend to shift accordingly. This is analogous to Catholic laity increasingly ignoring the strict and unchanging Vatican's pronouncements on these same issues. Muslims don't need to be "Cafeteria Muslims." They can just find a Mullah whose fatwas are more to their liking and achieve the same effect, much like Christian Protestants seeking out a Protestant denomination to their liking.
















The Biggest Success Story - Iran:

One additional reason for the Muslim world's declining fertility is economic. A generation ago, 63% of Middle Eastern men in their mid- to late 20s were married. That figure has dropped to nearly 50% across the Middle East, among the lowest rates of marriage in the developing world. In Iran, 38% of the 25- to 29-year-old men are not married, one of the largest pools of unattached males in Iran's history. In Egypt, the average age at which men marry has increased to 31 (08S1). In Egypt and in other countries, like Saudi Arabia, governments help finance mass weddings, because they are concerned about the destabilizing effect of so many men and women who cannot afford to marry (08S1). Marriage in Egypt costs about $6000, 11 times annual household expenditures per capita (08S1). However this problem has spawned a side effect - the young are becoming more religious. Parents are increasingly sending their children to religious schools, and some countries have infused more religious content into their state educational systems. The religious fervor among the young is swelling support for Islam to play a greater role in political life (08S1). In 1986 there was a mosque for every 6031 Egyptians. By 2005 there was one mosque for every 745 people, and the population of Egypt nearly doubled during that interval (08S1). One might think then that this would make Muslim clerics more influential and better able to persuade Muslims to limit their use of contraception.

The reason why this is not happening is probably that it is the more fundamentalist clerics who take dim views of contraception. The more liberal clerics tend to take more positive views. Muslim fundamentalist clerics appear to be losing political power (08T1) despite the growing religious fervor of Muslim youth. In Pakistan, the political parties linked (or at least sympathetic) to the Taliban and al Qaeda won 3% of the vote in 2008, vs. 11% in the last general election a few years earlier. In the recent 2008 Pakistan election, the largest coalition of Islamist parties (the United Assembly for Action - MMA) lost control of the Northwest Frontier Province (the only one of Pakistan's four provinces it governed.) The party that won was the avowed secularist National Awami Party. In Jordan, in the November 2007 election, the Islamic Action Front share of the vote dropped to 5%, vs. 15% in 2003. The fundamentalist group linked with the Islamic Brotherhood movement kept 6 of its 17 seats in the National Assembly. In Malaysia, the Islamists have never gone beyond 11% of the popular vote. In Indonesia, the various Islamist groups have never collected more than 17% of the vote (08T1). In Bangladesh, the Islamist share of the popular vote declined from an all-time high of 11% in the 1980s to 7% in the late 1990s. In Algeria, in the latest general election (May 2007) the two Islamist parties ("Movement for a Peaceful Society" and "Algerian Awakening") won less than 12% of the popular vote. In Lebanon's last general election in 2005, the two Islamist parties Hezbollah ("Party of God") and Amal ("Hope") collected 21% of the popular vote despite massive financial and propaganda support from the Islamic Republic in Iran. In Egypt, in the latest general election in 2005, Muslim Brotherhood candidate collected less than 20% of the popular vote, despite widespread dissatisfaction with President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule. In Tunisia and Libya, Islamists are banned. In Afghanistan, Islamist groups, including former members of the Taliban, have won around 11% of the popular vote in recent years. In Iran, frequent opinion polls show that support for avowed Islamist parties (both Shiite and Sunni) would not win more than 25% of the popular vote (08T1).

In Iran, fundamentalist Muslim Clerics control the government, but they do so only by essentially holding about 70% of the Iranian population at gunpoint, with frequent hangings and jail terms. In Pakistan, the Taliban gain control of local governments only by a combination of military action and terrorism against the more moderate Muslims who traditionally rule (08P1). In Iraq, young Iraqis are getting less religious (08T2) in contrast to the trend among young Muslims elsewhere in the Muslim world. They are mainly coming to hate fundamentalist clerics as they see all the violence, beheadings, etc. that these clerics foment (08T2). Iraq is becoming a showcase of what might happen when Muslim extremists' theories are applied (08T2). Professors are reporting increasing difficulty in recruiting graduate students for religion classes. Attendance at weekly prayers is dropping. Political parties are dropping overt references to religion. Among juvenile detainees in US custody, fewer than 10% claim to be fighting a holy war, vs. 33% of adult detainees (08T2).

It is probably the declining power and influence of fundamentalist Muslim clerics and the increasing power and influence of the more moderate Muslim clerics that is causing the increasingly more positive views toward contraception and family-planning, and hence the declining fertility rates that seems to characterize the modern-day Muslim world.

Reference List

~ 93H1 Samuel Huntington, "Clash of Civilizations," Foreign Affairs, 73 (Summer 1993) p. 22.
~ 99G1 Georgie Ann Geyer, "Population Growth Is the Pivotal Issue in Economic Development", The Salt Lake Tribune (From the UN web site, 6/4/1999).
~ 01U1 United Nations, World Population Prospects: the 2000 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York: United Nations (2001).
~ 02T1 Allison Tarmann, " Iran Achieves Replacement-Level Fertility", Population Today (May/ June 2002).
~ 02U1 Author Unknown, "Iran hits below-replacement fertility", Population Reference Bureau (5/20/2002).
~ 02U2 (Unknown) "Iran: Cutting Edge of Islam", The Times [London] (5/24/2002).
~ 03N1 Gautam Naik, "As Tunisia Wins Population Battle, Others See a Model", Wall Street Journal (8/8/2003).
~ 04U1 (Author unknown), "Niger; Young Population Booms as Family Size Increases", IRIN News (UN) (3/30/2004).
~ 04U1 (Unknown) "U.S.-Backed Iraqi Governing Council Votes Against Women's Rights", Washington Post (1/16/2004).
~ 04U2 (Unknown) "Philippines: Muslim Religious Leaders Support Family Planning", Philippine Daily Inquirer (3/12/2004).
~ 04W1 World Bank, "Doing Business in 2005 Sub-Saharan Africa: Regional Profile." World Bank, Washington, DC (2004)).
~ 05A1 K. Y. Amoako et al, "Economic Report on Africa 2005: Meeting the Challenges of Unemployment and Poverty in Africa," Economic Commission for Africa (September 2005) http://www.uneca.org ecainfo@uneca.org P.O. Box 3001, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
~ 05M3 Valentine Moghadam, Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi, "Reforming Family Laws to Promote Progress in the Middle East and North Africa," Population Reference Bureau (PRB) (December 2005), http://topics.developmentgateway.org/population/rc/ItemDetail.do~1062629?intcmp=700
~ 06A1 Mohamed Ayad and Farzaneh Roudi, "Fertility decline and reproductive health in Morocco: new DHS figures," Washington, DC, Population Reference Bureau (May 2006). (Web site visited 5/22/2006)
~ 07S1 Michael Slackman, "A Quiet Revolution in Algeria: Gains by Women," The New York Times (5/26/2007).
~ 07S2 Anna Sussman, "Yemeni Activists Couple Contraception with Islam," Women's E News (3/13/2007).
~ 08E1 Editorial, "Middle East fertility rates plunge," Middle East Times (1/25/08).
~ 08P1 Public Broadcasting System, Frontline documentary of 3/4/08 or 2/26/08.
~ 08S1Michael Slackman, "Dreams Stifled, Egypt's Young Turn to Islamic Fervor," The New York Times (2/17/08).
~ 08T1 Amir Taheri, "Islam at the Ballot Box," Wall Street Journal (2/21/08) p. A17.
~ 08T2 Sabrina Tavernise, "Violence Leaves Young Iraqis Doubting Clerics," The New York Times (3/4/08).

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