(April 2013) Muslims account for around one-fifth of the world’s population—or about 1.6 billion people. They represent the majority population in about 50 countries and territories clustered in Asia and Africa (see Table 1).1 Muslims are diverse, varying by race, language, and the degree of their religious conservatism. Some Muslims live in countries where the government is influenced or ruled by Islamic law (such as Saudi Arabia and Iran), while others live in countries with secular governments (such as Tunisia and Bangladesh).
Countries With More Than 50 Percent Muslim Population
|90% or More||Algeria||Afghanistan||Kosovo|
|70% – 89%||Guinea||Bahrain||Albania|
|United Arab Emirates|
|50% – 69%||Burkina Faso||Brunei|
Notes: Palestine includes the Arab Population of Gaza and the West Bank. The populations of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates include non-nationals living in these countries.
Source: Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life, The Future of the Global Muslim Population, Projections for 2010-2030 (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2011).
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country—212 million of its 241 million people (88 percent). India’s 184 million Muslims represent almost 15 percent of the country’s population. In Europe, Kosovo and Albania are the only two Muslim-majority countries. France has the largest Muslim population in western Europe (8 percent). Muslims are almost 5 percent of the United Kingdom’s population and less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. About 18 percent of Israel’s population is Muslim.
It is often stated that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world—a statement that may well be true because of the pace of the demographic transition in the Muslim-majority countries relative to the rest of the world. The process of demographic transition has three stages:
- In the first stage, both mortality and fertility rates are high, and as a result population growth is low.
- In the second stage, mortality declines and fertility decreases later, with a time lag resulting in rapid population growth.
- In the third and last stage of the transition, both mortality and fertility levels are low, and once again population growth is low.
Putting the population growth of Muslim-majority countries in a global perspective, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the largest concentration of countries with populations that are more than 90 percent Muslim. The region experienced rapid mortality decline during the second half of the 20th century, while fertility remained relatively high. As a result, between 1950 and 2000, the MENA region experienced the fastest population growth among the world’s major regions. MENA’s population growth reached a peak of 3 percent per year around 1980, while the growth rate for the world reached its peak of 2 percent annual growth more than a decade earlier.2
Today, Iran, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Turkey (all in the MENA region) have completed their demographic transition, reaching total fertility rates (TFR, the average number of children per woman) at or below 2.1 children per woman (“replacement level”). Indonesia and Morocco are almost there as well. But because of past high fertility rates, these countries have a “young” age structure, and their populations will continue to grow. For example, between 2012 and 2050, Iran’s population is expected to grow from 79 million to 100 million and Indonesia’s from 241 million to more than 300 million. In each case, the population will grow by around 25 percent.
The speed of population growth will be faster in countries that are in the early or middle stage of their demographic transition, most notably for those countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Niger’s TFR of 7.1 will cause a tripling of the population to 54 million by 2050. Similarly, Mali’s TFR of 6.3 will expand its population from 16 million in 2012 to 45 million in 2050. The population of Nigeria—Africa’s most-populated country—is expected to more than double by 2050, reaching more than 400 million. Today, almost half (48 percent) of Nigeria’s population is Muslim, according to estimates from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, but in a couple of decades Muslims are expected to become a majority there as well. Table 2 shows two important demographic transition indicators, life expectancy at birth and TFR, for countries that are home to the 10-largest Muslim populations.
The 10 Largest Muslim Populations
|Country||Muslim Population, mid-2012 (millions, est.)||Total Population, mid-2012 (millions)||% Muslim, 2010||Life Expectancy at Birth, Both Sexes (years)||TFR (births per woman)|
Sources: Muslim population (estimates) and percent Muslim come from Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, The Future of the Global Muslim Population. Projections for 2010-2030 (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2011); total population, life expectancy at birth, and total fertility rate come from Population Reference Bureau, 2012 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2012).
It is difficult to predict the pace of a country’s demographic transition. Iran surprised the world when its TFR dropped from 5.6 in 1985 to 2.0 in 2000—the fastest decline ever recorded.3 On the other hand, fertility declines were underway in Egypt and Jordan, but are stalled now; Egypt’s TFR is 2.9 and Jordan’s 3.8, still far from replacement level.
During the demographic transition, countries experience transformations of their age structure and face a phenomenon known as the “youth bulge”—when youth constitute a significant portion of the population that maintains the momentum for population growth. Today, almost a third of Egypt’s and Pakistan’s populations are between the ages of 15 and 29.
Considering where most Muslim-majority countries are in their demographic transition—most Muslim-majority countries (plus Nigeria) still have fertility rates above the world average of 2.4 children per woman. Islam may indeed remain the fastest-growing religion in the world for the foreseeable future.
Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi is program director, Middle East and North Africa Program, at the Population Reference Bureau. John F. May is a PRB Visiting Scholar. Allyson C. Lynch is a PRB intern.
- Carl Haub and Toshiko Kaneda, 2012 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2012); UN Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision (New York: UN Population Division, 2011); and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, The Future of the Global Muslim Population, Projections for 2010-2030 (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2011). See also Hans Groth and Alfonso Sousa-Poza, eds., Population Dynamics in Muslim Countries: Assembling the Jigsaw (New York: Springer, 2012).
- Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi, Population Trends and Challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2001).
- Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi, Iran’s Family Planning Program: Responding to a Nation’s Needs (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2002).