A recent article by the Pew Research Center highlights five important facts about Europe’s Muslim population in light of the recent Islamist attacks in France and anti-Islamist protest marches in Germany. The data reveals that Europe is becoming more and more Muslim.
Though the greatest sufferers of Islamist violence continue to be the populations of Iraq and Syria under siege by the Islamic State, along with Nigeria facing the virtually unchecked onslaught of Boko Haram, Europe has its own causes for concern. The Muslim population in many European nations has been growing steadily, leading some countries, such as Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands, to call for restrictions on immigration.
Recent Islamist violence in Paris has brought Europe’s concerns to the fore, but it represents only the tip of the iceberg. On Thursday, Belgian counterterrorism police interrupted another jihadist terrorist plot, killing two suspected Islamist militants and severely wounding a third, and additional raids were carried out in the capital, Brussels. Similar anti-terrorist operations are being carried out throughout Europe, and counterterrorism officials are warning that their top security threat is the risk of attacks by their own citizens.
Fact no. 1: Europe’s largest Muslim populations are in Germany and France, followed by the UK and Italy.
According to the most recent available statistics, both Germany and France have Muslim populations around 5 million, which represents about six percent of Germany’s population and 7.5% of France’s. Going beyond the borders of the European Union, Russia’s population of 14 million Muslims is the largest on the continent.
The anti-Islamist PEGIDA movement, which stands for “Patriotic Europeans against Islamization of the West,” rallied a record 25,000 supporters in Dresden on Monday, and there are to be more PEGIDA marches in Cologne. Though Chancellor Angela Merkel has dismissed PEGIDA as a movement followed by those with “hatred in their hearts,” other European countries are following Germany’s lead; PEGIDA chapters have been founded in Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Spain, and the UK.
Fact no. 2: Europe’s total population is becoming increasingly Muslim.
The Muslim share of Europe’s population has grown about 1 percentage point a decade for the last 25 years, moving from 4% in 1990 to 6% in 2010. The number of Muslims in Europe has grown from 29.6 million in 1990 to 44.1 million in 2010.
Europe’s Muslim population is expected to exceed 58 million by 2030. While Muslims today account for about 6% of Europe’s total population, by 2030, Muslims are expected to make up 8% of Europe’s population, or double what it was in 1990.
Percentagewise, the European Union’s most Muslim country is Cyprus, at more than a quarter of the total population (25.3%), followed by Bulgaria at 13.7% of the population. The country with the highest projected growth of its Muslim population is the United Kingdom, expected to have a Muslim population of 5.5 million by 2030.
Fact no. 3: Muslims are younger than other Europeans.
Data for 2010 reveals that the average age of Muslims in Europe was 32, while the median age of Europeans generally was 40, an eight-year gap. The median age of Christians in Europe was ten years higher than that of Muslims, or 42.
The age gap also affects population increase. Muslims’ fertility rates are generally higher than those of non-Muslims in Europe, which along with immigration helps explain why the Muslim population of Europe is projected to rise, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population.
The Pew Study analyzed current trends in the 25 European countries for which data are available and found that Muslim women today will have an average of 2.2 children each, compared with an estimated average of 1.5 children each for non-Muslim women in Europe.
Fact no. 4: European countries vary widely in their views of Muslims.
Majorities in Germany, France, and the UK have generally favorable views of Muslims, according to a Pew Research survey conducted last spring. More than half the population in Italy, Greece, and Poland expressed negative views of Muslims, while in Spain opinion was roughly divided.
Among EU countries, the Italian population is the most critical of Muslims, with 63% expressing an unfavorable view and only 28% voicing a favorable opinion.
Views about Muslims are tied both to age and to where one stands on the political spectrum, with youth and those on the left being generally more favorable to Muslims. In Spain, just over half of those age 50 and older view Muslims unfavorably, while only a third of people under age 30 say the same. While 47% of Germans on the political right see Muslims unfavorably, just 20% on the left do so.
Fact no. 5: The European Union is home to some 13 million Muslim immigrants.
As of 2010, an estimated 13 million Muslim immigrants (27% of the foreign-born population) live in the 27 countries of the European Union. When internal migration within the European Union is excluded, the percentage of Muslim immigrants among the foreign-born population rises to 39%.
The immigrant Muslim population in Germany is primarily from Turkey, whereas the roughly 3 million foreign-born Muslims in France are largely from France’s former colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.