This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Demographics of Moderate Islam in India

The Economist has a very interesting online piece asking "Why are India's Muslims so moderate"? The answer lies at least partially in demographics and is generally unsettling. Keep in mind that the answer to the question is an important one because the 180 million Muslims in India represent the second largest national group--after Indonesia. No Muslim majority country except Indonesia has more Muslims than does Hindu-majority India. So, what's going on? According to the Economist there are three key elements: (1) low levels of migration to Gulf states where hard-line Islam seems to be most intensively taught; (2) low levels of literacy and high levels of poverty that prevent the widespread use of social media, thus insulating the population from many inflammatory messages; and (3) the lively democracy in India that offers civic engagement to the average Muslim that is not available in most Muslim-majority countries.

The migration variable is particularly interesting because the right-wing fundamentalist Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam gained strength in Saudi Arabia in the late 19th century and has had an increasingly strong influence on Muslim attitudes as oil money as vastly extended the reach of Saudi thinking. Note that the migration referred to is largely economic (cheap labor) rather religious pilgrimages to Mecca. The article notes that a much larger fraction of Pakistanis migrate to the Gulf than do Indians and that helps to explain at least some of the difference in the more hardline attitude of Pakistanis compared to  those living in India. However, both of the demographic influences on moderation are vulnerable to change:
Rising literacy, an ever-more urban population and growing wealth and information may yet encourage more extremist factions to emerge. Large migration flows to the Gulf might yet help to bring back more conservative Islamic beliefs and funds for Wahhabi mosques and madrassas. Similarly, if Hindu nationalists in power were to grow heavy-handed, a backlash and a rise in extremism are easy to imagine. The stability in India is a remarkable achievement. With luck, zealots and murderers such as al-Zawahiri will therefore fail in their desperate ambitions. But preserving stability will be a task for everyone.

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