By Izeth Hussain –
Sri Lankan Muslims at the cross roads – XVII – Muslim Population Problem (continued)
The statistical table given above can be interpreted in more than one way. Between 1981 and 2012 the Buddhist population increased from 69.30% to 70.19%, the Hindu population decreased from 15.48% to 12.61%, the Muslim population increased from 7.56% to 9.71%, the Christian population decreased from 7.62% to 7.45%. The Muslim population increased therefore by more than double the percentage increase of the Buddhist population. The magnitude of that increase can be better appreciated if it is seen in absolute numbers. From 1981 to 2012 the Buddhist population went up from 10,288,300 to 14,222,844 while the Muslims went up from 1,121,700 to 1,967,227.
A reader argues the following case, using a different set of statistics for the period 1981 to 2011.Muslim population increased from 1,046,900 (7.o5%) to 1,869,820 (9.23%), an over-all increase of 822,920 (78.60%).During the same period the over-all increase of the island’s population was from 14,846,800 to 20,263,723, that is an increase by 5,416,923(36.48%). Therefore the population increase of the Muslims by 78.60% is double that of the national average increase by 36.48%.
That, on the face of it, establishes beyond dispute that by an ineluctable process Sri Lanka will become a predominantly Muslim country by 2050. I have not been able to access on the internet the BBS’ views on Muslim population increase, but very probably the details in the preceding paragraph gives the essence of the BBS case. It fits in nicely with the Islamophobic nightmare that before long Islam will become the predominant religion not only in Sri Lanka but in the world and Islamic power will hold sway over the globe.
In exposing the Islamophobia behind the above argument, we must first of all ask the following question: why is it that when population statistics are available for a hundred and thirty years, that is since 1881, the focus has been on the period 1981 to 2012? After all, we all know that after 1983 there was a thirty year war during which the normal processes of population growth would be disrupted, for which reason it would be absurd to extrapolate into the future as secular trends abnormal developments of the war period. For instance, the Tamil population growth rate dropped during that period obviously because of the huge number of Tamil deaths during the war and even more because of mass migration. It would be absurd to extrapolate from that a continuing drop in the growth rate of the Tamil population. In the case of the Muslims, it seems obvious that that period was chosen because it showed something thoroughly abnormal – whatever may be the reason – in the growth rate of the Muslim population: a 2% leap forward that enabled the argument that the Muslim population increase by 78.60% is double that of the national average of 36.48%.
It can be shown in the perspective of population statistics since 1881 that that Muslim 2% leap forward was something thoroughly abnormal. Between 1881 and 1981 the Muslim population was virtually static: 7.17% in 1881 and 7.56% in 1981. On the other hand the Buddhist population increased from 61. 53% in 1881 to 69.30% in 1981. In a hundred years therefore the Muslim population increased marginally by 0.39%, which in absolute numbers amounts to 0.924 million while the Buddhist population increased by 7.7% which in absolute terms amounts to 8.59 millions. In this perspective the expectation that the Muslims will become the dominant majority by 2050 is preposterous.
But we have to account for that Muslim 2% leap forward. I have made many enquiries and find that while several possible reasons are mentioned no one is certain about a definitive explanation. It would therefore be idle to speculate on the possible reasons at this point. However I sought the views of a professional demographer who has not been forthcoming with a definitive explanation but is quite certain that it does not represent a trend of Muslim population increase for the future. His expectation is that in the long term the Muslims will amount to 10% of the population, the Sinhalese to 70%, and the total population will stabilize around 23 million.
I will now set out the reasons why I think the 2% leap forward to which I have referred above has to be regarded as an aberration, and why I think that the future Muslim population increase would be along the lines indicated by the statistics from 1881 to 1981. First of all, we must get rid of the widespread notion that Islam is against birth control. I see that a Tamil doctor with a background of expertise in demography shares this notion. The truth is that Islam, like the other great world religions, can be interpreted in varied ways, and I daresay that some or many Muslims will hold that Islam forbids birth control. The book Le rendez-vous des civilisations by Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd – the former a demographer and the latter a political scientist who was trained as a demographer – declares that in comparison with Christianity “Islam is more tolerant towards pleasure and certain forms of contraception, the practice of which can effectively lower the birth-rate. The azl, or coitus interruptus, was accepted by Mohammed and, by extension, Islam tolerates all the other forms of contraception”.
But what really matters is practice, not precept. I grew up in a traditional Muslim household and underwent training in Islam by a series of lebbes who never told me anything either for or against birth control, which consequently never figured in my consciousness. Muslims of those days – the ‘thirties I mean – had huge families usually numbering well over five, but the number went down during the ‘forties and in recent decades the average Muslim family would have two to four children, the same as Sinhalese and Tamil families. I believe that after the demographic transition to smaller families takes place, the average of the number of children does not go up again, most certainly not to the huge extent of the Muslim population increase from 1881 to 2012. As I said earlier that increase has to be investigated. What we have to expect therefore is Muslim population increase according to the norms established during the hundred year period from 1881 to 1981. The expectation that Sri Lanka will become a Muslim majority country by 2050 is no more than an expression of racist Islamophobia.
It has to be expected also that our Muslim population, in accordance with international norms, will not keep on increasing indefinitely. Courbage and Todd in their book, published in 2007, state that when they were students the populations of the third world seemed to be engaged in a process of indefinite and uncontrollable increase, engendered by declining mortality and high birth rates. The vicious cycle of population increase and economic stagnation was one of the givens in social studies of that time. But since then, during the last thirty years, they have seen a control of fecundity taking place in all the continents and almost in every country, including the Muslim ones. They write, “Henceforth the rate of fecundity in Iran and Tunisia will be the same as in France”. Their book focuses on the demography of the Islamic world and provides a mass of statistics that explode sky-high the Islamophobic notion that the Muslims will before long come to dominate the world numerically.
*To be continued