Findings on Growth of Muslims Cause Stir in France, Where Official Statistics Ignore Religious Affiliation

By Fayçal Benhassain | December 7, 2017 | 12:26 AM EST

A new study estimates Europe’s Muslim population growth by mid-century. (Photo: OIC)

Paris ( – A recent Pew Research Center study finding that Europe’s Muslim population could double by 2050 has stoked some controversy in France, where statistics based on religion are frowned upon.

The projections found that, even without taking migration into account, Muslim populations will increase in number almost everywhere in Europe by the middle of the century.

In mid-2016, there were 26 million Muslims living in Europe, although asylum-seekers are not take into account since they may never get permission to live here.

Pew found that, in a “high migration scenario,” Muslims in France could number 13.2 million, or 18 percent of the French population, by 2050 – up from an estimated 5.7 million, or 8.8 percent of the French population, today.

France could have the largest proportion of Muslims in Europe, apart from Cyprus, which has a high Muslim share (25.4%) due to the historical presence of Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island.

Germany today has 5 million Muslims, or 6.1 percent of the population, but that could grow to 8.5 percent as a result of migration.

The study found that of all migrants to Europe between mid-2010 and mid-2016 – including refugees – 53 percent were Muslims.

Across the European Union’s 28 member-states, the Muslim community comprises 4.9 percent of the population in 2016. Pew found that Muslims could reach between 7.4 (“zero migration scenario”) and 14 percent within thirty years.

The researchers attributed this mostly to the fact Muslim populations are on average 13 years younger than non-Muslim European populations, and also have higher birthrates.

Some critics of the study, commenting in media outlets or on social media, said the term “Muslim” was used broadly and did not take into account whether individuals were practicing or not. They also stressed that the figures were estimates.

The Pew study was based on census and survey data, population registers, immigration data and other sources.

“Our intention is to provide accurate data, and fantasies about the Muslim population in Europe are often based on questionable methodologies and poorly documented sources,” said one of the authors of the study, Conrad Hackett.

“Some countries are reluctant to measure religion,” he noted, “for example France has not conducted a national religious census since 1872.”

France does not allow to publish figures by religion or ethnicity, believing that doing so could cause alarm. All French governments worry that “ethnic identity” can become a factor in discrimination.

That is why France has a law dating back to 1978, known as the “Data Protection Act,” prohibiting the collection and recording of information showing, directly or indirectly, the racial or ethnic origins and religious affiliation of individuals.

So in France, statistics are based on nationality, with racial origin not mentioned in official statistics.

“I think many French people, especially on the left, and the authorities don’t want to make Muslims the subject of fear as invaders and threatening the make-up of European societies,” said Abdeslam Maghraoui, a political scientist and expert in Islam at Duke University in North Carolina.

“I agree with their cautious approach because it will feed right wing extremism and Islamophobia, which is already on the rise,” he added.

The wave of Muslim migration in recent years has prompted debate about immigration and security policies in numerous countries, raising questions about the current and future numbers of Muslims in Europe.

Patrick Simon, researcher at the National Demographic Institute in Paris, said the Pew figures were not astonishing, telling French TV that the study authors were “counting on the fact that the Muslim populations living in Europe today will have more children than the European populations.”


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