The stabbing murder on Oct. 10 of an ethnic Russian, Yegor Shcherbakov, 25, apparently by a Muslim from Azerbaijan, led to anti-migrant disturbances in Moscow, vandalism and assaults, the arrest of 1,200, and brought a major tension in Russian life to the fore.
A memorial to Yegor Shcherbakov.
Not only do ethnic Muslims account for 21-23 million of Russia's total population of 144 million, or 15 percent, but their proportion is fast growing. Alcoholism-plagued ethnic Russians are said to have European birth rates and African death rates, with the former just 1.4 per woman and the latter 60 years for men. In Moscow, ethnic Christian women have 1.1 child.
In contrast, Muslim women bear 2.3 children on average and have fewer abortions than their Russian counterparts. In Moscow, Tatar women have 6 children and Chechen and Ingush women have 10. In addition, some 3-4 million Muslims have moved to Russia from ex-republics of the U.S.S.R., mainly from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan; and some ethnic Russians are converting to Islam.
These trends point to Christians declining in numbers by 0.6 percent a year and Muslims increasing by that same amount, which will have dramatic effects over time. Some analysts foresee Muslims becoming a majority in the twenty-first century – a demographic revolution that would fundamentally change the country's character. Paul Goble, an expert on Russian minorities, concludes that "Russia is going through a religious transformation that will be of even greater consequence for the international community than the collapse of the Soviet Union." A Russian commentator he quotes envisions a mosque on Red Square in Moscow. The facile assumption that Moscow is and will remain Western-oriented "is no longer valid," he argues. In particular, he predicts that the Muslim demographic surge "will have a profound impact on Russian foreign policy."
Eid al-Fitr prayers in Moscow on Oct. 15, demonstrating the Muslim numbers and solidarity in that city.
Within a few years, Muslims will make up half the conscripts in the Russian army. Joseph A. D'Agostino of the Population Research Institute asks: "Will such a military operate effectively given the fury that many domestic Muslims feel toward the Russian military's tactics in the Muslim region of Chechnya? What if other Muslim regions of Russia—some of which contain huge oil reserves—rebel against Moscow? Will Muslim soldiers fight and kill to keep them part of the Russian motherland?"
Russia's increasingly confident Muslims, who constitute a majority of 57 out of the country's 182 ethnic groups, have started to use the term Muslim Russia to signal their ambitions. According to Muslim analyst Daniyal Isayev, this term affirms that Islam is "an inalienable part of Russia" and that "Russia as a state and civilization could not exist without Islam and the Muslims." He notes that Muslims preceded ethnic Russians in much of the territory that is now Russia. His sweeping claims for Muslims include the exaggerations that they made critical contributions to Russia's culture and its military victories.
Such talk causes ethnic Russians to shudder about the country's population loss of at least 700,000 people a year, return to their faith, and turn against Muslims. The results include biased media portrayals, attacks on mosques and other crimes, efforts to block Muslim immigration, and the rise of extreme Russian nationalist groups such as Alexander Belov's "Movement against Illegal Immigration."
Ethnic Russians yelling "Russia for the Russians" at an anti-migrant riot following the murder of Yegor Shcherbakov.
The Kremlin has responded to the issue in contradictory ways. Then-president Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 tried appeasement by stressing the importance of Islam to Russia, noting that "Muslim foundations are making an important contribution to promoting peace in society, providing spiritual and moral education for many people, as well as fighting extremism and xenophobia." He also announced that, due to its large Muslim population, "Russia does not need to seek friendship with the Muslim world: Our country is an organic part of this world."
But, as Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council points out, "the Kremlin has discriminated against its Muslim minority and ignored (even abetted) the rise of corrosive xenophobia among its citizens. This has bred resentment and alienation among Russia's Muslims – sentiments that radical Islamic groups have been all too eager to exploit." Added to existing Islamic supremacist attitudes, this results in an increasingly restive Muslim minority.
Illustration by Alexander Hunter for The Washington Times.
Discussions of Islam in Europe tend to focus on places like Britain and Sweden but Russia, the country with the largest Muslim community in both relative and absolute terms, is above all the place to watch. The anti-migrant violence this week will surely be followed by much worse problems.
Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2013 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.
Oct. 21, 2013 addendum: Quotes from the underlying articles providing most of the facts in the above analysis can be found at my blog "Predicting a Majority-Muslim Russia."
Oct. 23, 2013 update: Mark Adomanis, a specialist in Russian economics and demographics, replies to this article at Forbes today under the title "Is Russia Turning Muslim?" He quotes parts of the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs above and comments:
I won't get too spun up about it but the numbers seemed off to me, particularly the suggestion that any sizable group of people living in Moscow averages 10 children a women. That level of fertility would be superhuman in even the most rural location, but in Moscow it strains credulity past the breaking point. Moscow, after all, is one of the most expensive and crowded cities in the world: I simply can't imagine the sorts of resources you would need in order to raise 10 children there.
Curious as to where Pipes got his numbers, I set out to try and see what the variation between ethnic Russian and Muslim birth rates actually is. Now as far as I am aware Rosstat, the Russian statistical agency, doesn't publish any ethnically-based fertility or mortality statistics. I've spent an awful lot of time over the past few years looking through Rosstat databases, and I don't think I've ever seen data on the birth or death rates of a particular ethnic group.
I wish Adomanis' curiosity had either prompted him to check the links I provided in the article or the blog underlying it, or inspired him to contact me for the source of my numbers.
Here is that source: an article by Michael Mainville titled "Russia has a Muslim dilemma; Ethnic Russians hostile to Muslims / Followers of Islam say they have been citizens a long time" in the San Francisco Chronicle dated Nov. 19, 2006. The relevant part relies on the work of Paul Goble, an expert on Islam in Russia and a research associate at the University of Tartu in Estonia:
The country's 2002 census shows that the national fertility rate is 1.5 children per woman, far below the 2.1 children per woman needed to maintain the country's population of about 143 million. The rate in Moscow is even lower, at 1.1 children per woman.
But Russia's Muslims are bucking that trend. The fertility rate for Tatars living in Moscow, for example, is six children per woman, Goble said, while the Chechen and Ingush communities are averaging 10 children per woman.
Oct. 28, 2013 update: Voice of Russia radio discussed the above article, and especially the 21-23 million Muslim population figure, with Dmitry Babich, described as a political analyst, who responded by calling it "just one more piece of misleading information from a Western expert. ... This is just the same kind of boloney that we read about Putin trying to reestablish the Soviet Union or Saakashvili being a great reformer or other fantasy stories from the Western media about Russia."
(1) The interview is published under the headline "Western experts continue to view Russia negatively instead of being worried about Muslim extremism – expert." But I am not looking at Russia negatively, just noting a problem.
(2) Ignoring that problem is in no one's interests.
(3) The statistics in my article are not my own but derived from a variety of authorities. Disagreeing with my article means arguing with them, not me, a point I made specifically above concerning the information from Paul Goble.
July 9, 2015 update: There is some good news in Russian demography; fertility rates rose from 1.3 children per woman in 2006 to 1.7 children per woman in 2012. But that is a long way from replacement.