Friday, October 26, 2007

Islam: The 'Fastest-Growing' Religion?

Relative Proportion of Christianity to Islam?
(Image from Wikipedia)

We hear a lot about Islam being "the fastest-growing religion," but fastest in what sense is usually left unsaid. Islam cannot be the fastest growing in terms of percentage if compared to all religions, for some new religion with a handful of adherents might be growing by 1000 percent annually if it starts with the founder and increases in one year to 10 persons.

Indeed, I could start a new religion myself, and the growth from 0 to 1 would be statistically off the charts for the first year . . . though the growth for its second year would likely level off to, oh, about none at all.

Anyway, I think that the statement about Islam's increase can only be correct if the major world religions are being compared. But even so, does "fastest-growing" refer to percentage or to absolute numbers? And does the growth come from population expansion or from conversion?

I get all sorts of mailings in my online quest to know everything, and the following information from J. Dudley Woodberry, Russell G. Shubin, and G. Marks came just yesterday via Christianity Today:
In fact, and perhaps counterintuitively, the number of new Christians each year outstrips the number of new Muslims, even though the annual growth rate is higher for Muslims (1.81 percent) than for Christians (1.23 percent). Over the last century, Christians have grown at a slower rate than have Muslims, with Muslims increasing from 12 percent to 21 percent of the global population during that time. But this is hardly surprising. Christianity has more total followers than Islam. More people need to become Christians annually simply to remain at roughly a third of the world population. Muslims are increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and among African Americans by conversion, but elsewhere the growth is mostly by birth or immigration. The major growth for Protestants, especially evangelicals and Pentecostals, has been by conversion.
The article in which this passage occurs is titled "Why Muslims Follow Jesus: The results of a recent survey of converts from Islam" (Christianity Today, October 2007). The survey is thus only a survey of converts, specifically, 750 Muslims converts to Christianity from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups; it is not a survey of conversion rates generally.

The information in the passage above comes from a different study that the article neglects to link to and that I haven't quickly located online though I know that I've seen it before.

At any rate -- or, actually, not at any rate -- Islam would appear to be the fastest-growing major religion if one means percentage increase, but not the fastest-growing if one means absolute increase.

Most interesting was the statement that this growth comes mostly from population expansion, not from conversion, which suggests that Islam is not actually a very popular choice among religions to convert to.

I'd like to see the hard statistics, however, and do wish that the article had linked to them.

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At 6:20 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Intrigued by this post, I logged into Nexis and used it to search for the phrase "Islam is the fastest growing religion." The oldest citation available was this one in the Washington Post on November 20, 1980:

"There is just as much divergence among the Muslims in this country as there is among other religions. Just as in the Christian world there are some good, faithful Christians and lax Christians, so are there different groups among the Muslim community," added Michael Hudson, director of Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab studies.

Added Lucius Battle, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt: "Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world . . . yet most Americans still know very little about Islamic culture. We tend to see Islam as a monolithic culture. Yet it is different in each country and covers every segment of life.

"We cannot continue to engage in these sweeping generalizations. The cartoon image of the black-robed religious fanatic screaming about Islam is just not accurate."

A few other articles from the 1980s use the phrase. In one case, it's attributed to "most demographers"; in another, it's spoken by the director of the Office of Christian-Moslem Relations at the National Council of Churches.

Of course, none of this helps you gain access to the statistics you want to scrutinize, but I think it's interesting to see how infrequently people have questioned the nature of this growth--and how long the phrase has been used as a cliche.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger A.H. said...

Very interesting. I wonder: How great is non-religious growth throughout the world? At what rate is this spreading?

At 9:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeff, yes, it has become a cliche, used without reflection (or sometimes, perhaps, used with tendentious reflection).

The quotes that you found are interesting. I suspect that Americans know rather more about Islam now than in the 1980s, but it still doesn't have a very positive image -- or so other statistics imply.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, that's a good question. Since the fall of Communism, religion has resurged in those places. Or did. That resurgence itself may have tapered off after the initial curiosity wore off.

But in Western Europe, except for the religious piety that has been 'imported' with immigrants, there doesn't appear to be any serious resurgence of religious belief. Perhaps the horrors of the 20th-century left Europeans bereft of belief.

Over in what Lincoln called the almost-chosen nation, however, people still believe.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Data for world's religions may be found here:

Table I in the above website is where the data may be found. This table and sub-tables are linked in the website.

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Data for growth rates of most world religions may be found here:

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for the links.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:08 AM, Anonymous Arslan said...

i couldnt find more stupid people anywhere else..

giving a link from a bible website for statistics of fastest growing religion...


At 3:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Arslan, ad hominem emoting online must good for the soul since so many people are drawn to it. Perhaps it's a key feature of the fastest-growing religion.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Islam is The Fastest-Growing Religion .

According to ONU and several western governments.

The presented data in this blog and some other sites are mendacious, they are data of cross Protestant worshippers manipulating ONU's Data and of governments.

Islam grew more than 200% in ultimos 50 years, in England
Peter Hitchens said that England had been a nation Mussulman and the German government said that were continued growing thus ties 2050 had been the germany a country of more than 50% of Mussulmen.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, your comment is unreadable in English, e.g., "Peter Hitchens said that England had been a nation Mussulman." This makes no sense, for England has never been a Muslim nation. You must mean something else.

Write your comment in German, and I might be able to understand what you're saying.

You might also think about signing your name.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 3:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

GV, revenge for what?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for your 'too sense'.

Jeffery Hodges

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