By Arab News
By Alsir Sidahmed
As all eyes are set on the political turmoil that is turning into street battles between various political opposing groups in a number of countries in the Middle East, a new danger is lurking in the Muslim world that needs to dealt with in a sustained methodological way.
Simply put the Muslim world is facing what a study called “unnoticed” phenomenon of fertility decline. The study Fertility Decline in the Muslim World by US political economist Nicholas Eberstadt was recently published by the American Enterprise Institute.
The study could not project the overall Muslim population pointing clearly to the difficulty of coming up with concrete figures because some countries refuse highlighting the religious affiliations of the people or simply because of bureaucratic or organizational obstacles. However, the author relied on the World Christian Database which came up with an estimate of 1.42 billion Muslims worldwide for the year 2005; by that reckoning, Muslims would account for about 22 percent of total world population.
Another estimate prepared by a team of researchers for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, placed the total global Muslim population in 2009, a few years later, at roughly 1.57 billion, which would have been approximately 23 percent of the estimated population at the time.
Trying to make sense of the figures and handling them from another angle and consulting with the UNDP tabulation, the study pointed out that all the 48 Muslim-majority countries and territories witnessed a fertility decline over the past three decades.
More specifically it estimated that there was a drop of 2.6 percent per woman between 1975/1980-2005/10, which is more than double the world average that stood at (-1.3) or even the average of the less developed countries that stood at (-2.2).
Final figures may not add up, but the study provides a framework that needs to be taken seriously: Politically, economically and socially. Part of the explanation of the turmoil that has been engulfing the region is the demographic dimension, where more youth are looking for better education, job opportunities and higher aspirations for better life that has been fueled by the communication revolution.
Moreover, with the growing and expanding urbanization, it seems natural to expect delays in marriage arrangements to a later age, which affects the number of births.
The issue raises many question marks starting first with the need to come up with credible census that can provide an authoritative base with information that could be used to plan ahead. That is basically the responsibility of various governments at national level. The sum of such activities provides the needed information to tackle this and other issues at the macro level of the Islamic world as such. It is pity that hardly any Islamic country has a tradition of having regular census that furnishes government, researchers and interested bodies with their need for information.
However, though no concrete or credible information is available now, it is better to take seriously the conclusions reached at by the study.
The fertility decline is not a new phenomenon. Many Western countries specially in Europe are suffering from it to the extent that some considered changing their emigration regulations to allow for new migrants to come and settle and help in closing up the gap of reducing population volume as a result of the declining fertility. Such a move is intended to help redress the growing imbalance between those who became pensioners and want to enjoy from their contribution to the social security system over the years and those still in the productive age and should be contributing to the social security system. But it will be a major problem if less and less people are getting into the system, paying their taxes at the time when more have stopped making new contributions and aiming to enjoy from their previous contributions.
Such long-term issues need to be handled now, though it will be difficult in current turmoil to look into distant future, but since the future actually starts today, there is no option but to embark on it quickly and vigorously.