By Paul Goble
A suggestion by Ravil Gaynutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), that the share of Muslims in Russia will rise from seven to 30 percent in 15 years and the even more radical prediction by Orthodox Archhpriest Dmitry Smirnov that Muslims will displace Russians by mid-century have touched off a media firestorm in Moscow.
Mufti Gaynutdin is not noted for radicalism, and his views as expressed to a Duma conference on Islam, were relatively calm; but Father Dmitry, head of the synod’s department for family affairs, is notorious for his extreme comments. The reactions to their words were even more alarmist (politsovet.ru/62007-rossiyane-zakonchatsya-muftiy-i-svyaschennik-rpc-predskazali-rost-chisla-musulman-v-rossii.html).
It is certainly true that Muslim nations within the current borders of the Russian Federation have higher birthrates, lower mortality rates, and longer life expectancies than do Russians, although they start from a much lower base, and there are an increasing number of Muslim gastarbeiters who add to the total.
Those are all subjects demographers in Russia and the West have been talking about for decades, but over the last 24 hours, Russian media reaction was as hysterical as Smirnov’s language rather than as measured as Gaynutdin’s, who said that he was citing others whom he respects rather than coming up with the numbers on his own.
A useful correction to all this is offered by Russian journalist and commentator Maksim Shevchenko who points out that such predictions wildly overstate the situation. The number of Muslims relative to the number of Russians is growing but too slowly to lead to the outcomes Gaynutdin and Smirnov suggest (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevchenkomax/2382731-echo/).
He suggests that there are approximately 15.3 million members of traditionally Muslim nationalities in Russia and that there number is supplemented by only 4.6 million Muslim gastarbeiters. (The figure for Muslim gastarbeiters is almost certainly an understatement but not by an enormous amount.)
But however that might be, Shevchenko gives as the total number of Muslims in Russia today the figure of 21 million. “That’s all,” he says. “We don’t have any other Muslims.” That means they currently form 14.3 percent of the population. For them to reach 30 percent of the population, they would have to more than double in number – and in only 15 years.
This could happen if and only if one of the following conditions were to be met: the restoration of the USSR and the inclusion of Central Asian republics within Russia, a wild increase in the birthrate among Muslims, a sharp fall in the number of non-Muslims, the influx of Muslims from abroad, the mass acceptance of Islam by non-Muslims or the reduction in the size of the Russian Federation.
None of these is likely, Shevchenko says; but to suggest otherwise is to play into the hands of “Islamophobes, nationalists and fascists of all kinds.” Gaynutdin has been misled or even set up by those who do not wish Islam well, but he should have reflected about the possible consequences of his words