By Darren E. Sherkat
A tide of immigrants from the Islamic world is altering Europe’s landscape. The continent’s demographic profile is changing thanks to relatively open immigration policies and much higher fertility rates among immigrant communities. And the continent’s religious profile could change as well; with old-stock Europeans becoming increasingly secular, some scholars posit that Islam could become one of the region’s most visible and practiced religious tradition in the coming decades. Projections by Eric Kaufman of the University of London predict that the Muslim population will comprise up to 15 percent of Western Europeans by 2050. Given that 25 percent of Europe is expected to be atheist or agnostic by 2050, this will give Islam 20 percent of the religious market, and that proportion would be much higher if market exit included people who may not be atheists or agnostics but reject religious identification.
But that is only half the story.
Scholars have generally assumed that Muslims seeking a better life in the West want Islam to remain a central part of their culture. They blame Europe and North America’s failure to build real multicultural societies for pushing new arrivals toward radical Islamist groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State (also called ISIS). It is true that marginalization pushes some young Muslims to the brink of extremist fundamentalism. But radicals are few and far between, and there has been little scholarship on the average religious behavior of younger immigrants and second-generation immigrants raised as Muslims.
In truth, the West’s embrace of secular multiculturalism has created a groundswell of increasingly non-religious Muslims, though quantitative research is lacking documenting this trend. Simon Cottee’s The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam provides readers with a powerful depiction of this group. Cottee examines how Western secularism challenges Islamic thought in ways that lead some to abandon their faith—an outcome that is much more common than resorting to fundamentalism. Data from the General Social Survey in the United States show that 32 percent of those raised Muslim no longer embrace Islam in adulthood, and 18 percent hold no religious identification. Rates of defection could well be higher in Europe and Canada. The odds that a Muslim in the United States will embrace radical fundamentalism are almost certainly much lower, although we do not have good measures tapping Islamic fundamentalism in quantitative studies.
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