29 December 2006

Islam dying out in Russia?

This is probably the best news I've heard all year.

Paralleling the Europe-is-doomed-to-Islamization wailings which have become an odd fetish of the right in North America, we also often hear that Russia is heading for a similar fate based on its low ethnic-Russian birthrate and the higher birthrate of its Muslims -- who, after all, already make up about 15% of Russia's total population, compared with less than 4% of that of the EU. I never believed this would really happen in Russia any more than in western Europe, mainly because Russia is culturally tougher, more ruthless, and less infected with political correctness than western Europe is, and the Russians would simply never allow the Muslims to dominate Russia, no matter how brutal the actions they had to take in order to prevent it.

But it turns out that there's another factor at work. According to an authoritative survey carried out by Russia's leading polling agency VTsIOM and the newspaper Izvestiya, the actual number of people who self-identify as Muslims is only 6% of Russia's population, not 15%. The 15% figure usually given is arrived at simply by adding up all the ethnic groups in Russia -- Tatars, Bashkirs, Chechens, etc. -- which are historically Muslim. But today, evidently, the majority of members of those groups no longer self-identify as Muslim.

What this means is that over the course of the last century or so, the majority of the people of Muslim origin in Russia must have abandoned their Islamic belief to the extent that they no longer even call themselves Muslim in a survey -- and in any culture, self-identification is usually the last aspect of a religion to disappear (as one can see from cases such as western Europe, where surveys often show large numbers of people self-identifying as "Christian" or "Catholic" or "Protestant" even though more detailed study shows that many of them do not actually practice their claimed religion or even believe in God). Especially in a culture where apostasy is as taboo as it is in Islam, the ability to acknowledge "I am not a Muslim" is the last step, not the first. So it seems very likely that even many of the remaining 6% have little that is deeply Muslim about them, much like those native Europeans who still claim the name "Christian" even after abandoning the substance.

This means, of course, that the likelihood of Russia ever becoming Islamized is effectively zero, which is good news in itself. The larger point, though, is that the country has achieved a level of apostasy from Islam which is unprecedented. As far as I know, there is no other case in history of a significant population abandoning Islam once they had been converted to it and had lived as Muslims for generations. But if it is possible in Russia, it should be possible elsewhere.

The survey itself is here; other commentaries are at Classical Values (where I originally found it) and Western Resistance. A translation of the Izvestiya article is here; the figures on Muslims are about halfway down, under the heading "Isn't the number the point?" The article itself trumpets the higher-than-expected figures for self-identified Christians, but probably not too much should be made of this; while some degree of religious revival is likely indeed under way in comparison to the active government suppression of traditional religion under Communism, it seems fairly clear that the survey's figures for Christianity reflect traditional self-identification rather than actual practice or belief, much as in Western Europe. As the article itself notes, "in reality, in responding to the question formulated by Izvestiya 'What does religion mean to you personally?' VTsIOM respondents usually answered: 'It is a national tradition, the faith of our forefathers.' At the same time, almost half of the people who called themselves believers admitted that they did not perform any religious rites." Again, of course, the same is likely also true, at least to some degree, of that 6% Muslim remnant.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad that Russia as a low tolerance for bullshit.

07 October, 2009 15:25  
Blogger Ramez Nashat said...


04 October, 2011 12:47  

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