India will be home to world's largest Muslim population by 2050, but is the country ready for the change?

The number of Indian Muslims is projected to rise to more than 300 million by 2050, making India the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, according to the latest data released by the Pew Research Center, a US-based think tank. The estimated change in the population size worldwide from 2010 to 2050 is projected to be 73 percent for Muslims and 34 percent for Hindus. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in terms of population currently.

By 2050, India will have the largest populations of two religions in the world: Hinduism and Islam. The actual number of Muslims in India will be about 311 million in 2050, about 11 percent of the global Muslim population. As per the research, rise in the Muslim population is high due to the young median age of 22 and high fertility rates, while 26 is the median age for Hindus in India. In India, Muslim women have 3.2 children per woman on average, while the figure for Hindu and Christian women is 2.5 and 2.3 children respectively.

These population trends may cause anxiety among non-Muslims worldwide, who already appear to be affected by issues involving Islam. For example, the rise of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Middle East has caused migrations to Europe, while there are concerns on the nature of Islam itself, as it affects communitarian relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims in many parts of the world. In the streets of London, groups of Islamist men stop non-Muslim couples from holding hands in public, saying it is un-Islamic; European cities are witnessing the emergence of Islamic enclaves where only Sharia laws are practised by Muslims who do not use the local policing and legal systems, and run their own courts.

 India will be home to worlds largest Muslim population by 2050, but is the country ready for the change?

Representational image. Reuters

India is already a Sharia-compliant State in many respects, notably on the issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance and a host of religious institutions as well as a large number of madrassas funded by the secular Indian State.

There are also cultural movements that are affecting the liberty of Muslim women. For example, there were no burqas in the villages and towns of India about two decades ago, but now there is a flourishing trend in favour of them, which appears to be altering the character of Indian society in a fundamental way. By 2050, India's towns will have social enclaves in which Muslims will have their own Islamic lifestyles and distinct Arab food and clothing, which will no longer resonate with the pluralism and co-existence of India of today.

Furthermore, no Indian think tank is presently studying the Arab influences brought in by Muslims working in the Gulf. The new population projection of Indian Muslims will also adversely affect the Muslim-Hindu relations.

India is already holding contentious debates about different issues involving Islam, especially with regards to the arbitrary practice of triple talaq sanctioned by the dominant sections of Islamic clergy in India. There is a fear that the rights to equality and liberty of Muslim women can no longer be protected by the Indian State due to the Muslim community's behaviour, which prevents the State from making substantive policies for Muslims.

Indian Muslims are opposing a movement for equal rights to be legislated as part of the Uniform Civil Code despite not knowing yet what specifics will constitute such a code finally. The rising population changes the Muslim community's political and cultural behaviour. There are regions in India which are being proudly described as "mini-Pakistan" by Muslims, not by Hindus. In the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and many other pockets, Muslims no longer behave as a minority community. In fact, this so-called minority community is electorally assertive and politically demanding, while forcing the majority Hindus to behave as a minority, notably at the election times by wearing caps and courting their minority votes.

Largely due to the incompetence of the Union Home Ministry, whose job it is to shape the country's rule of law, the Indian State too has learnt to bend its law enforcement to suit the Muslims. For example, Hindus such as Kamlesh Tiwari can be arrested for criticising the prophet of Islam, but the Indian State seems to be totally powerless against Islamic clerics who publicly announce rewards for beheading anyone who criticises Islam.

This political behaviour of Indian Muslims, emerging from their growing demography, is also disturbing for another reason: It is difficult for police officers to arrest Muslim criminals hiding in Muslim localities; for such an arrest to be made, the police need to have an entire battalion to enter the locality.

The behaviour of Indian Muslims is overwhelmingly shaped by Islamic clerics, not by mainstream Muslim intellectuals or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) run by Hindus who basically endorse the anti-liberty and anti-women positions of clerics, thereby bearing upon the character of the Indian State and its ability to manage communitarian relationships.

This is complicated by the fact that the world's largest Islamic movements have their headquarters in India. For example, the headquarters of the Barelvi-Sufi Islam is in the town of Bareilly. The global centre of the Deobandi-Wahhabi Islam is in the town of Deoband. The international headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslims is in the town of Qadian in Punjab. The global headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat is situated in India's national capital. All of these are revivalist movements in Islam.

With the rising Muslim population, these Islamic groups are becoming more assertive and are also seeking to influence the country's politics by aligning with different political parties whose leaders go on to endorse the Muslim communal behaviour in the name of secularism which basically is pro-Muslim sectarianism in the Indian context.

The Congress party brought in the Right to Education Act, which could have allowed for madrassas to be declared as non-schools, thereby hoping that some educational reforms in the early 6-14 age group for Muslim children could have ensured progressive reform among Muslims.

However, to suit their so-called secularism, the Indian State again went down on its knees and exempted madrassas, which are centres of religious excellence and counter-liberty movements, not educational institutions. This surrender by the Indian State in the case of the RTE Act was similar to the Indian State's surrender before the Islamic clerics in the Shah Bano case, when the behaviour of Indian Muslims prevailed upon the Supreme Court, whose judgement in favour of maintenance for the destitute Muslim was quashed via a parliamentary legislation.

In the coming decades, Indian Muslims' rising population will force the State to behave repeatedly in a similar way, though the Narendra Modi government has signalled some fundamental change in the nature of the State, with its pro-liberty stance on the issues of triple talaq and UCC.

The Pew population projections are for 33 years later. If we look back for roughly the same period in history, we see some templates. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iranian women could wear skirts and participate in public life alongside men. Today, women in Iran are forced wear chador, a type of burqa. Before the arrival of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the liberal women of Kabul could walk in skirts to colleges and offices. Now, burqas are everywhere.

Freedom of women and minorities has been a major casualty of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran. As a consequence of the Afghan war in the 80s, a number of militant commanders went on to establish their own small militant groups in the Middle East.

The likelihood is that a number of militants fighting in Syria and Iraq will go on to form their own jihadi nuclei in different parts of the world. While democracy emerged from the debris of the World War II and began spreading to the rest of the world, it was only after the Islamic Revolution in Iran that it entered a serious competition against the State-backed theocratic system of Islam.

The rise of increasing overt religiosity among Muslims in India and elsewhere, the supporting role of Indian Islamic movements worldwide and the emergence of the next-generation of jihadis will likely change the character of democracies worldwide.

The problem is that in India, no political party shows any understanding of how to shape a modernist path for Muslims, while the Bharatiya Janata Party remains diffident in tackling Muslim issues.

Former BBC journalist, Tufail Ahmad is a contributing editor at Firstpost, and executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. He tweets @tufailelif

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Updated Date: Mar 03, 2017 19:17:22 IST

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