More Than Pawns of Oil

The world's Muslim population is growing and may equal the number of Christians by 2050 and exceed it by 2070, which is sure to lead to new balances of power abroad and possible even at home.

The world's Muslim population is growing and may equal the number of Christians by 2050 and exceed it by 2070, which is sure to lead to new balances of power abroad and possible even at home.

Pew Research has answered the question of why the United States devotes so much energy to the Middle East and the rising tide of radical Islam. Yes, it's about the oil. But it's also about the unrelenting growth of the global Muslim population.

An analysis released today by Pew Research shows the world's Muslim population will equal the number of Christians by 2050 and could be the largest religious group as early as 2070. By 2050, some 40 percent of all Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the United States in the same time frame, Christians will go from representing 75 percent of the population to two-thirds. Muslims will outnumber people who identify themselves as Jewish. The religiously unaffiliated population could top 25 percent.

These are the kind of trends that shake up the political order.

For the last decade, Republicans in Congress and in border states with Mexico have railed about illegal immigration from the south and what to do about the 12 million undocumented people living in America now. But Latinos represent far less of a cultural shock to the United States. They share the same religion and family values as many Americans.

Muslim traditions and values don't fit in, at least at this point, as comfortably. And as the Muslim world wrestles with its past and its modern-day stresses, including a growing jihadist movement, that fit isn't likely to grow more comfortable any time soon.

The focus today is on containing the most extreme Muslim radicals through military force and trying to achieve some sort of geopolitical stasis through negotiations that have the character of walking on broken glass. For whatever reason, there seems to be a Muslim reawakening, fueled in part by economic and social alienation in some parts of the world, but also by a vision of past Islamic glory.

It is easy to forget that European (and Christian) ascension began just as an inward-focused Islam went into what became a centuries-long eclipse. We may be witnessing the end of that eclipse. Islamic-Jewish quarrels could become more predominant in our own American backyard.

Much of the Muslim growth is in Africa and the subcontinent. India, for example, is expected to have more Muslims than Hindus by 2050. Muslims are predicted to represent 50 percent or more of the population in 51 countries. Meanwhile, overall population growth is expected to decline in Europe, which will see its Christian population shrink from 553 million to 454 million by 2050. Christians will number less than 50 percent of the population in the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. 

The data provides a dramatic backdrop to today's diplomatic and military activity, which in no small way can be seen as an adjustment for a new reality where Islamic territories are more powerful chess pieces than pawns of oil.