There are two claims in this headline, which while related are separate. Let’s look at them in turn.
“Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion.” How is this ascertained? Has Pew been individually polling seven billion people annually to determine their religious allegiances? Hardly. Such conclusions are reached largely on the basis of statistical analysis of populations, country by country, and changes in their demographics. The largest factor by far in these statistical analyses is population growth by birthrate. The assumption is that if a country’s population is 100 million, and it is 80% Muslim, and the population grows by 1.5% each year, that must mean that in a year’s time the Muslim population has grown by 1,200,000 (100,000,000 x .015 = 1,500,000 x .8 = 1,200,000), since all children born to Muslim parents are automatically Muslims according to Shari’a law. While these kinds of calculations may look good in a book of statistics on world religions, they are highly misleading, for multiple reasons.
First, they assume authentic religious convictions among the massive numbers bandied about. They make no room for apostasy from the faith, assuming that one born as a Muslim will remain a Muslim till death. (In the last few decades, as Muslims have increasingly rubbed elbows with the West and discovered there are other, more life-giving belief systems one may follow, we see widespread defections from the Islamic fold. Yet even these public defections are just the tip of the iceberg, for Islam is the only major religion that prescribes the penalty of death for those who leave it, and so many in the grip of Islamic governments quietly defect in place in order to keep their heads attached to their necks. These numbers, of course, are hard to track, since those who leave Islam, even in the non-Muslim world, remain under threat of death and are not enthusiastic about flaunting their apostasy. Hence, statistical analyses rarely factor this into their numbers.
Second, there is no question that the largest segment of the “30 and under” population may be found in the parts of the world designated as Muslim (Hindus also, but they are a much smaller slice of the total world population). This means that in terms of future population growth, their potential reproductive power easily outstrips that of other groups whose populations are skewed toward the older end of the life cycle. Add to that the fact that Muslim parents (especially in polygamous marriages, where up to four wives are allowed per husband in Islam) tend to have larger families than non-Muslim families, even in places where large families are part and parcel of the culture, and it is not hard to see why prognosticators predict that by the year 2075, Islam will overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion.
Pew Research Center estimates that by the year 2060, while the world’s total population will increase by 32%, the population of Muslims will increase by 70%, reflecting the huge differential in birth rates between Muslim and non-Muslim groups.
Let us assume for the sake of argument that these figures are accurate, and that all those born to Muslim parents will themselves identify as Muslims. What does this tell us, other than that Muslims are more intent on reproducing than are non-Muslims? What do we make of the argument that since Islam is the fastest growing religion, it must be true?
Well, let’s ask a few questions. Why should the rate of growth demonstrate the truth or falsehood of a system of beliefs? In the late Zhou and Han dynasties of China, when Confucianism was the fastest growing faith among the largest people groups of the world, would it have rightful claim to be the true religion above all others? From the time of Constantine onward, when Christianity became the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, dwarfing all rival faiths, did that make it the true religion? When Muhammad came along and founded Islam, while it was still tiny compared to the growing Christian and Persian empires around it, was it therefore a false religion? In other words, when in the past the religion of Islam was not the fastest growing of the world’s religions, was it then false? Has it become “true” because now it is growing faster than other religions around it? How can truth or falsehood depend on the vagaries of religious fashion?
What if we were to argue instead that the religion with the most adherents worldwide must be the true religion? Since statistically speaking that is Christianity, not Islam, we would have to embrace the conclusion that Islam is not the truth. But, if the statistical visionaries are correct, in 2075 Islam will become the largest religion, and suddenly on the basis of that fact, it will move from being a false religion to the true faith. Such an argument is patently nonsensical.
Far more important than sexual procreation, the manner by which adherents come to their convictions speaks boatloads about the relative value of the truth claims of one religion over another. If a religion counsels the use of the sword to compel people to submit to its authority and to keep them from deserting its ranks (as Islam does), it shows itself to be decidedly inferior to a faith which invites people to voluntarily commit themselves to a life of response to the call of a loving God (as Christianity does), without threat of violence to those who might wish to leave.
Totalitarian movements can always quote impressive statistics of allegiance as long as their iron grip remains strong around the necks of their victims. The Nazi Party in 1930s Europe seemed to be the wave of the future, until the Allies at great cost brought an end to the Third Reich and restored its captives to freedom. Stalin rose quickly on the graves of millions of Russians, Ukrainians and others, extending his despotism over tens of millions, until the oppressive system he put in place finally crumbled before the basic human urge for freedom from tyranny. No one today would argue for the rightness of Nazism or Stalinism on the basis of the large number of those enslaved by the system. Similarly for the system of Islam, no one can claim that all those under its sway freely entered its ranks, and that all remain because they freely wish to do so. Until Islam gives up the deeply-rooted doctrine of jihad (mandating the use of force against any and all who refuse to submit to its demands) as well as the Shari’a-enforced death penalty for all who apostatize, it may claim to be the fastest-growing religion in the world, but it will have no claim to Truth. Truth stands on its own, even when all worldly power is arrayed against it. As the saying goes, “in the end, truth will out,” and falsehood will be laid in the dust.
Jesus, indeed, seemed to argue in the Sermon on the Mount that success in terms of numbers is actually a misleading sign as to Truth. In Matthew 7:13-14, he says:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
We are wise to be careful in identifying the true path with that which the masses are following. God’s way, according to Jesus, is “the road less traveled.”
So, Islam may or may not be the world’s fastest-growing religion, but this boast alone tells us nothing about Islam’s claim to be the “true religion.” To weigh that assertion, one must know the Muhammad of orthodoxy and the teachings he claimed were divinely revealed to him. I encourage you to take up such a study, and predict that your conclusion will not be long in coming.