The rise of Islam in Russia

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Is this a threat or an opportunity?

The stabbing murder on October 10 of an ethnic Russian, Yegor Shcherbakov, 25, apparently by a Muslim from Azerbaijan, led to anti-migrant disturbances in Moscow, vandalism and assaults, the arrest of 1200 people and brought to the fore a major tension in Russian life.

Not only do ethnic Muslims account for up to 23 of Russia's 144 million, 15 per cent, but their proportion is growing fast.

Alcoholism-plagued ethnic Russians are said to have European birth rates and African death rates, with the former just 1.4 per woman and the latter 60 years for men. In Moscow, ethnic Christian women have an average of 1.1 children.

In contrast, Muslim women bear 2.3 children on average and have fewer abortions than their Russian counterparts. In Moscow, Tatar women have six children and Chechen and Ingush women 10. In addition, between three million and four million Muslims have moved to Russia from ex-republics of the USSR, mainly from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan; and some ethnic Russians are converting to Islam.

These trends point to Christians declining in numbers by 0.6 per cent a year and Muslims increasing by the same, which will have dramatic effects over time.

Some analysts foresee Muslims becoming a majority in the 21st century, a demographic revolution that would fundamentally change the country's character.