Analysis 2018/12: A Breach in the Wall: The Demographic Turn and Mass Migration to Europe

September 17, 2018

Analysis 2018/12: A Breach in the Wall: The Demographic Turn and Mass Migration to Europe

Analysis 2018/12: A Breach in the Wall: The Demographic Turn and Mass Migration to Europe

A Breach in the Wall: The Demographic Turn and Mass Migration to Europe



A particular aspect of the problem of mass migration to Europe is what could be called “the demographic turn”. Muslim populations in Europe are younger that non-Muslims[1] and the fertility rate of Muslim women is higher.[2] Additionally, continuous migration from Muslim countries in the previous decades also maintained the higher birth rate among Muslim communities in Europe, nurtured by family reunification, endogenous and early marriage.[3] Facts, as shown below, attest that the demographic turn in favour of populations originating in the Islamic world is irreversible in Western Europe, regardless of the future scenario of migration. Mass migration to Europe changed permanently the demographic map of Western European population, with considerable implications for culture, society and politics.

This demographic turn has further parameters, usually underestimated if not discarded by liberals and leftists. Above all, the demographic turn is a weapon in a social and cultural conflict, deep and ongoing within the European societies between the immigrants, coming from societies with a colonial past, most of them belonging to a socially marginalised strata, and constantly in quest of social ascendancy, and the native Europeans, from middle and upper classes. The revenge of demography is a terrible weapon already used by the ex-colonised societies to overcome Europeans. Some immigrants believe procreation makes their position secure, durable and stronger, taking demography as a breach in the wall, which allows access or increase of access to resources.

That being the case, the revenge of demography is sustained by a narrative of demographic growth as a cultural victory. Polemics over women, children and families are sensitive because they touch on the core of the conflict between some Muslim communities and Europeans, that of the demographic competition. The rising cultural and religious claims could be seen as defiance and resistance against attempts to dissolve the migrant families. As we shall see, for some migrants, losing control over family is ultimately losing the social warfare. Not all migrants believe in this narrative, but others, with the framing of Islamism, actively participate in it.

Research about the demographic disasters in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa that are largely responsible for mass migration to Europe, is available.[4] What we set to discuss in this paper are the religious-cultural narratives, accessible in some widely read Middle Eastern and Muslim media in Europe, by leaders and intellectuals of the Muslim world and of European Muslim communities, celebrating the increase of their population in Europe. These narratives are, mostly, products of state Islamism (ex. Turkey) or Islamist movements (ex. The Muslim Brotherhood) which take Muslim populations in Europe as political and economic capital. The present study is a discourse analysis that provides insights into the supporting cultural background of migration movements. It is premised on the ethnic competition theory[5]  which states that different ethnic groups engage in conflict, through all means necessary, and mobilising their forces at different social levels, to compete over resources. Social behaviour (including demography) is largely fashioned by competitive contexts, which frame individuals and groups, impregnating broader conflicts.

Facts about Muslim demography in Europe

As shown by the Pew Research Center study, in the high migration scenario ( which occurred between 2014 and 2016 as flows of illegal migrants in addition to regular migrants entered Europe), and most likely to continue,[6] although perhaps in a less dramatic way, Muslim populations in the four major countries of Western Europe (Italy, France, Germany and the UK) will constitute a rate ranging between 14.1% and 19.7%. 30.6% of the population of Sweden will be Muslim.[7] In a zero migration scenario (which is unrealistic because of the intensive legal migration through family reunification, students, and professional migration), France will have a rate of 12.7 %, Germany that of 8.7 %, Sweden that of 11.1% and Italy that of 8.8%.[8] It is neither realistic to expect flows of illegal migrants to cease (as in the medium migration scenario according to Pew Research Center).[9] In the latter scenario, the rate of Muslims in France will be that of 17.4 %, of the UK that of 16.7 %, of Germany that of 10.8 %, and Italy that of 12.4 %.[10]

In spite of the diversity of Muslim populations in terms of origin, interests and practices, what is striking is the continuous and rapid growth of Muslim populations. To give an example, Italy, France, Germany and the UK had in 2010 according to Pew Research Center, around 12 million Muslims.[11]  The Estimations for 2050, for these four countries, are that of as much as 49 millions people in the high migration scenario and more than 23 millions in a medium migration scenario.[12] Other research studies show that „those identified as Muslims tend to be more religious and also to have higher fertility rates compared with the Christian majority”.[13]

Projections of Muslim population in the EU, Norway and Switzerland in 2050

Sweden30.6 %
France18 %
Italy14.1 %


A second fact to take into account when it comes to Muslim demography in Europe is that this phenomenal increase will make integration of Muslim populations in European societies even more unrealistic. Increasingly, some leaders of Muslim communities, aware of the weight and the importance of the ‘law of the great numbers’ in democracy push Western Europe to adapt its secularism, democracy and identity, that is to say, the core values of Europe, to make way for the militant version of Islam these leaders put forward. A clear and recent indication of these claims is the protest by women about niqab (a veil covering the whole body including the face) ban in public in Denmark in early August 2018.[15]

Furthermore, a third fact observed with regard to Muslim communities in Europe is the increasing recent waves of migration from Sub-Saharan Muslim African countries, such as Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Senegal, which change the demographic map in Europe.[16] One implication of this fact is that the Sub-Saharan Muslim communities in Europe will strengthen further the expansion of Muslim demographics as these populations have some of the highest birth rates in the world.   

Another fact to reckon with is that the demographic turn serves, in an interconnected world of local and global actors, the geopolitical interests of Muslim governments or Islamist movements to make pressure on European governments. Beside the social nature of the demographic turn, it gives opportunities for state Islamism or Islamist movements to influence elections, economic activities, security, etc. Higher fertility rates in a multi-ethnic society can have a major impact on security as shown by Tragaki in the case of the Balkans with Bosnians and Albanian Kosovars registering higher fertility rates. [17]

European left has been too optimistic about the possibility that migrant populations will, at some point, integrate, contribute and melt into society, relying on the economic and political weakness of Muslim communities in Europe, and discarding the global demographic changes, which inevitably will change politics and societies in Europe. Robert D. Kaplan, in his The Revenge of Geography asserts that “ the percentage of Muslims in major European countries will, in fact, more than triple by mid-century, from the current 3 percent to perhaps 10 percent of the population. Whereas in 1913 Europe had more people than China, by 2050 the combined populations of Europe, the United States, and Canada will comprise just 12 percent of the world total, down from 33 percent after World War I. Europe is certainly in the process of being demographically diminished by the rest of Asia and Africa, even as European populations themselves are becoming more African and Middle Eastern”.[18]

Despite the fact that the birth rate of the second and the third generations of migrants (in general) tends to decrease over time,[19] it is noteworthy that the estimations of the Pew Research Center indicate that in the next 30 years the Muslim fertility rate will decline from 2.6 as it is now to 2.4 in 2050 while the non-Muslim fertility rate of 1.6 will be expected to be 1.7 children per woman.[20] This means also that Muslim populations will be able to replace themselves, and even increase in numbers, while non-Muslims will be below the replacement rate of 2 children per woman. Additionally, it means that a demographic gap will continue between Muslims and non-Muslims in favour of Muslim populations. Besides, migration never stopped, and it likely will not stop at least in the form of family reunification,[21] and in the span of this generation and the next generation we will get two  “first generations”. 

Middle Eastern Narratives on Muslim Demography in Europe

Having stated these facts, we will now move on to discuss some Middle Eastern narratives on demography as empowerment in Europe. We will cover diverse discourses, Sunni, Shiite and from different Middle Eastern countries, as reported mostly by the Middle Eastern media.

Fahd al-Ahmadi, a Saudi author, published an article on 25 April 2018, in the widely diffused Saudi newspaper al-Riyad, entitled “Islamic demography wins”, predicting that “Europe will disappear in few generations and will become Arab-Islamic thanks to demography alone”.[22] He considers that “demography works for the interests of Arabs and Muslims without their awareness, and the world will discover soon that the most powerful weapon in history is demography”.[23] This narrative is overtly triumphalist and devoid of caution. It also considers the demographic turn as involuntary while at the same time it admits that it is a powerful weapon, which implies a war, belligerents and the intention to obtain benefits and harm the enemy.

Similarly, Mohammad al-Yaʻqubi, an Iraqi Shiite leader, states that the demographic data about Muslims in Europe “contains many important facts, such that if Muslims adhere to the noble teachings of Islam, they will open the world quietly and with a white movement”.[24] The conquest of Europe is not only central to the Islamist narratives about the past, but also about the present. There is a difference, however, between the two narratives, in that in the ones about the present, Islamism prefers demography rather than armies, taking into account the military balance in favour of Europe, which would make military conquests impossible today.

It is noteworthy that the migration crisis which started in 2015 has generated many of these triumphalist discourses. An Islamic review from Kuwait, entitled al-Bushra, published an article in May 2016, in which it considers that “the Islamic migration has contributed significantly to the stability of the population rate in Europe, despite the decline in the fertility rate in Europe, since 1990, as Europe reached 90% of the total population increase, all due to the migration of Muslims to the old continent, which re-rejuvenated it”.[25] The same article says about Germany that “the German government was among the first European countries to talk about the lack of population in its popular census, a decrease that was considered out of control, and the government said that the state of Hitler will become Muslim by 2050”.[26] About France, it is more eloquent:

 “If the rate of natural increase for French families is 1.8 points, the rate of increase for Muslim families is 8.1 points, due to the increasing number of Muslims in this country. So, in southern France 30% of the children aged 20 years or less are Muslims, and in large cities such as Nice, Marseille and Paris, this percentage reached 45%. This means that by the beginning of 2027 there will be a young Muslim among five Frenchmen. In 39 years, France will become an Islamic republic. Not to mention the increase in the number of mosques, which amounted to 1000 mosques in all corners of this country”.[27]

Besides being triumphalist, this narrative lacks validity; no sources of these numbers were mentioned and this data is certainly spurious, not to mention that it is impossible to realise these numbers in the span of a generation. One also can add that this narrative is impertinent, especially about the “state of Hitler”. In addition, it presents the demographic turn as a salvation for Europe, desperately in need of population. The underlying premise is dangerous: Europe is a land without people.

Some Islamic discourses would exaggerate the numbers to accelerate, virtually, the Muslim dominance of Europe. Saʻd al-ʻArifi, a popular Saudi preacher, who is usually invited by Muslim communities in Europe, said in a preach that “Muslims doubled their numbers in the last 10 years five or six times… the Belgian government said that in 2025, Islam will be the first religion in Belgium… the German government reported that every two hours a German becomes Muslim, which means more than 4000 every year. Muslim sources in Germany speak of 20000 yearly, and not only 4000”.[28] We could not find any sources that mention these data. By nature, a religious preach is not meant to inform or to invite the audience to verify sources, but could have a tremendous effect on how some audiences perceive reality and act accordingly.

Middle Eastern secular discourses are also celebrating this demographic turn although in a less enthusiastic manner. ʻUthman Mirghani, a liberal Sudanese political author, wrote in one of the widely spread Arab newspapers al-Sharq al-Awsat, and Saudi owned, on 9 March 2017 that

“This will be an opportunity for Muslims and a challenge at the same time. The increase of the number of Muslims per se will mean little unless we understand the importance of diversity, tolerance and coexistence. Muslims in their extension and spread between races, continents and nations are not united culturally, geographically, nor historically despite the bond of faith. In the context of their faith and in their diversity, they need to be more open to each other and to the world, just as they should be concerned with highlighting temperance and moderation against extremism and the policies of intimidation”[29]

This narrative is different from the two previous ones in a number of respects. It is critical of the way many Muslims conduct their social and political affairs today, especially in what pertains to pluralism and tolerance. It supports implicitly the fear that Muslim demographic domination could have consequences for co-existence in Europe, and elsewhere. Particularly, this narrative is worried about violence and radical Islamism, destructive in the Muslim world despite its marginality as a political movement. Yet, this liberal narrative rejoices, with some restraint, at the demographic turn albeit it is symptomatic of serious development failure.

Outside the Arabic speaking Middle East, other leaders endorse similar narratives. For example, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on 17 March 2017 Turks in Europe to use demography to empower their social status, urging to “live in better neighbourhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the best houses. Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you.”[30] This narrative portrays Turks as victims in Europe, and demography as revenge. In addition, Erdoğan is triumphalist as he announces to Turkish migrants, seen as Muslims but also as an extension of Turkey, to be the future of Europe, implying that Europe will not be able to replace its population. It is noteworthy that Erdoğan does not celebrate overtly here the religious dimension of Muslim demography, but its social dimension, especially with regards to well-being and quality of life. In this discourse, it is assumed that living in better neighbourhoods, etc. would change the image of Muslim migrants as populations living on the margins, as it is also assumed that driving the best cars and owning the best houses would be a good way to take revenge.

Be that as it may, Turkish leaders also emphasize the religious dimension of demography in Europe. Alparslan Kavaklıoğlu, a Member of Parliament of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and head of the parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission, declared in early 2017 that:

“If this trend continues this way, the Muslim population in Europe will pass the Christian population in Europe 20 years later, the biggest worry is that there is an explosion of nationalism… these concerns, these fears there, have raised nationalist, xenophobic, and anti-Islamic rhetoric there. The separatist parties have begun to take on very large votes, there is no desperation, Europe will be Muslim, we will be effective there… I am sure of this”[31]

Kavaklıoğlu also depicts Muslim populations as victims, not of social injustice as Erdoğan did, but of nationalist parties, as if the matter is of far right politics, neglecting the role of the demographic turn itself in the rise of nationalism all over Europe. Moreover, he appeals to certainty and belief in destiny to reassure his audience that nothing could stop this trend, promising to run effectively Europe (reminiscent of the Ottomanist rhetoric).

Muslim European Narratives on Demography 

Likewise, some media run by Muslim communities in Europe produce discourses in which the demographic turn is celebrated or encouraged. In Germany, and amidst the migration crisis and the highly polarized debate on migration, Muslim discourses are more cautious, although optimistic. For example,, a website of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB) and an extension of Turkey, and which is the most powerful Islamic organisation in Germany, controlling the majority of Turkish mosques, said in an article published in November 2017 that even if no (illegal) migrants come to Germany (which is not a realistic option) “the ‘normal’ immigration of students, migrant workers and family members is progressing in much the same way as in previous decades”.[32]

In France, the two most important French speaking Muslim media Oumma and Saphirnews, quite popular among Muslim communities in France, Belgium and Switzerland, promote the same narratives although in a less overt way., a website under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and claiming one million visits a month, celebrated, in one article, Muslim growth in Belgium in 2010, writing that “Muslims made a great demographic jump of reaching in 2010 5.8% and 623780 people…but the official data hardly appreciates this situation… which disturbs and causes sorrow for some people. The Belgian administration, which, like all the European administrations, can be particularly fussy as soon as the rate of Muslimness of the territory is at stake”.[33] This discourse is built on a belief in the conspiracy theory, namely that European governments hide the true numbers of Muslim demography in Europe. It implies that the number of Muslims is underestimated, another version of self-portrayal as victims. Probably, this discourse believes that European governments “hide the truth” because they do not want to meet the social claims of Muslims or to avoid conflict with opponents to the Muslim presence.

In 2017, reproduced the same narrative when it announced that “the Muslim population could more than double in Europe by 2050 which is likely to be a thunderclap for those who are greatly disturbed by the Muslim presence in Europe”.[34] Such antagonistic discourse reveals the nature of the demographic turn as competition and conflict. notes that “the 5.7 million French Muslims (8.8% of the population), as counted in 2016 by the Pew Research Center, would continue to lead comfortably European Muslim communities in the context of ‘zero immigration’ (8.6 million, or 12.7% of the population), ‘average immigration’ (12.6 million or 17.4% of population), or even strong immigration (13.2 million, or 18% of the population)”.[35]

In Europe, The Muslim Brotherhood is particularly enchanted with this demographic turn, and contributes to its consolidation, celebrating all over Europe Muslim demography with similar discourses. It is one of the Islamist mass movements to pay most attention to the population, because its political project of reaching power passes through a conquest of society by the “law of the greatest number”, infiltrating all the basic social structures: education, youth, health, etc. It is also the most interested Islamist movement in democracy and alliance with democratic parties, as The Muslim Brotherhood uses these two instruments to obtain the legal legitimacy of political action, to influence political systems.

Saphirnews, another popular Muslim website in French in Western Europe, endorses a similar Muslim Brotherhood ideology, although attempting to appear as a professional media. About demography, it wrote that

“The dramatic rise in the numbers of Muslims in Europe is simply the result of a higher than average fertility rate. Muslims make on average more children than all the families of the other seven religious groups analysed in the study (Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists, unaffiliated and other religions). Each Muslim has an average of 3.1 children, more than Christians (2.7) and all non-Muslims (2.3). An important figure that is explained by the youth of the Muslim population: its median age is 23 years against 30 years for others. These figures fuel a psychosis among Islamophobes, who develop discourses calling to reverse the trend of fear of supposed dominance”.[36]

Saphirnews utters a double discourse: one that seemingly presented the results of Pew Research Center as normal facts and consequences of a high fertility rate. However, in the second discourse, it becomes antagonistic about the other, labelling it as Islamophobic referring to them as non-Muslims who are opposed to a massive presence of Muslims because in a context of ethnic competition, numbers matter. Indirectly, this Islamist discourse is worried that Muslims would assimilate.

Influence over Muslims in Europe can be exerted through several channels: Islamic organisations, embassies of Middle Eastern and North African countries, or simply the family (and the clan in many cases). These structures intervene in the lives of young people through religious education, religious practice, family socialisation, marriage, employment or financial aid. They could have a major impact on how young Muslims in Europe lead their lives or makes their choices. For example, a survey in the UK by Channel4 found that “six in 10 women in the UK who have had a traditional Muslim wedding ceremony are not in legally recognised marriages”.[37] This indicates that these women prefer (or are forced to) to marry according to Islamic law, and concomitant Islamic norms in terms of giving birth to children, etc., giving away their legal rights assured by civil law, and whose marriage is illegal in the UK.

As for the reactions of Western European leaders and government officials to these Muslim discourses on demography, they are, as far as we know, inexistent, except among far right parties.[38] For Leftist or liberal political leaders, the religious identity of migrants is meaningless. Recent pro-natalist policies in Western Europe, although could be signs of self-preservations, are also helped by migration to reach some success, as in the case of France and Sweden.[39]


The main goal of the current study was to analyse some Muslim narratives on demography in Europe. It discussed both discourses produced in the Middle East and those produced by Muslim media in Europe. This study has found that, generally, these narratives are triumphalist about the increasing rate of Muslims in Europe albeit some discourses are cautious about the importance of the law of the great number. Some discourses portray Muslims as victims of social injustice, to which demography is revenge while others consider the demographic turn as a ladder to social resources. Narratives of Muslim media in Europe tend to be antagonistic and conspirationist, worried about the reactions of the others.

All in all, these narratives, both Middle Eastern and European Muslim discourses on demography, support the theory of ethnic-religious competition. The demographic turn is an outcome of an engagement in competition with non-Muslim groups over resources. Although the current study is based on a limited sample of narratives, this research found that the tendency within Muslim leaders is to support an active European Muslim demography in the perspective to empower their influence over the decision-making in Europe.

[1] Muslims in Europe are much younger than non-Muslims (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

In 2016, 27% of Muslims are aged between 0-14 while 15 % of non-Muslims are at the same age.

[2] Estimated total fertility rates (children born per woman) over time in Europe, for medium migration scenario accessed on 20 August 2018)

In the period between 2015 and 2020, the fertility rate is estimated to be 2.6 % for Muslim women and 1.6 for non-Muslim women.

The fact is still that these countries have a significantly higher fertility rate than that of European countries.


[4] The birth rate in the Middle East and North Africa is 2.8 % and 4.8 % in Sub-Saharan Africa. It should be noted, though, that in Sub-Saharan African countries, there are also Christian majority countries. These two regions provide the bulk of mass migration to Europe, while they have the highest birth rate in the world. See the latest data at: (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

In Hungarian, see:

Dezső Tamás: A népességrobbanás okairól és következményeiről (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[5] David Cunningham, “Mobilizing Ethnic Competition”, Theory and Society 41, 5, 2012, pp. 505-506.

[6] See for example, a  recent survey by Gallup which found that the desire of North African youth to migration, especially to Europe, increased from 28% in 2016 to 32% in 2017:

Desire to Migrate Rises in North Africa accessed on 20 August 2018)

[7]Muslims in the EU, Norway and Switzerland in 2050: High Migration Scenario accessed on 20 August 2018)

[8] Muslims in the EU, Norway and Switzerland in 2050: zero migration scenario accessed on 20 August 2018)

[9] In three migration scenarios, population decline for Europe’s non-Muslims, population growth for Muslims accessed on 20 August 2018)

[10] Idem.

[11] Number of Muslims in Western Europe accessed on 20 August 2018)

[12] Muslims in the EU, Norway and Switzerland in 2050: zero migration scenario accessed on 20 August 2018)

[13] Nitzan Peri-Rotem, ” Religion and Fertility in Western Europe: Trends  Across Cohorts in Britain, France and the Netherlands  “, European Journal of Population 32, 2016, p. 234.

[14] Muslims in the EU, Norway and Switzerland in 2050: High Migration Scenario accessed on 20 August 2018)

[15] Muslim Women in Denmark Are Defying the Burqa Ban in Protest (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[16] Main Factors Driving Population Growth accessed on 20 August 2018)

[17] Alexandra Tragaki, “Demography and Security, A Complex Nexus: The Case of the  Balkans “,  Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 11, 4, 2011, p. 444.

[18] Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography : What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, New York : Random House, 2012, p. 94.

[19] Europe’s Growing Muslim Population (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[20] Idem.

[21] In 2016, the EU delivered 779000 residence permits for family reunification

Residence permits statistics (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[22] al-Dimughrafiyya al-Islamiyya tantasir /(last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[23] Idem.

[24] al-Tanmiyya al-bashariyya fi riwayat ahl al-bayt /(last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[25] Taqrir ihda al-wakalat al-amrikiyya: iktisah al-muslimin li-urubbaتقرير-إحدى-الوكالات-الأمريكية-اكتساح/(last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[26] Idem.

[27] Idem.

[28] Surʻat intishar al-islam fi urubba (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[29] ʻIndama yusbih al-muslimun aghlabiyya fi al-ʻalamعثمان-ميرغني/عندما-يصبح-المسلمون-أغلبية-في-العالم (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[30] ‘You Are the Future of Europe,’ Erdogan Tells Turks (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[31] Turkish Government Official: “Europe Will be Muslim” (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[32] Anteil der Muslime in Europa: 4,9 Prozent

Anteil der Muslime in Europa: 4,9 Prozent

[33] La communauté musulmane de Belgique en pleine croissance (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[34] La population musulmane pourrait plus que doubler en Europe, à l’horizon 2050 (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[35] Idem.

[36] Pourquoi les musulmans seront majoritaires après 2050 (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[37] Most women in UK who have Islamic wedding miss out on legal rights (last accessed on 20 August 2018)


[38] Geert Wilders for Breitbart: The Pew Report on Muslim Migration to Europe is a Wake-up Call — It is Time to Get Tough (last accessed on 20 August 2018)

[39] Pro-natalism: Breaking the baby strike (last accessed on 20 August 2018)