Asian cities becoming more Muslim in numbers and culture

Muslim cities are not only likely to grow in numbers but also in Islamic identity and diversity in the near future, writes Nile Green in the journal History and Anthropology (May). A recent Pew Research Center study found the world’s Muslim population is expected to rise by 37 percent by 2030, with Green adding that there is “little doubt that it will be Asia’s cities (and, through emigration, cities beyond Asia) that will be the chief locations for these larger Muslim populations.” These cities, which range from Karachi to Kuala Lumpur, are likely to struggle economically because of their large populations and reliance on low-cost, mass-produced exports, with China exercising an ongoing brain drain of their most talented workers. These cities will likely become more Islamic in culture both because of the continuing trend of religious minorities departing them and the migration of observant Muslims from the countryside. Because of greater Muslim influence and observance, these cities will be more segregated by sex, with more Muslim women raised or pressured into wearing hijab and, in some cases, niqab (full covering).

But these cities will not be monolithically Islamic, united, or necessarily peaceful. There will likely be more divisions between traditional ethnic and Muslim sectarian communities, as well as “inter-group competition, ranging from exclusive business arrangements to violent gangsterism.” At the same time, the growth of the religious marketplace will expand in such cities, with the Internet having a leveling effect on religious authority, except in places where state actors are able to suppress religious innovation or create their own religious establishments. Islamic entrepreneurs will trade in everything from supernatural medicine—filling in the gaps left by Western biomedicine—to the “bleaker corners of Muslim religiosity that range from black magic to honor killing… [to potentially violent] millennial religious firms,” Green writes. These religious economies can also provide a large number of jobs and create tangible services, such as charities and schools. Meanwhile, in architecture, aside from the massive projects in these cities funded by oil wealth, religious organizations will likely “provide the built public spaces of Asia’s urban Muslim future.”
(History and Anthropology,