Published: April 8, 2019

Historic shifts in the demography and geography of world religions this century will have major impacts on Australian society, according to Professor Riaz Hassan.

“This century is a fascinating century,” he told a recent seminar hosted by the Life Course Centre and the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland. “The religious demography of the world will change. By the end of this century there will be more Muslims than Christians for the first time in history.” The geographic location of the young and growing Muslim populations of Asia, particularly India, Pakistan and Indonesia, compared to the ageing and declining Christian populations of the United States, Britain and Europe, means Australia will be profoundly impacted by these shifts. By mid-century, it is forecast that Australia, along with several other countries, will no longer be majority Christian. At 47 per cent, Christianity will still be the largest religion in Australia but the unaffiliated or those with no religion will make up 40 per cent. Islam, with 4.9 per cent (up from 2.6 per cent in 2016) will be Australia’s second largest religious community, with almost one million more Muslims in Australia in 2050 than there were in 2010.


These findings are from the report, Australian Muslims: The Challenge of Islamophobia and Social Distance, led by Professor Hassan, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Flinders University, Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies National University of Singapore, and Director of the International Centre of Muslim and non-Muslim Understating at the University of South Australia. The research for the report received funding from a Life Course Centre capacity building grant in 2014, and Professor Hassan returned to the Centre to provide an overview of the report findings. He dedicated the report to the memory of the late Professor Bill Martin of the Institute for Social Science Research, who collaborated with him on the research. The report aims to bring Australia’s Muslim community into view and to better understand their socio-economic position, in preparation for the major demographic and geographic shifts to come.


Professor Hassan described the situation of Australian Muslims as “a little precarious”. They are not a homogenous group hailing from 183 different countries, with 37 per cent born in Australia. They are concentrated in low-income areas in major cities (predominantly Melbourne and Sydney) and are ‘underemployed and underpaid’. Poverty is inherited across generations and one in four Muslim children in Australia grow up in poverty. Reasons for this include language, cultural factors, citizenship, discrimination, Islamophobia, and social distance – although it is noted that 83 per cent of Australian Muslims report good or very good proficiency in the English language. The report includes details of a scale that was developed for measuring Islamophobia in Australia. The findings show that on average older Australian men, those with low education and the unemployed have higher levels of islamophobia than their counterparts.


A copy of the report, Australian Muslims: The Challenge of Islamophobia and Social Distance, can be accessed here.