The Muslim population in Israel, including east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, numbered 1.2 million at the end of 2006 - 16.5 percent of the total population of Israel - according to data released Sunday by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Eighty three percent of the Israeli Arab population is Muslim.
The bureau traditionally releases data on the size of the Muslim population in Israel around the three-day festival Id al-Adha that began on Saturday according to most Sunnis or Sunday according to Shi'ites and some Sunni sects.
Id al-Adha (or Id al-Qurban, the festival of the sacrifice), commemorates the Muslim version of the binding of Isaac. For Muslims it was Ishmael, not Isaac, who was to be sacrificed by his father Abraham. Ishmael was saved at the last minute after God replaced him with a ram.
At 4.03 per woman, fertility rates among Israeli Muslims are among the highest in comparison to neighboring Arab countries. They surpass Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait and Tunisia.
Since the 1950's, Muslim-Israeli fertility rates have gradually fallen from levels of nine per woman. After about a decade of stability at five, fertility rates over the past six years have again fallen significantly from 4.74 in 2000 to their present levels.
In contrast, the Jewish fertility rate in 2005 was 2.69. Two demography experts from Hebrew University spoke with The Jerusalem Post, adding they were unwilling to be quoted because the subject of Muslim fertility rates in Israel was a highly charged issue politically.
They said that various theories have been used to explain the relatively high Muslim-Israeli fertility rates but said that no definitive explanation of the phenomenon has been advanced.
The preferred explanation is the microeconomic theory which states that Muslim-Israeli women have limited economic opportunities in the workplace or do not utilize the opportunities they have (only 14.6% Muslim women are employed compared to 50% of Jewish Israelis). As a result, Muslim-Israeli women, who are on average more educated than their peers in neighboring Arab countries, do not see childbearing as a big career sacrifice.
In contrast, the minority status theory posits that Muslim-Israelis see large families as a means of combating threats to their lower social status.
However, one demographer said, he was unable to prove the minority status theory especially since it did not seem to hold true regarding Christian and Druse-Israelis whose fertility rates were comparable to Jewish-Israelis.
Sharp cuts in child allowances since 2002 may have had an impact on fertility rates as well, conjectured one of the demographers.
Central bureau figures also pointed to a very young Muslim population. Some 43% were 14-years-old or younger and about a quarter of all children 14 or under were Muslim last year.
Average monthly income per household for Muslims was NIS 7,055, compared to a national average of NIS 11,680 while consumption per household surprisingly was higher than income at NIS 9,892 compared to the national average of NIS 10,816.
Muslims might be able to spend more than they earn due to social benefits that supplement their income.
Some 59% of Muslim men were employed compared to 60.7% of Jewish men.
Muslim unemployment was 11.9% compared to 9% among Jews.