Tuesday 27 November 2018

Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: France

Muslims first came to France soon after the consolidation of their foothold in Spain in the eighth century. However, they were not successful as in Spain and were defeated at the Battle of Tours in 732, but could hold on for a while in Septimania until 759. The y again ventured into France in the 9th century and were able to gain some success in the Southern France but were again expelled by 975. During the winter of 1543–1544, after the siege of Nice, Toulon was used as an Ottoman naval base under the admiral known as Hayreddin Barbarossa. The Christian population was temporarily evacuated, and Toulon Cathedral was briefly converted into a mosque until the Ottomans left the city. The fall of Muslims in Spain in the 17th century, about fifty thousand Moriscos entered France, according to the research of Henri Lapeyre.

Muslims have been in France even at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1922, as a sign of recognition from the French Republic to the fallen Muslim tirailleurs, a light infantry which operated ahead of main forces, mainly coming from Algeria, the Great Mosque of Paris was built, which is still serves a major landmark for Muslims in France. 

In recent times, lot of of Muslim immigrants came to France in the late 1960s and 1970s. Their influx was mainly from the French colonies like Algeria and other North African colonies. Today, Islam is the second-most widely professed religion in France behind Catholic Christianity by number of worshipers. France also has the largest number of Muslims in the Western world primarily due to migration from North African and Middle Eastern countries.

The majority of Muslims in France belong to the Sunni denomination. While the majority of Muslims in France are of immigrant origin, mainly from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, an estimated 100,000 are converts to Islam of indigenous ethnic French background. According to the French polling company IFOP (The Institut français d'opinion publique / French Institute of Public Opinion)  Muslims numbered  between 3 and 4 millions as late as 2016. 

The great majority of Muslims practice their religion in the French framework of laïcité as religious code of conduct must not infringe the public area. Most of them observe the fast of Ramadan and do not eat pork while many do not drink wine.

For French Muslims, being religious comes at a cost. The life Muslims have undergone many shades of acceptance, rejection or sidelining in the past two decades. The fallout of 2015 incidents has had a telling effect on how non Muslims view Muslims at large. 

The publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly magazine, successively has left a very bad taste of France about Muslims living in France. The continued government support to the magazine in the name of freedom of expression and speech does not go well with the sentiments of the Muslims which revere the Prophet of Islam above anything else. The stubbornness of the magazine to continue publishing derogatory caricatures had resulted in many sad incidents, which were instigated by one after the other freedom pf expression. Even after the last incident, to add fuel to the fire, the magazine raised printing of copies from three to five million, while the French government granted nearly €1 million to support the magazine. Although majority of Muslims denounce attacks and violence, they also believe that newspapers and media should not take undue advantage to hurt religious sentiments of the Muslims.
Grande Mosquée - Paris Mosque, France [Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Author: Gryffindor ]

Muslims are generally discriminated in getting jobs. According to a recent (2018) study (Anti-Muslim Discrimination in France: Evidence from a Field Experiment, conducted by IZA Institute of Labor Economics), French Muslim job seekers are less likely to get a callback for an interview than their Christian counterparts. French Muslims are even less likely to hear back from employers when they are religious. The opposite is true for Christians: being outwardly religious ended up boosting their callback rate. “Consequently, religious Muslims must submit twice as many applications as religious Christians before being called back by the recruiters,” economist Marie-Anne Valfort of Pantheon-Sorbonne University notes in the paper. [3]

The wearing of Muslim clothing specially by females is the main target of the secular French aspirations. Hijab by Muslim females is generally detested and even not allowed officially and many incidents of expulsions from schools and colleges of Muslim girls have been observed.

The passage of the controversial national security bill in 2017 has been a source of concern by the Muslims as it significantly expands the state's power to fight terrorism, and generally the Muslims face the fallout of the implementation of the security measures. The bill is even criticized as it poses a historic threat to civil liberties. "This is the first time since the age of de Gaulle that French law will enshrine a provision that will de facto target French minorities," said Patrick Weil, a French constitutional scholar and a leading historian of French immigration. Charles de Gaulle headed a provisional postwar government from 1944 to 1946 and served as president of France from 1959 to 1969. [6]

Successive governments since the 1980s have tried to create a brand of Islam particular to France, with the dual objective of integrating the country’s Muslim minority and fighting Islamist extremism.  In an interview earlier this year, when the French President Emmanuel Macron said that he plans to “set down markers on the entire way in which Islam is organized in France.” Macron has suggested training imams of Muslim mosques and in keeping with secularism, the training would be in cultural values, not religious texts, in order to foster a generation of imams “made in France.”

Obviously such ideas are not liked by the Muslims. “The Muslim community is tired and disappointed with a series of ridiculous and humiliating offers,” M’hammed Henniche, the president of the Union of Muslim Associations of Seine-Saint-Denis—a majority-Muslim district northeast of Paris.

However, despite many such restrictions by the French governments and indifferent attitude by the non Muslim majority, Muslims living in France feel a stronger attachment to their country than they do in much of Europe, despite experiencing high levels of discrimination. Muslims with French citizenship feel very attached to France, with Muslims rating their level of attachment at 4.3 on a scale of five. However, Muslims have also showed lower than average levels of trust in the police. [2]

You may like to watch a video on the challenges faced by Muslims in France:
Updated October 2020: The recent spate of unrest in France followed by killing of a school teacher who showed caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is yet another dark day for Muslims in France. The emotional response by the French president Macron has further fueled the fire and the mainstream Christians are presently showing a very hostile attitude towards the Muslims. As per reports, the people of Paris have resorted to showing caricatures by showing videos on large buildings, further provoking and intimidating the sentiments of Muslims. When would sanity prevail in France and when would they would stop playing with the emotions of Muslims in the garb of freedom of speech, is not known. But for now a very volatile situation exists in France.

Disclaimer: The data for this post has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non Muslim countries, please visit our page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
Photo French Flag | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
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