Islam is the largest religious minority faith in France at approximately 9% of the population. Most Muslims in France today are immigrants or descend from immigrants from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, and smaller populations from Turkey and West Africa. There is also a growing convert population of about 100,000 people, predominantly young women, and which includes several French athletes and musicians who have drawn attention to the phenomenon.
France became a “Great Muslim Power” during the colonial era as a result of its colonization of various regions with large Muslim populations from North Africa to the Levant, and in smaller pockets elsewhere. In its effort to control public opinion and mitigate resistance from Muslim leaders, French colonial governments encouraged “moderate,” friendly Muslim voices while suppressing others. To varying extents, a similar process takes place in France today through outreach of various French institutions to certain representatives in the French Muslim community. Multiple Islamic perspectives are represented in France, including modernist Salafi movements and numerous Sufi orders, as well as perspectives influenced by ties between immigrants and their mother countries. French Muslim institutions are often connected to specific ethnic groups and maintain relationships with foreign governments or institutions.
Public views of Islam in France veer between acceptance and hostility. One 2006 survey showed that 76% of French citizens believe that, indeed, Islam is compatible with modern society. However, there are rising numbers of public figures who reject the notion that Islamic values could be French, some of whom have demonized Islam and French Muslims, and many French Muslims feel unfairly targeted by recent laws restricting religious dress.
Maia de la Baume, “More in France are Turning to Islam, Challenging a Nation’s Idea of Itself,” The New York Times, February 4, 2013.
John R. Bowen, Why The French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).
Jocelyne Cesari, “Ethnicity, Islam, and les banlieues: Confusing the Issues,” November 30, 2005, accessed April 2, 2014.
“France,” World Religion Database, eds. Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, (Leiden: Brill, 2008), accessed April 7, 2014.