Islam in France

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Islam in France
Grand Mosque, Paris.
Total population
5,720,000 (as of 2017)
Regions with significant populations
Île-de-France, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Hauts-de-France, Mayotte
Sunni Islam (majority), Shia Islam (minority)
Main: French, Arabic, Turkish

Islam is the second-most widely professed religion in France behind Catholic Christianity by number of worshippers.

France has the largest number of Muslims in the Western world primarily due to migration from North African and Middle Eastern countries.[1][2][3] A 2017 Pew Research report documents Muslim population at 5,720,000 or 8.8% of the total population.[4]

The majority of Muslims in France belong to the Sunni denomination.[5] The vast majority of French Muslims are of immigrant origin, while an estimated 100,000 are converts to Islam of indigenous ethnic French background.[6][7] The French overseas region of Mayotte has a majority Muslim population.[8]


Due to a law dating from 1872, the French Republic prohibits performing census by making distinction between its citizens regarding their race or their beliefs. However, that law does not concern surveys and polls, which are free to ask those questions if they wish. The law also allows for an exception for public institutions such as the INED or the INSEE whose job it is to collect data on demographics, social trends and other related subjects, on condition that the collection of such data has been authorized by the CNIL and the National Council of Statistical Information (CNIS [fr]).

Estimations based on declaration[edit]

A study from INED and the INSEE in October 2010 concluded that France has 2.1 million "declared Muslims" aged 18–50 including between 70,000 and 110,000 converts to Islam.[9]

Estimations based on people's geographic origin[edit]

According to the French Government, which does not have the right to ask direct questions about religion and uses a criterion of people's geographic origin as a basis for calculation, there were between 5 and 6 million Muslims in metropolitan France in 2010. The government counted all those people in France who migrated from countries with a dominant Muslim population, or whose parents did. Only 33% of those 5 to 6 million people (2 million) said they were practicing believers. That figure is the same as that obtained by the INED/INSEE study in October 2010.[9]

The United States Department of State placed it at roughly 10%,[10] while two 2007 polls estimated it at about 3% of the total population.[11] The CIA World Factbook places it at 5–10%.[12]

A Pew Forum study, published in January 2011, estimated 4.7 million Muslims in France in 2010 (and forecasted 6.9 million in 2030).[13]

The French polling company IFOP estimated in 2016 that French Muslims number between 3 and 4 million, and criticised suggestions of a significant demographic religious slide (The so-called Grand Remplacement in French politics). IFOP claims that they make up 5.6% of those older than 15, and 10% of those younger than 25.[14]

An Interior ministry source in l'Islam dans la République published the following estimated distribution of Muslims by Alain Boyer by affiliated countries in 1999:[15]

Algeria 1,550,000
Morocco 1,000,000
Tunisia 350,000
Turkey 315,000
Sub-Saharan Africa 250,000
Middle East 100,000
remaining Asia (mostly Pakistan and Bangladesh) 100,000
Converts 40,000
Illegal immigrants or awaiting regularisation 350,000
Other 100,000
Total 4,155,000

These numbers include people of Muslim affiliation who are not actually observant Muslims. Among Muslims, 36% described themselves as "observant believers", of which 20% claimed to go regularly to the mosque for the Friday service.[16] 70% said they "observe Ramadan". This would amount to a number of roughly 1.5 million French Muslims who are "observant believers", another 1.5 million who identify with Islam enough to observe Ramadan, and 1 million citizens of "(Islam observing lineage) Muslim extraction" but with no strong religious or cultural ties to Islam. The number of people of Islam observing lineage who are practicing Roman Catholics is negligible.

According to Michèle Tribalat [fr], a researcher at INED, an acceptance of 5 to 6 million Muslims in France in 1999 was overestimated. Her work has shown that there were 3.7 million people of "possible Muslim faith" in France in 1999 (6.3% of the total population of Metropolitan France).[17][17] These 3.7 million people whose ancestry is from countries where Islam is the dominant faith may or may not be observant Muslims themselves. In 2009, she estimated that the number of people of "possible Muslim faith" in France was about 4.5 million.[18]

According to Jean-Paul Gourévitch [fr], there were 8.5 million Muslims (about 1/8 of the population), including 3.5 practising Muslims, in metropolitan France in 2017.[19][20][21]

In 2017, François Héran, former Head of the Population Surveys Branch at INSEE and Director of INED (French National Institute for Demographic Research) between 1999 and 2009, stated that about one eighth of the French population was of Muslim origin in 2017 (8.4 million).[22]


Early history[edit]

After their conquest of Spain, Muslim forces pushed into southern France. They were defeated at the Battle of Tours in 732 but held Septimania until 759.

In the 9th century, Muslim forces conquered several bases in southern France, including Fraxinet. They were expelled only in 975.[23]

Barbarossa's fleet in Toulon.

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.

After the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain in 1609–1614, about fifty thousand Moriscos entered France, according to the research of Henri Lapeyre.[24]

1960-1970s labour immigration[edit]

Muslim immigration, mostly male, was high in the late 1960s and 1970s. The immigrants came primarily from Algeria and other North African colonies; however, Islam has an older history in France, since the Great Mosque of Paris was built in 1922, as a sign of recognition from the French Republic to the fallen Muslim tirailleurs mainly coming from Algeria, in particular at the battle of Verdun and the take-over of the Douaumont fort.

French Council of the Muslim Faith[edit]

Though the French State is secular, in recent years the government has tried to organize a representation of the French Muslims. In 2002, the then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy initiated the creation of a "French Council of the Muslim Faith" (Conseil Français du Culte Musulman – CFCM), though wide criticism claimed this would only encourage communitarianism. Though the CFCM is informally recognized by the national government, it is a private nonprofit association with no special legal status. As of 2004, it is headed by the rector of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur – who harshly criticized the controversial Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) for involving itself in political matters during the 2005 riots. Nicolas Sarkozy's views on laïcité have been widely criticized by left- and right-wing members of parliament; more specifically, he was accused, during the creation of the CFCM, of favoring the more extreme sectors of Muslim representation in the Council, in particular the UOIF.

Second generation immigrants[edit]

The first generation of Muslim immigrants, who are today mostly retired from the workforce, keep strong ties with their countries, where their families lived. In 1976,[25] the government passed a law allowing families of these immigrants to settle; thus, many children and wives moved to France. Most immigrants, realizing that they couldn't or didn't want to return to their homeland, asked for French nationality before quietly retiring. However, many live alone in housing projects, having now lost their ties with their countries of origin.

Olivier Roy indicates that for first generation immigrants, the fact that they are Muslims is only one element among others. Their identification with their country of origin is much stronger: they see themselves first through their descent (Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, etc.).

The false[citation needed] claim is brought up in American immigration discourse that a third of newborns in France have Muslim parents.[26]


According to Michel Tribalat, a researcher at INED, people of Maghrebi origin in France represent 82% of the Muslim population (43.2% from Algeria, 27.5% from Morocco and 11.4% from Tunisia). Others are from Sub-saharan Africa (9.3%) and Turkey (8.6%).[27] She estimated that there were 3.5 million people of Maghrebi origin (with at least one grandparent from Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia) living in France in 2005 corresponding to 5.8% of the total French metropolitan population (60.7 millions in 2005).[28] Maghrebis have settled mainly in the industrial regions in France, especially in the Paris region. Many famous French people like Edith Piaf,[29] Isabelle Adjani, Arnaud Montebourg, Alain Bashung, Dany Boon and many others have varying degrees of Maghrebi ancestry.

Below is a table of population of Maghrebi origin in France, numbers are in thousands:

Country 1999 2005 % 1999/2005 % French population (60.7 million in 2005)
Algeria 1,577 1,865 +18.3% 3.1%
Immigrants 574 679
Born in France 1,003 1,186
Morocco 1,005 1,201 +19.5% 2.0%
Immigrants 523 625
Born in France 482 576
Tunisia 417 458 +9.8% 0.8%
Immigrants 202 222
Born in France 215 236
Total Maghreb 2,999 3,524 +17.5% 5.8%
Immigrants 1 299 1 526 2.5%
Born in France 1 700 1 998 3.3%

In 2005, the percentage of young people under 18 of Maghrebi origin (at least one immigrant parent) was about 7% in Metropolitan France, 12% in Greater Paris and above 20% in French département of Seine-Saint-Denis.[30][31]

2005% Seine-Saint-Denis Val-de-Marne Val-d'Oise Lyon Paris France
Total Maghreb 22.0% 13.2% 13.0% 13.0% 12.1% 6.9%

In 2008, the French national institute of statistics, INSEE, estimated that 11.8 million foreign-born immigrants and their direct descendants (born in France) lived in France representing 19% of the country's population. About 4 million of them are of Maghrebi origin.[32][33]

According to some non-scientific sources between 5 and 6 million people of Maghrebin origin live in France corresponding to about 7–9% of the total French metropolitan population.[34]

Religious practices[edit]

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. They practice prayer (salat), and most observe the fast of Ramadan and most do not eat pork while many do not drink wine.

Some Muslims (the UOIF for example) request the recognition of an Islamic community in France (which remains to be built) with an official status.

Two main organisations are recognized by the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM): the "Federation of the French Muslims" (Fédération des musulmans de France) with a majority of Moroccan leaders, and the controversial "Union of Islamic Organisations of France" (Union des organisations islamiques de France) (UOIF). In 2008, there were about 2,125 Muslim places of worship in France.[35]


Since publicly funded State schools in France must be secular, owing to the 1905 separation of Church and State, Muslim parents who wish their children to be educated at a religious school often choose private (and therefore fee-paying, though heavily subsidised) Catholic schools, of which there are many. Few specifically Muslim schools have been created. There is a Muslim school in La Réunion (a French island to the east of Madagascar), and the first Muslim collège (a school for students aged eleven to fifteen) opened its doors in 2001 in Aubervilliers (a suburb northeast of Paris), with eleven students. Unlike most private schools in the United States and the UK, these religious schools are affordable for most parents since they may be heavily subsidised by the government (teachers' wages in particular are covered by the State).


In November 2015 in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, French authorities for the first time closed three mosques with extremist activities and radicalisation being given as the reason. The mosques were located in Lagny-sur-Marne, Lyon and Gennevilliers.[36] Muslim community leaders widely condemned the Paris attacks in public statements and expressed their support for the French government's attempts to oppose islamist extremism.[37]

The deadly attacks in 2015 in France changed the character of Islamist radicalization from a security threat to constitute a societal problem. Prime minister François Hollande and prime minister Manuel Valls saw the fundamental values of the French republic being challenged and called them attacks against fundamental secular, enlightenment and democratic values along with "what makes us who we are".[38]

In 2016 French authorities reported that 120 of the 2500 Islamic prayer halls were disseminating salafist ideas and 20 mosques were closed due to findings of hate speech.[39] In 2016, French authorities stated that 15000 of the 20000 individuals on the list of security threats belong to islamist movements.[40]

In 2018, EU anti-terror coordinator Gilles de Kerchove estimated there to be 17 000 radicalized Muslims and jihadists living in France.[41]

In 2018, French intelligence services monitored around 11000 individuals with suspected ties to radical Islamism. France has sentenced a large number of individuals for terrorist-related offences which has increased the prison population.[42] This in turn has created an issue with radicalization in French prisons.[42]

In February 2019, authorities in Grenoble closed the Al-Kawthar mosque for six months due to it propagating a "radical islamist ideology". The Al-Kawthar mosque had about 400 regular visitors. In several of the sermons, the imam legitimised armed jihad, violence and hatred towards followers of other religions anti-republican values and promoted Sharia law.[43]

Islamic terrorism[edit]

In the 2015–2018 timespan in France, 249 people been killed in terrorist attacks and 928 wounded in a total of 22 terrorist attacks.[44]


Accepted French citizens[edit]

Several studies have concluded that France is the Western country where Muslims integrate the best and feel the most for their country, and that French Muslims have the most positive opinions about their fellow citizens of different faiths. A 2006 study from the Pew Research Center on Integration is one such study.[45] In Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region where French Muslims tend to be more educated and religious, the vast majority rejects violence and say they are loyal to France according to studies by Euro-Islam, a comparative research network on Islam and Muslims in the West sponsored by GSRL Paris/ CNRS France and Harvard University.[46][47] On the other hand, a 2013 IPSOS survey published by the French daily Le Monde (with a much smaller sample size and employing less rigorous research methods[citation needed]), indicated that only 26% of French respondents believed that Islam was compatible with French society (compared to 89% identifying Catholicism as compatible and 75% identifying Judaism as compatible).[48][49] A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center in Spring 2014 revealed that out of all Europeans, the French view Muslim minorities most favorably with 72% having a favourable opinion.[3][50][51]

In April 2018 an Algerian Muslim woman refused to shake hands with the official on religious grounds. As an applicant must demonstrate being integrated into society as well as respect for French values, officials considered her not integrated and denied her citizenship application.[52]


In 2010, a study entitled Are French Muslims Discriminated Against in Their Own Country? found that "Muslims sending out resumes in hopes of a job interview had 2.5 times less chance than Christians" with similar credentials "of a positive response to their applications".[53]

Other examples of discrimination against Muslims include the desecration of 148 French Muslim graves near Arras. A pig's head was hung from a headstone and profanities insulting Islam and Muslims were daubed on some graves.[54] Destruction and vandalism of Muslim graves in France were seen as Islamophobic by a report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.[55] A number of mosques have also been vandalized in France over the years.[56][57] On 14 January 2015 it was reported that 26 mosques in France had been subject to attack since the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris.[58]

On 29 June 2017, a man who suffered from schizophrenia attempted to ram his vehicle into a crowd of worshipers exiting a mosque in Créteil,[59] a suburb of Paris, though no one was injured. Le Parisien claims the suspect, of Armenian origin, wanted to "avenge the Bataclan and Champs-Elysées" attacks.[60]

Public opinion[edit]

A February 2017 poll of 10 000 people in 10 European countries by Chatham House found on average a majority (55%) were opposed to further Muslim immigration, with opposition especially pronounced in Austria, Poland, Hungary, France and Belgium. Except for Poland, all of those had recently suffered jihadist terror attacks or been at the centre of a refugee crisis.[61]


The 2005 French riots have been controversially[62] interpreted as an illustration of the difficulty of integrating Muslims in France, and smaller scale riots have been occurring throughout the 1980s and 1990s, first in Vaulx-en-Velin in 1979, and in Vénissieux in 1981, 1983, 1990 and 1999.

Furthermore, although Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy claimed that most rioters were immigrants and already known to the police, the majority were, in fact, previously unknown to the police.[63][64]

In 2014, an analysis by The Washington Post showed that between 60-70% of the prison population in France are Muslim or come from Muslim backgrounds while Muslims constitute 12% of the population of France.[65] The claims in this article have been refuted: the headline figure was based on research in 4 Paris and north regions prisons out of a total 188 by Professor Farhad Khosrovkhavar later said his best estimate was 40-50%, but that data is not recorded by French authorities.[66] Statistics on ethnicity and religion are banned in France.[66][67] In 2013, 18 300 (27%) of the 67 700 French prison population registered for Ramadam, an indication of their religious affiliation.[67]


The wearing of hijab in France has been a very controversial issue since 1989. The debate essentially concerns whether Muslim girls who choose to wear hijab may do so in state schools. A secondary issue is how to protect the free choice and other rights of young Muslim women who do not want the veil, but who may face strong pressure from families or traditionalists. Similar issues exist for civil servants and for acceptance of male Muslim medics in medical services. The Qu'ran instructs that men and women are to wear decent clothing, outside of the immediate family, but does not mention the veil. Only the Hadith instructs female to wear veils without specifications.

Leila Babes in her book "The Veil Demystified", believe that wearing the veil does not derive from a Muslim religious imperative.[68]

The French government, and a large majority of public opinion are opposed to the wearing of a "conspicuous" sign of religious expression (dress or symbol), whatever the religion, as this is incompatible with the French system of laïcité. In December 2003, President Jacques Chirac said that it breaches the separation of church and state and would increase tensions in France's multicultural society, whose Muslim and Jewish populations are both the biggest of their kind in Western Europe.

The issue of Muslim hijabs has sparked controversy after several girls refused to uncover their heads in class, as early as 1989. In October 1989, three Muslim schoolgirls wearing the Islamic headscarf were expelled from the collège Gabriel-Havez in Creil (north of Paris). In November, the First Conseil d'État ruling affirmed that the wearing of the Islamic headscarf, as a symbol of freedom of religious expression, in public schools was not incompatible with the French school system and the system of laïcité. In December, a first ministerial circular (circulaire Jospin) was published, stating teachers had to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to ban the wearing of Islamic headscarf.

In January 1990, three schoolgirls were expelled from the collège Pasteur in Noyon, north of Paris. The parents of one expelled schoolgirl filed a defamation action against the principal of the collège Gabriel-Havez in Creil. As a result, the teachers of a collège in Nantua (eastern part of France, just to the west of Geneva, Switzerland) went on strike to protest the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in school. A second ministerial circular was published in October, to restate the need to respect the principle of laïcité in public schools.

In September 1994, a third ministerial circular (circulaire Bayrou) was published, making a distinction between "discreet" symbols to be tolerated in public schools, and "ostentatious" symbols, including the Islamic headscarf, to be banned from public schools. In October, some students demonstrated at the lycée Saint Exupéry in Mantes-la-Jolie (northwest of Paris) to support the freedom to wear Islamic headscarves in school. In November, approximately twenty-four veiled schoolgirls were expelled from the lycée Saint Exupéry in Mantes-la-Jolie and the lycée Faidherbe in Lille.

In December 2003, President Chirac decided that the law should prohibit the wearing of visible religious signs in schools, according to laïcité requirements. The law was approved by parliament in March 2004. Items prohibited by this law include Muslim hijabs, Jewish yarmulkes or large Christian crosses.[69] It is still permissible to wear discreet symbols of faith such as small crosses, Stars of David or Fatima's hands.

Two French journalists working in Iraq, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were taken hostage by the "Islamic Army in Iraq" (an Iraqi resistance militant movement) under accusations of spying. Threats to kill the two journalists if the law on headscarves was not revoked were published on the Internet by groups claiming to be the "Islamic Army in Iraq". The two journalists were later released unharmed.[70]

The arguments have resurfaced when, on 22 June 2009, at the Congrès de Versailles, President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that the Islamic burqa is not welcome in France, claiming that the full-length, body-covering gown was a symbol of subservience that suppresses women's identities and turns them into "prisoners behind a screen." A parliamentary commission of thirty-two deputies and led by André Gerin (PCF), was also formed to study the possibility of banning the public wearing of the burqa or niqab.[71] There is suspicion, however, that Sarkozy is "playing politics in a time of economic unhappiness and social anxiety."[72]

A Muslim group spokesman expressed serious concern over the proposed legislation, noting that "even if they ban the burqa, it will not stop there," adding that "there is a permanent demand for legislating against Muslims. This could go really bad, and I’m scared of it. I feel like they’re turning the screws on us."[72]

On 25 January 2010 it was announced that the parliamentary committee, having concluded its study, would recommend that a ban on veils covering the face in public locations such as hospitals and schools be enacted, but not in private buildings or on the street.[73]


Formal as well as informal Muslim organisations help the new French citizens to integrate. There are no Islam-based political parties, but a number of cultural organisations. Their most frequent activities are homework help and language classes in Arabic, ping pong, Muslim discussion groups etc. are also common. However, most important associations active in assisting with the immigration process are either secular (GISTI, for example) or ecumenist (such as the protestant-founded Cimade).

The most important national institution is the CFCM (Conseil Français du Culte Musulman) this institution was designed on the model of the "Consistoire Juif de France" and of the "consistoire Protestant de France" both Napoleonic creation. The aim of the CFCM (like its Jewish and protestant counterparts) is to discuss religious problem with the state, participate in certain public institutions, and organise the religious life of French Muslims. The CFCM is elected by the French Muslims through local election. It is the only official instance of the French Muslims.

There were for organisations represented in the CFCM elected in 2003 GMP UOIF FNMF CCMTF. In 2008 a new council was elected. The winner was RMF with a large majority of the votes, followed by the UOIF and the CCMTF. It is a very broad and young organisation and there is a beginning of consensus on major issues.

Two more organizations are PCM (Muslim Participation and Spirituality), which combine political mobilization (against racism, sexism etc.) and spiritual retreats and parties. The other is CMF (well known as "the organization close to Tariq Ramadan", though he is not their leader). Both of these organizations put a lot of emphasis on the need to get involved in French society – by joining organizations, registering to vote, working with your children's schools etc. They do not have clear-cut political positions as such, but push for active citizenship. They are vaguely on the Left in practice.

The government has yet to formulate an official policy towards making integration easier. As mentioned above, it is difficult to determine in France who may be called a Muslim. Some Muslims in France describe themselves as "non-practicing". Most simply observe Ramadan and other basic rules, but are otherwise secular.

Notable French Muslims[edit]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ The World Factbook Archived 2010-02-14 at WebCite CIA
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Further reading[edit]

  • Davidson, Naomi. Only Muslim: Embodying Islam in Twentieth-Century France (Cornell University Press, 2012)
  • Katz, Ethan B. The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France (Harvard University Press, 2015)
  • Mandel, Maud S. Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict (Princeton University Press; 2014) 253 pages; scholarly history of conflicts since 1948; special attention to Marseilles and to the impact of French decolonization in North Africa.
  • Motadel, David. "The Making of Muslim Communities in Western Europe, 1914–1939." in by Götz Nordbruch and Umar Ryad, eds., Transnational Islam in Interwar Europe: Muslim Activists and Thinkers (2014) ch 1.
  • Murray-Miller, Gavin. "A Conflicted Sense of Nationality: Napoleon III's Arab Kingdom and the Paradoxes of French Multiculturalism." French Colonial History 15#1 (2014): 1-37.
  • Rootham, Esther. "Embodying Islam and laïcité: young French Muslim women at work." Gender, Place & Culture (2014): 1-16.
  • Scheck, Raffael. French Colonial Soldiers in German Captivity During World War II (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
  • Zwilling, Anne-Laure. "A century of mosques in France: building religious pluralism." International Review of Sociology 25#2 (2015): 333-340.

External links[edit]