Islam Is the Second Largest
Religion in France
by Alexei Kudryavcev
According to various statistics, 4-5 million of the 59 million population of
France are Muslims. They are the second largest group after the Catholics,
leaving Protestants and Jews far behind, thus making France one of the most
heavily Islamic European countries.
Two thirds of French Muslims come from 123 countries, mainly Africa, Turkey, and
the Middle East. The biggest Magribian diasporas are of the 700-800 thousand
Algerian immigrants. After them are the 600 thousand Moroccans, 300-400 thousand
Tunisians and 350 thousand Turks. The latter are mainly Kurdish Muslims apart
from Chaldean Catholics. Followers of Islam are dominant among emigrants from
Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, and other countries, whose number as highlighted by the
census in 1990 was 176 thousand. Emigrants from the Arabic East, Pakistan, and
Iran represent smaller communities. Naturalized Muslims with French citizenship
are mainly their descendants. Another Muslim group consists of native French
converted to Islam.
There are five cathedral mosques in Paris, Lyons, and Marseilles and more than
1500 local mosques and prayer-halls. However, only 8-15 per cent of Muslims
regularly attend a mosque; 80 per cent of them fast in Ramadan and follow other
More than 2000 Islamic associations, religious and cultural centres, branches of
Islamic political parties - including radical ones - are active in France.
Muslims have established a widespread net of bookshops and even meat shops
allowed by Shariat.
The place of Islam as the second religion in the country is not only conditioned
by the development of an Islamic infrastructure. Whilst it preserves a tradition
of secularism, France had to address the question of the status of Islam when a
number of cases stimulated heated debate at the end of the 1980’s; for example
the incident involving the two Muslim girls wearing kerchiefs who were not
allowed to attend lessons at a State school, or the famous fatwa issued by
Ayatollah Khomeini against the British writer Salman Rushdie, author of the
sensational book ‘The Satanic Verses’.
Muslims significantly strengthened their hand in the 1990’s. In January 2000 the
President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac received in the Elysée Palace a
delegation of four representatives of Muslim communities. During the
conversation he promised to do everything in his power to help Islam to
establish itself among other religions in France.