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Muslims in France

France: a brief glance

Area & Border

The overall area of France is estimated at 547965 sq km. Capital: Paris.

It is bordered from the north by: Belgium, Luxembourg, and the North Sea; from the east by: Germany, Switzerland, and Italy; from the west, by the North Atlantic Ocean; and from the south by: the Mediterranean Sea and Spain.


The population of France accounts for 60.9millions . Language: French.

Catholic constitutes around 85% of the population and Muslims rank second with some 7%. As for the rest of the population, they belong to Protestantism, Judaism and other religions.

France: a huge economic power

France comes in the first place in the agricultural production field in the European Union. It is one of the most important dietetic agriculture exporting countries. Actually, French researchers and institutions are considered a reference in the field of agricultural sciences and water treatment.

Moreover, France takes the lead in the industry of luxurious products, especially when it comes to cosmetics, perfumes and quality alcohols.

In addition, France possesses a huge industrial field that varies from the nuclear industry, to transportation means, to cars and planes, to telecommunications and finally to the armament industry. Besides, France is the fourth major super economic power and the first international source of services. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most important pioneers in the advanced technology arena as well as in the researches conducted in the domain of pure and practical sciences. Here are some of the newest French achievements:

French High-Speed trains (TGV): French trains and metros invade the biggest international markets. This industry is characterized by its high technical features, specificities and record speed. It also plays a very distinguished role in the movement of transportation and communication.

Another example of the very interesting French achievements is the credit card (la Carte à Puce) that seems indispensable to everyone nowadays. Its design originally included an electronic memory enabled for a certain amount of money from which the costs of purchases would be deducted. This card works only in boutiques equipped with such a payment machine. This breakthrough paved the way for more technological advances, mainly in the field of calculating machines sensitive to signs and movements, as well as wireless communication and the robot industry.

Europe is experiencing a fascinating adventure in which France is assuming the main role. Since 1979, 100 Ariane launchers have been launched from the Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana, French oversees department. In fact, due to technological advance, the European Spatial Program encouraged exchange of technological experiences: installations, delicate machines, electronic devices, and computers. Furthermore, it combines the elements of success in the observation and communication field and ensures Europe’s political and scientific independence.

Ariane is actually drawing severe competition from Russia, the United States of America, Japan and China. Though, it remained at the forefront because it enjoys the distinctive character of combining two industrial satellites. Not to mention that it carries five industrial satellites weighing some 5 tons, which enables it to capture the market of all industrial satellites.

France has an important aerospace industry led by Airbus, the world's largest commercial aircraft manufacturer based in Toulouse. Airbus Industry began as a consortium of European aviation firms, relying greatly on the French century of experience, potentials and knowledge in this area. The French contribution in this consortium is represented by the Aérospatiale-Matra company, including all the activities it fosters.

The state controls a significant part of this industry, in spite of the emergence of a real tendency towards privatization ten years ago.

Despite the presence of clear signs of economic growth, France suffers from a considerable unemployment rate. Curbing this rate remains one of the most pressing priorities of the current government.

On the other hand, the nuclear electric power production accounts for 73%, which makes France the first consumer of this sort of power, particularly since coal is approaching a point of depletion after decades of thriving. The same applies to natural gas as well.

France from the historical angle:

- The 1789 French Revolution put an end to more than 1300 years of Monarchy. Subsequently, France knew a troubled period passing from the Republic, to the Empire of Napoleon, to Monarchy again before ending up finally with the Republic in 1870.

- France took part in the World War I during which around one million French lost their lives. It also participated in the World War II but did not succeed in standing up to the German invasion. It surrendered in 1940. But later resistance emerged under the leadership of Charles De Gaulle who took refuge in London. This resistance managed, with the help of the Alliance Forces, to set France free in 1944.

- In 1958, France adopted a new Constitution and knew political stability.

- In the beginnings of the sixties, the majority of the French colonies earned their independence.

- France is one of the founding countries of the European Union in 1957. In 1999, it adopted the unified European currency (the Euro) as its official one.

Muslims in France between the beginnings of immigration and the rights of citizenship

A historical view:

The beginnings of Arab - Muslim presence in France dates back to 716 A.D. when the first group of Muslim soldiers crossed the Pyrenees Mountains infiltrating the Spanish-French borders to occupy the city of Norborne turning its Cathedral into a Mosque (which was later destroyed). In 721 A.d., led by Al-Samh ibn Malik, Islamic forces swept up to the city of Toulouse and defeated the French forces that were trying to defend the city under the leadership of Duke Eudes of Aquitaine.

Muslim forces continued their advance and reached in 726 A.D. the city of Lyon in central France. The year 731 A.D. witnessed the peak of Islamic invasions with the occupation of the city of Bordeaux . But right after this occupation, the real retreat of Islamic forces began as they were defeated by Duke Eudes in cooperated with Charles Martel near the city of Poitiers in 732 A.D. Some Muslims were taken captives by the French and deported to North of France where they finally settled. That was regarded as the real first Muslim Arab existence in France.

This situation continued as such until the Andalusians were defeated by the Franks. The latter went too far in unleashing killings and slaughters. Consequently, some 150 thousand Arabs and Muslims had to seek refuge in south of France and settle in that area.

As to new immigrations, they started in the beginnings of the 20th century where colonial wars reached their climax. France began coveting the Arab Maghreb since it was in a huge need for foreign labor force in order to develop its own industries and become able to compete in foreign markets. And so, the first groups of Arab laborers headed towards France coming from Algeria and Morocco between 1900 and 1905. In the same context, the breakout of World War I increased even more France’s demand for foreign labor that had to fill in the vacancy in arm factories and serve France in its colonial wars in the Chinese India, Africa and the Normandy.

It is worth mentioning that this workforce was first employed in inferior jobs. It is believed actually that the huge Metro tunnels in Paris and Lyon were built by those laborers. The flow of immigrants continued between the two world wars to reach some 132 thousand people. Even after the Second World War, immigration did not stop due to multiple reasons varying form economic, to political and social. In consequence, the number of Muslim expatriates increased considerably, which made the French governmentbuild a mosque in the centre of the French capital, Paris. The mosque was opened by French President Gaston Doumergue and the Sultan of Morroco ,Mawlay Youssef.

A negative perception of Muslims

Islam is considered the second largest religion after Christianity in France. The number of Muslim community in France varies between 5 and 6 Million. The majority of this community is originated from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia and lives under very bad conditions. French media and schools curricula try to portray them in a negative way, accusing them of being hostile towards others and perpetrating violence and terrorism. All the more so, Zionist publicity and the exactions of some Arab emigrants contribute to increasing distortion of Muslim’s image.

In this respect, in order to guarantee a further isolation and encirclement of Muslims in France, some French political milieu like the former French Foreign Minister Charles Pasqua, a Gaullist, initiated the procedure, stipulated by the law, of taking the fingerprints of foreigners living in France illegitimately, and extending the detention period in an attempt to pave the way for expelling foreigners from France. This procedure was described by the weekly “Le Courrier Internationale” as being similar to the iron curtain regime once adopted by the Soviet Union against the foreigners trying to lead a life in it.

Acknowledging Islam as a religion:

These decisions caused a strong reaction from the part of the Muslims General Federalism President in France, Doctor Muhammed Al-Bichary who earnestly called for canceling these decisions. This federalism demanded officials to grant Muslims of France their legitimate rights. In fact, these demands were crowned by success with the conclusion of the agreement of 28 January in 2000. By virtue of this agreement, the French Government acknowledges Islam as an official religion amongst the other religions recognized in France, such as Christianity and Judaism. This agreement was regarded as a turning point in the history of Arabs and Muslims in France.

The articles of this agreement provide for the right of Muslims to Freedom of belief, to the open and safe performance of religious rituals, to the freedom of wearing Islamic costumes and eating meat that has been slaughtered in the manner prescribed by the Sshari’a, to build mosques and cemeteries, and to construct French schools. Muslims are also entitled to have their own feasts and special occasions, such as the Fitr, the Adha and the Messenger’s (p.) birthday in exchange for their respect of the French constitution.

Feelings of hatred and animosity:

Muslims in France – most of whom are Arabs – feel insecure and unstable because of the French laws imposed on foreigners, even those who have earned the French nationality. Muslims and Arabs are faced with such hostility despite the fact that they have proven high potentials and competences that were of a great use for France in different areas.

Adding to the feelings of rancor and antagonism against Muslims and Arabs were the September 11 events of 2001. The tragedy of that year led to the occurrence of numerous aggressions and violence against Muslims, especially veiled women or people with Arab appearances.

Personal problems:

The problem of Muslims – Arabs – in France lies in the numerous dissentions that emerge between the associations they form. Each Arab community constitutes actually an independent association connected to the mother country. These associations reflect the disagreements between the immigrant communities.

There are two types of these associations in France. The first one encompasses the group of people that opposes the regime prevalent in their mother Arab State. The second one brings together the group of people who had immigrated to France for economic reasons and who still want to maintain a relationship with their mother country, whether out of loyalty or sense of belonging.

This pluralism in associations and institutions helped weakening Arab associations and undermining their capabilities. Hence, they prove to be unable to take up the challenges they are facing in their expatriation.

The French political scene:

As for the French political scene and the way it approaches Muslim community, it varies between a group of political parties and movements, including:

The Rally for the Republic RPR (Rassemblement pour la République). It was founded by Jacques Chirac in 1976 and posed as the heir of Gaullism. This party adopts a policy of establishing friendships with Arab states, understanding their causes, mainly the Palestinian cause. However, this policy was not adopted towards Arabs internally. Nay, it looked sometimes as anti Arab and Islamic presence in France.

The Union for French Democracy UDF (Union pour la Démocratie Française), is a French center-right political party. It is known for its hostility towards Arab causes. Its current leader, as of 2005, François Bayrou expelled tens of veiled students from public schools when he was Minister of National Education.

The Liberal Democracy (Démocratie Libérale, DL), is one of the parties opposing Arabs inside and outside. This party takes always the lead in anti-Arab and pro-Israel demonstrations fostered by Zionist organizations in France. It also supports extremist French Jews and radical right-wing parties in Israel such as the Likud Party.

The National Front (Front National FN) is a right-wing reactionary political party in France, often accused of being racist on account of its opposition to immigration. The party was founded and is still headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972 with collaboration with Bruno Mégret - the leader of The National Republican Movement - who later withdrew from it. This party is generally considered to be of the far-right, expressing animosity towards Arabs, Jews and all foreigners. It calls for imposing harsh restrictions on foreigners to expel them from France, and for exiting the European Union.

The Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste or PS) (1901) is one of the most important French Parties that has a historical friendship with Israel. Thousands of Jewish members in this Party were able to reach the leadership and the presidency of the French government.

The French Communist Party (Parti communiste français or PCF) (1920) is one of the most eager French parties in supporting Arab community and the Arab position in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Citizen and Republican Movement (Mouvement républicain et citoyen) is a political party in France, founded by Jean-Pierre Chevènement who left the Socialist party. He resigned from the Socialist government because he did not approve his country’s attitude vis-à-vis the U.S. aggression against Iraq. He is one of the few French politicians who defend the Arab community in France.

The Greens (Les Verts) (1981): Noël Mamère is very supportive of Arabs and the Palestinian cause. During the besiegement of Arafat, the Green Party sent a parliamentary delegation to Ramallah in a sign of solidarity with him. Besides, it always participates in the French demonstrations supporting the Palestinian Cause. For that reason, it has suffered from severe aggressions from extremist Zionist organizations during the last presidential electoral campaign.

The Workers' Struggle Party (Lutte Ouvrière) supports Arab in France and the Palestinian cause based on ideological convictions. The Party’s spokeswoman Arlette Laguiller likened the Zionist exactions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the Nazi exactions in the concentration camps in Europe.