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Islam in France

Islam is the second most widely professed religion in France (behind only Christianity). France has the largest number of Muslims in the Western world, primarily due to migration from Maghrebi, West African, and Middle Eastern countries. French polling company IFOP estimated in 2016 that French Muslims number between 3 and 4 million, and claimed that Muslims make up 5.6% of French people older than 15, and 10% of those younger than 25.] According to the latest Eurobarometer poll (2019), on the other hand, the Muslim population in France is 5% of the total population.

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

According to a survey of which 536 people of Muslim origin participated in, 39% of Muslims in France surveyed by the polling group IFOP said they observed Islam’s five prayers daily in 2008, a steady rise from 31% in 1994, according to the study published in the Catholic daily La Croix. Mosque attendance for Friday prayers has risen to 23% in 2008, up from 16% in 1994, while Ramadan observance has reached 70% in 2008 compared to 60% in 1994 it’s said. Drinking alcohol, which Islam forbids, has also declined to 34% from 39%.

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

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 Organizations 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

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, 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 claim is brought up in American immigration discourse that a third of newborns in France have Muslim parents.


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%). 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 million in 2005). Maghrebis have settled mainly in the industrial regions in France, especially in the Paris region. Many famous French people like Edith Piaf, 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.

% in 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.

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.

Religious practices

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. According to the study 39% pray (salat) five times, and most observe the fast of Ramadan (70%) and most do not eat pork while many do not drink wine. Rachel Brown shows that some Muslims in France alter some of these religious practices, particularly food practices, as a means of showing “integration” into French culture. According to expert Franck Fregosi: “Although fasting during Ramadan is the most popular practice, it ranks more as a sign of Muslim identity than piety, and it is more a sign of belonging to a culture and a community”, and he added that not drinking alcohol “seems to be more a cultural behaviour”.

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 organizations 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 organizations islamiques de France) (UOIF). In 2008, there were about 2,125 Muslim places of worship in France.


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 subsidized) 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 subsidized by the government (teachers’ wages in particular are covered by the State).


In October 2020, the unemployment among Muslims was far higher at 14% than the population at large (8%).


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”.

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. Destruction and vandalism of Muslim graves in France were seen as Islamophobic by a report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. A number of mosques have also been vandalized in France over the years. On 14 January 2015 it was reported that 26 mosques in France had been subject to attack since the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris.

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, 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.

In 2019, The French Institute for Public Research (IFOP) conducted the study from August 29 to September 18, based on a sample of 1007 Muslims aged 15 and above. According to the study, 40% of Muslims in France felt that they were discriminated against. More than a third of these instances were recorded in the past five years, suggesting an increase in the overall mistreatment of Muslims in France over recent years.  The survey found that 60% of women wearing a headscarf were subject to discrimination.  37% of Muslims in France have been a victim to verbal harassment or defamatory insults.  The study, however, revealed that 44% of Muslim women who do not wear headscarves found themselves being a victim to verbal harassment or defamatory insults.  The survey found that 13% of incidents of religious discrimination happened at police control points and 17% happened at job interviews.  14% of incidents occurred while the victims were looking to rent or buy accommodation. The IFOP stated that 24% of Muslims were exposed to verbal aggression during their lifetime, compared to 9% among non-Muslims. In addition, 7% of Muslims were physically attacked, compared to 3% of non-Muslims.

However, in 2019, according to the French Minstry of Interior, 154 anti-religious acts targeted Muslims (+54%), while those targeting Jews stood at 687 (+27%), and those against Christians was 1.052.

Estimations based on people’s geographic origin

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.

The United States Department of State placed it at roughly 10%, while two 2007 polls estimated it at about 3% of the total population.

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

The French polling company IFOP estimated in 2016 that French Muslims number between 3 and 4 million, and criticized 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. According to an IFOP survey for the newspaper La Croix in 2011 , based on a combination of previous surveys, 75% of people from families “of Muslim origin” (sic) said they were believers. This is more than the previous study in 2007 (71%) but less than the one before 2001 (78%). This variation, caused by the declarative aspect of the survey, illustrates the difficulty of establishing precisely the number of believers. According to the same survey 155 of those surveyed who had at-least one Muslim parent 84.8% Identified as Muslims, 3.4% Identified as Christians, 10.0% identified as not religious and 1.3% belonged to other religions.

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:

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 regularization 350,000
Other 100,000
Total 4,155,000

In 2008, thirty-nine percent of Muslims surveyed by the polling group IFOP said they observed Islam’s five prayers daily, a steady rise from 31 percent in 1994, according to the study published in the Catholic daily La Croix.

Mosque attendance for Friday prayers has risen to 23 percent, in 2008 up from 16 percent in 1994, while in 2008 Ramadan observance has reached 70 percent compared to 60 percent in 1994, it said. Drinking alcohol, which Islam forbids, has also declined to 34 percent from 39 percent in 1994, according to the survey of 537 people of Muslim origin.

A 2015 study found that up to 12,000 French Muslim converted to Christianity, but cited that this number may be underestimated, and it may include only Protestant converts.

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). In 2009, she estimated that the number of people of the Muslim faith in France was about 4.5 million.

According to Jean-Paul Gourévitch, there were 8.5 million of Muslim origin (about 1/8 of the population), in metropolitan France in 2017.

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).

.According to the latest Special Eurobarometer 493(2019) the Muslim population in France is estimated to be 5% or 3.350.000 million.

Pew Research Center predicts the Muslim population would rise to 8.6 million or 12.7 percent of the country in 2050.

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