Q: What is unique about the Muslim experience in France?
Because of secularism, Muslim life in France is vastly different from that in other European nations. The Muslim population in France is estimated to be about 5 to 10 percent (about 5 million), the largest community in Europe. But since 1905 the separation of church and state has been codified as law and forms the basis of some of the more controversial decisions in recent history in France: A 2004 law bans veils, yarmulkes, and crosses in schools, and a 2011 law bans full-face coverings, including wearing the niqab, in public. Many Muslims say they view the law of secularism as anti-Muslim, and some Muslim women in France will wear a veil even if they are not particularly religious to promote their cultural identity.
“France’s situation is very singular. Its colonial past weighs extremely heavily on the nation’s collective memory,” says Mansouria Mohkefi, a special advisor for the Middle East and North Africa at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. “Any type of communitarianism or show of public religiousness is forbidden.”