10 stereotypes about France, Islam and Muslims

1. “French mosques aren’t protected well enough”

  • 10,000 French soldiers have been deployed by the Government to protect places of worship: 1000 of the 2500 mosques in France are being protected by the Government as part of Operation Sentinelle.
  • The French Government also funds arrangements to secure places of worship and carry out surveillance during major religious holidays: €9 million will be spent over the next three years to equip places of worship with security systems including CCTV.
  • This commitment by the Government to the Muslim community and the protection of places of worship is total and will remain so as long as the threats exist.

2. “France isn’t doing anything to combat the rise in islamophobic acts in the country”

  • The increase in violence committed against Muslims and their places of worship in France following the January 2015 attacks is a sad reality. The authorities condemn it most severely: “the reality of the odious phenomenon” of anti-Muslim acts is probably “underestimated, because all too many victims are reluctant to press charges. We need to combat this ‘sentiment of resignation’. These complaints need to be recorded and communicated systematically to the courts” (Manuel Valls, 15 June 2015).
  • The fact that an offence is committed for racial or religious reasons is considered an aggravating circumstance. Moreover, a series of measures have been announced recently to toughen punishment of such acts.
  • The campaign “Tous unis contre la haine” (united against hatred) illustrates the Government’s determination to counter ideas that can lead to anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and racist acts.

3. “Secularism is hostile to Islam”

Secularism is a freedom – the freedom to believe or not to believe. This freedom of conscience, which protects our society, does not mean, as is sometimes thought, that the State ignores or is hostile towards religions. Although France does not recognize any religion (in the sense that it neither subsidizes nor pays salaries linked to them), it knows them well, maintains constant, confident dialogue with them on:

  • practical issues linked to worship (such as conditions of ritual slaughter);
  • major societal questions (such as within the body for dialogue with French Islam, which first met in June 2015).

Secularity is the embodiment of the founding principles of the French Republic:

  • Liberty (of religion or belief, ie. to practice a religion of one’s choosing, to have no religion or to change religion);
  • Equality (all religions and beliefs are treated in the same manner);
  • Fraternity (coexistence is protected across all the various origins and beliefs of citizens).

4. “The veil is banned in France under an anti-Islam law”

Like all religious symbols, the veil is authorized in France. There are only two exceptions to this rule:

  • the 2004 Act prohibits the wearing of symbols or clothing making oneself immediately recognizable as a member of a faith in French State schools. But the wearing of discreet religious symbols is permissible.
  • the 2010 Act prohibits the coverage of the face in public places. This prohibition does not apply to headscarves used as a head covering or placed on the hair.

These laws are not hostile to Islam:

  • the 2004 Act covers the Islamic headscarf, just as it does a large Christian cross, a Jewish kippah or a Sikh turban. It was justified by the desire to ensure neutrality in schools, the need to protect children from pressures they could suffer to wear such symbols, and the care to avoid conflicts in school between those wearing symbols and those not, as well as evangelizing behaviour that could result from such expression of religious beliefs.
  • The Act of 11 October 2010 banning people from concealing their face in public places justified by public order considerations, and is not a component of secularity.

5. “In France, Muslims are not free to practice their religion as they would like”

The French Republic protects individuals, including their freedom of conscience and religion, when they have one. It protects their right to worship.

  • Dietary requirements. Citizens are free to eat what they want. The government is not involved in Kosher or Halal food certification. It considers that ritual slaughter is part of freedom of worship.
  • Practicing Ramadan. The practice of fasting is not subject to any rules. It is a component of religious freedom.
  • Practice of five prayers a day. This practice is not subject to any general rule in France. There are, however two exceptions: in the workplace, prayers are only possible if they do not affect the activities of the company. In public services, the principle of neutrality applies and civil servants may not express their religious beliefs in the performance of their duties.
  • Circumcision. Ritual circumcision is a religious practice allowed in France.
  • Holidays. Public holidays are set by the Labour Code. French legal provisions make it possible to grant leave on solemn occasions specific to each denomination, such as Eid. An employer’s refusal to grant leave can only be justified if it is detrimental to the organization of the work or to the needs of the company.

6. “Muslims are victims of racism in France, and French Muslims are second-class citizens”

  • The French Government combats discrimination, particularly based on real or supposed membership of ethnic, national, racial or religious groups.
  • The fight against racism and anti-Semitism was enshrined as a “major national cause” in 2015, and the law severely punishes all racial insults:
  • where the insult is not public, sanctions can run to a fine of €750 maximum;
  • where the insult is public, perpetrators risk up to 6 months of prison and a fine of up to €22,500. The law allows racial or anti-Semitic motives to be considered an aggravating factor for many offences.

7. “French media incite hatred against Islam”

  • Freedom of expression was enshrined by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, while the freedom of the press is protected by the Act of 1881. However, this freedom does have limits, and racism, anti-Semitism, racial hatred and apology of terrorism are not considered opinions. They are offences.
  • The limits of freedom of expression do not include slandering of religions which are not, any more than political parties or schools of thought, immune from criticisms or caricature. Neither international law nor French law, which both guarantee individual rights, protects religions themselves. As such, the crime of blasphemy does not and cannot exist in French or international law.
  • While the editorial freedom of the press is guaranteed in France, that does not mean that the French authorities share the points of view expressed in the media, and we understand that believers may feel hurt by articles, statements, caricatures and opinions concerning their religious beliefs.
  • In France, these criticisms do not only target Islam, but mainly, and since a very long time ago, the Christian religion in general and Catholicism in particular. Those who feel hurt have the right to express their objections and indignation, including through public demonstrations, so long as all violence and incitement to hatred is excluded. They may also take legal action.

8. “Muslims do not have decent places of worship in France”

  • In France, public authorities may grant indirect aid for the construction or maintenance of places of worship, as it is felt that there is no actual religious freedom without decent places of worship.
  • There were just over 1000 mosques in 1999, most of which were small prayer rooms. Nowadays, most cities with a large Muslim community have committed to supporting the establishment of a place of worship (there are nearly 200 projects of this type). There are currently around 2500 mosques in mainland France.

9. “Muslims cannot even bury their dead in accordance with Islamic precepts, and there are few Muslim plots in cemeteries”

  • Cemeteries are civilian neutral public spaces in the common parts of which all religious symbols are prohibited. Symbols specific to the religion of the deceased may only appear on graves.
  • Mayors can group together the graves of members of the same religion. Where graves are grouped together, the public authorities turn the graves to face the Kaaba. These “denominational groupings” are increasingly common (between 300 and 400 for Muslims).
  • The Islamic precepts according to which the body should be placed directly in the ground are incompatible with French rules on public health. In practice, burial in a thin wooden coffin is allowed. Burial legislation in France also requires the prior completion of administrative tasks, making it impossible to bury the body on the day of death.

10. “France has been repressing Muslims since the Charlie Hebdo and 13 November attacks”

  • The 13 November and 7 January attacks hurt France across its whole cultural, social, ethnic and religious diversity. The French people showed the unity and solidity of the national society with a great number of demonstrations of fraternity across the country.
  • The representatives of the Muslim faith shared this message of unity. On 8 January 2015, the day after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, all France’s Muslim organization met at the Grand Mosque in Paris and “called upon citizens of the Muslim faith to take part massively in the national march of Sunday, 11 January 2015 to affirm their desire to live together in peace, in accordance with the values of the French Republic”.
  • The measures taken under the state of emergency to address the terrorist threats that France continues to face are strictly regulated by the law, as shown by court judgments that have annulled certain measures.

Updated: may 2016

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