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Dossier

2004-06-19

THE DIMENSIONS OF THE MUSLIM PHENOMENON IN FRANCE

The figure of 5 million Muslims in France is the official estimate issued by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Sarkozy. But between 2000-2001 the figure rose to 6 million, even though some sociologists of Islam were not convinced of this. What is the actual number? Alain Boyer tried to give an answer in his book “Islam en France”, published in 1998. According to the author Muslims were then, 4.16 million. What method did Boyer use? The author based his estimate on data supplied by countries of origin adding the summing the number of requests for political asylum, clandestine immigrants and converts.
Population in France according to 1990 censure
Total population ----- 56 625 000
Foreign residents ----- 3 596 000
Persons considered of Muslim religion
Algerians ---------- 614 207
Moroccans --------- 572 652
Tunisians ---------- 206 336
Turks -------------- 197 712

source: Alain Boyer “Islam en France”, 1998.

In any case, Islam is the second largest religion in France for number of believers. However, how should we determine the amount of Muslims and their demographic and socio-economic characteristics?

It is hard to give a satisfactory answer for several reasons. The religious variable is not much considered beyond the times of religious and political turmoil, and it is generally considered irrelevant in demographic studies. Another significant factor is connected to the institutional order: France and its statistic body (INSEE) are the only entities qualified to calculate the amount of populations resident in France through census and since France is secular and universalistic, it does not consider its citizens’ ethnical and religious characteristics as relevant for the State.

The Constitution openly states that “among French citizens there should be no distinction of race, origin or religion” and this is supported by a citizenship law enabling large numbers of foreigners to become French citizens without having to comply with particularly restrictive conditions. This equality, the heritage of the declaration of human rights, is the base of what is commonly called the “French integration model”. For this reason none of the 7 census performed in the last fifty years, the last one in 1999, ever asked any question on ethnic issues or religious belief. It isn’t since 1872 that similar questions were asked for a French census.

The second reason derives from the statistic and sociologic means used to describe or identify single individuals within the population. These methods are founded mainly on geographical criteria (a person’s place of birth, for instance) or juridical issues (a person’s present or past nationality, or his or her parents’ nationality).

According to this method, foreigners and immigrants appear in the French census because of their nationality or their Country of origin. The French statistical tradition with regard to the population was built by eliminating every ethnical or religious reference. Therefore, to perform a census that takes the ethnical-religious variables into account, it is necessary to arbitrarily assign the persons registered through the census. There is an immediate problem: is “Muslim” meant as a religious belief or a reference to the origins of a person? In the first case, the people coming from Muslim Countries may be practising or not. Other non-believers may consider religion a reference point. Others are atheists. As one can see, the problem is hard to solve unless one chooses a simplifying system that considers a Muslim every person born within a Muslim family or Country, even though this is independent from the will or belief of a person.
The tables show an estimate of 3.5 million could-be Muslims (due to belief or culture).
This data does not consider the sans papiers, clandestine immigrants, coming from Muslim countries, nor French converts.

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