About the Project

France has the largest population of Muslims in the Western World, making up an estimated 7.5% of the population. The Muslim population has been steadily growing in France since the end of World War II, even more so following the end of the Algerian War for Independence in 1962. Since their arrival, however, the same question has plagued France: Can Muslims become French? The question presupposes something inherently incompatible between Islam and French society, or that there is something unique to Islam that creates a special barrier to integration. John R. Bowen argues that it is not a straightforward answer, with blame on both sides. He determines that there are obstacles to integration caused by both the French state and the French Muslims. However, the popular media, both in France and the United States, depicts the Muslim population of France as isolated from the general population, living on the outskirts of cities and refusing to assimilate.

Laïcité, or French secularism, is unique and is one of the causes for the dearth of demographic data on religion. The French Revolution brought with it criticisms of the Catholic Church. The French aversion to public displays of religion has its origins in the French Revolution, not in Islam. In the words of C.M.A. McCauliff, there were “prohibitions of public displays of religion and against wearing a religious habit in public were included in the revolutionary decrees on the separation of church and state during the 1790’s.” (McCauliff, 124) The French state wanted to wrest power away from the Catholic Church, leading to the 1905 Separation of Church and State Law. Unlike secularism in the United States that seeks to protect religious freedom, French secularism strives to protect the public from religion. Laïcité was the underlying ideology behind the 2004 law on headscarves in schools, as well as the 2010 ban on burqas in public spaces.  

The substantial French Muslim population has endured the passage of two laws that appear to target their religious practices, the 2004 ban on headscarves (and other ostentatious religious symbols) in public schools and the 2010 ban on burqas (and other full-face veils) from public places. According to Carmen Teeple Hopkins, “from 2008 to 2012, there was a 139% increase in Islamophobic interpersonal acts.” (Hopkins, 160) Of these acts, 77% were committed against Muslim women, and eight out of ten headscarf-wearing women have experienced Islamophobic acts. This indicates a normalization of bigotry bolstered by the 2004 and 2010 laws. She argues that religious dress laws have increased the level of discrimination, and forced many Muslims into the private sector, for both education and employment. The 2004 law anecdotally sent Muslim women and girls to private schools to be both students and schoolteachers, because their headscarves were no longer permitted in the public sphere. This project seeks to provide concrete evidence, as opposed to anecdotal, that there was serious growth in the private Islamic education sector after the 2004 law effectively forced Muslim women and girls to choose between religion and education.

This project hopes to provide another layer of context to the study of Muslims in France, by creating maps of the religious institutions of the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, Catholicism) in the three French cities with at least 10% Muslim population (Paris, Marseille, Roubaix).

Digital Humanities Project