SO/HS 315 - France and Islam

We have in recent years witnessed, on the one hand, the revival of religious beliefs and practices in Muslim countries and, on the other hand, a sudden awareness of the presence of Muslims in Europe. Indeed, following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Islam came to play an important role in international politics, and since September 11th, 2001, Islam has become the concern of all in the non-Muslim world.

The presence of Muslims in Europe dates back to soon after the advent of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. Muslim communities settled in Spain and in Southern Italy from as far back as the 8th century. Muslims however did not come to settle in France. In the year 732, Charles Martel is said to have heroically ‘saved’ France from the invading Muslims. Yet France has today the highest percentage of Muslims in Europe.

These communities entered France and came to settle there under very different circumstances: as ‘subjects’ of French colonies, then members of the French Union, and later French community; they responded to a call for work in the post-World War II period of economic reconstruction and emigrated to Europe. Today their children are the Muslim boys and girls of France and many identify closely with their Islamic heritage. For a country that has, since 1905, uncompromisingly championed the cause of secularism, this reality has been hard to accept.

The close connection between France and the Arab world has also shaped France’s foreign policy. Starting with Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt at the end of the 18th century followed by a policy of colonization, and later as a mandate power in the Levant, France has aimed to play a major role in the region.

The class will be broken up into three sections: in the first section we will take a historical look at France’s presence in the Muslim regions of the world. In the second section, we will concentrate on French society today and how the French state has encouraged the integration of French Muslims. Finally in the last section, we will turn to France’s foreign policy and evaluate France’s position towards the Middle East.

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