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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

The Dilemma of French Muslims

France burnt for the mistake of a police officer who killed an Algerian-Moroccan Muslim youth for an alleged traffic violation. The officer is in custody, but the riots spread like wildfire, reviving the debate on racism and Islamophobia in the country.

Rioting is the language of the unheard, Martin Luther King Junior once observed. Did immigrants use the 17-year-old Nahel's murder to bring to attention the prevailing racism in the country, especially in the police force? Must every act of perceived injustice result in violence and destruction? Should immigrants cause disturbance to their host societies through their often uncontrolled anger?

France has a population of 66 million, equivalent to 0.84% of the world population. 81.5 % of the population is urban. The median age in France is 42.3 years. France ranks 15th in the OECD regarding the share of immigrants in its population, with foreign-born accounting for 12% of the total population. 11% arrived in the last five years, compared with 22% on average across OECD countries. The foreign-born population is, on average, less educated than across OECD countries, with 24% highly educated compared with 31% across OECD countries.

58% of the foreign-born population are employed (66 and 50% of men and women, respectively), which is lower than the OECD average. The foreign-born population is less likely to be employed than their native-born counterparts.

The immigrant household median income in France is in the bottom half of OECD countries, and its level is 31% lower than the native-born one. 21% of persons living in an immigrant household live with income below the poverty line. 13% of immigrants in France were born in Algeria; 11.9% in Morocco; 9.2% in Portugal; 4.4% in Tunisia; 4.3% in Italy; 3.8% in Turkey; and 3.7% in Spain. Half of France's immigrants (50.3%) come from these seven countries.

About 51 million French are white, six million are of North African descent, two million are black, and about one million or 1.7% of the population are of Asian origin.

Muslims represent around 4% of the nation's population, the most significant number in the Western world, primarily due to migration from Maghreb, West African, and Middle Eastern countries.

France's Laïcité relies on the division between private life and the public sphere, with equality for all. It does not prioritize ethnic, religious, or other particularities. According to this concept, the government must refrain from taking positions on religious doctrine. It believes that government and political issues are separate from religious organizations and religious issues.

According to the French law reaffirmed in the French Constitution of 1958, it is illegal for the government to collect data on the ancestry and ethnicity of the citizens.

Muslim groups seem to have different perspectives on secularism. Many believe France's secular domestic policies (Laïcité) are hostile towards Islam. They see France as "the flagship of disbelief."

France has a strong cultural tradition in comics, which in the context of Prophet Muhammad cartoons, is a question of freedom of expression. In contrast, Muslims see that as an attack on religion.

Muslims perceive France as a racist society with little respect for immigrants' cultures and religions.

Muslims perceive the ban on identity symbols such as headscarves and burqas as an attack on Islam.

However, several studies have concluded that France is the European country where Muslims integrate the best and feel the most for their country. French Muslims have the most positive opinions about their fellow citizens of different faiths. The majority reject violence in Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region, where French Muslims are more educated and religious. A 2013 IPSOS survey published by the French daily Le Monde indicated that only 26% of French respondents believed Islam was compatible with French society (compared to 89% identifying Catholicism as compatible and 75% identifying Judaism as compatible). A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that out of all Europeans, the French view Muslim minorities most favorably, with 72% having a favorable opinion.

Yet, the immigrant Muslim community is still reluctant to trust the French constitution, establishment, and society. France maintains a strict separation between religion and state. It does not believe in religious symbols in public places. Should Muslims impose their will upon a society with little value for what Muslims believe is divine guidance? France rejects the idea of divinely revealed guidance. Religion, in the eyes of most French, is a cultural practice that has little to do with statecraft.

On the other hand, Muslims believe that religion is divinely bestowed and offers guidance in public and private life. If they believe their viewpoint is better for French society, they must prove it through their actions. Committing to acts of violence at any provocation does not prove that. Muslims often forget that they are migrants in most European societies who opened their doors to outsiders. They must show respect for local cultural customs and try to work within the constitutional framework. If they are not happy with the constitutions of their host countries, they always have the option to return to their countries. They cannot dictate their terms to society. They are not serving their community and faith by choosing extra-constitutional to seek remedies for their grievances. Muslims should be grateful to their host countries by respecting the constitution and working for a peaceful solution to their issues.

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