France was selected for the second stage of ethnographic research due to its long history of immigration from the former French colonies in North Africa. One of the main characteristics of French Muslims is their relative sectarian homogeneity; the large majority are Sunni Muslims, despite their diverse ethnic and national backgrounds. The majority of French Muslims migrated from the Maghreb following national independence in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia during the 1950s and 1960s, and in response to a proactive French policy of labour recruitment from these three countries in the 1960s and 1970s. Algerian migration to France began in 1968, followed by waves of migrants from Morocco and Tunisia that intensified in the early 1970s. Sub-Saharan Africans, mostly from the former French colonies of Mali and Senegal, also became a major source of immigration from 1979 onwards. These initial and large migration flows were predominantly made up of single adult males under 30 years of age, brought to France (and other parts of Europe) to bolster its unskilled labour force. The late 1970s and 1980s saw an increase in female migration following the institution of family reunion migration policies (see Figure 21).

French Muslim Population By Country of Origin

Figure 21


It is estimated that the largest practicing Muslim communities in France are French citizens of North African heritage. Many of them live in the cities of Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble, and Lille (Andre, Mansouri & Lobo 2015). Most migrants to France settled in places where accommodation was cheap – such as the Northern suburbs (banlieues) of Paris comprising the département of Seine-Saint-Denis together with the 18ème, 19ème and 20ème arrondissements. The word banlieue has increasingly become synonymous with concentrated areas of migrants and associated with poverty and disadvantage.

In terms of employment outcomes and social mobility, one-third of Muslim citizens in France are in full-time employment mainly in low-skilled factory work (32.9 per cent) and other blue-collar jobs. Compared to the overall French population, Muslims are also on average younger, with over 60 per cent aged 18–34.


In France places of worship have been built gradually over time. In recent years, an increased number of mosques and places of worship have been constructed, often changing the centre of gravity for the whole communities. The earlier mosques were smaller and not always considered by their communities to be centres for practising faith. Until recently, the official authorisations needed to build places of worship have been difficult to obtain, and financial obstacles to their construction remain. It was only after a long struggle for recognition, that a mosque was built in the Muslim-majority area of Saint Denis, a subprefecture of Seine-Saint-Denis, in Paris.

The recent demands imposed on French Muslims to publicly express their solidarity with the French Republic and dissociate themselves from radicalised groups and organisations in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks on 7 January 2015, reflect the lingering tensions between the state, Muslims and Islam in secular France (Andre, Mansouri & Lobo 2015). France has been struggling to come to terms with a changing religious landscape in which Islam, now the second religion there and a salient feature of the social and cultural milieu, is nonetheless, due to secular politics, never acknowledged as such. Tied to this is an increasing rate of ethnically-motivated crime, and more specifically a sharp spike in Islamophobic incidents, evident, for example, in the weeks following the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

In the context of secular France, it is important to note that while most Muslims identify as being of ‘Muslim culture’ or of ‘Muslim origin’ they do not necessarily self-identify as ‘practising Muslims’. In fact, an important empirical distinction must be made between those who maintain Islamic belief at a cultural level and those who routinely practise religious rituals such as prayers, observance of Ramadan, and adherence to strict dietary requirements, such as the consumption of halal food and non-alcoholic drinks. According to a French study conducted in 2011, 75 per cent of the respondents who identified as of ‘Muslim origin’ also identified as believers, but only 41 per cent indicated that they perform religious rituals; of these, 25 per cent reported attending mosque, and 34 per cent declared that they did not follow religious rituals at all (Andre, Mansouri & Lobo 2015). The remaining individuals of ‘Muslim origin’ in the 2011 French study declared that they had no religious affiliation and were simply of ‘Muslim culture’. In many ways then, Islamic religiosity in France has become an individualistic rather than communitarian pursuit. While children of migrants have not themselves experienced migration, they have a direct relation with the migratory experience of their parents. This experience finds some of its expression in the transmission of their parents’ cultural and religious heritage in relation to Islamic religiosity.

Prior to the qualitative research phase, individuals in each of the three sites were approached to complete survey questionnaires. Overall, 237 respondents completed the survey in three sites: 96 respondents in Australia, 93 in France and 48 in the USA. Because of the discrepancy in data obtained across the three sites, when describing the separate sites, actual numbers (i.e. frequencies) of participants are presented instead of percentages.

For a more in-depth breakdown of participants’ demographics, please refer to the full report: