The primary religion in France is Catholicism. More than 80% of the population declares themselves as Catholics, even though the majority of them don’t actually practice religion but just express their traditional religious background. Generally, ever since the French Revolution, France has been a very secular country. However, it is a home to Lourdes, probably the most famous Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world.
Islam has spread a lot over France in the last 50 years because of all the Muslim immigrants from former French colonies in Africa. Today, about 5% of the French population practices Islam. While in 1914 there were only about 4000-5000 Muslims in France, today this number is around 4-6 million, although it is not completely sure how significant religion is for them.
Protestantism significantly decreased in number after persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries, so today Protestants are only 2% of the population. There are even less Jews, about 1% of the population, but still this is 1/3 of the entire Jewish population in Europe. Even though their number isn’t large, the Jewish community has always played an important role in France, both in cultural and in a financial sense.
Generally, it is difficult to statistically present a certain religion in France because French laws forbid statistics related to religious beliefs.
Position of Islam in France in relation to the number of Muslims in France these days
Islamhas become the second most important/present religion in France over the last century. However, instead of speaking about Islam in France, it would be more accurate to speak about more Islamic religions because this religious community in France is represented by a very diverse geographic background of its members, presented in various practices.However, the entire Muslim community has similar problems when it comes to harmonizing their practices with the French secular approach.
In many ways, Islam adjusted to France in many areas of practice very naturally. However, when we look at the more recent arrival of a large number of Muslims to France, it is evident that there is considerable tension and misunderstanding on both sides.
The growth of radical Islam as well as the rejection of Islam in France are two consequences of these difficulties in integration and understating. Public authorities that want to preserve the unity of the national community encounter many challenges that don’t have simple solutions.
Practicing religion has been regulated in 1905 with the law on separation of churches and state that established French secularism.
This law is primarily a law of freedom – everybody can practice their beliefs. This law also established the equality and non-discrimination of different religions. The law has also established the separation of the state and churches. The state doesn’t financially support religious communities or religious servants. Church and state have separate ownership over properties.
This principle of separation of state and churches is also applied on public areas that must remain neutral, such as hospitals and state institutions. This means that it is not allowed to present visible religious characteristics in these areas, i.e. students or professors can’t have visible religious characteristics in schools, such as crosses, Islamic veils or hats, etc. The same applies to state institutions and their servants.