Scholar gives talk about French Muslims in contemporary France

A Feb. 19, 2015, guest lecture by Professor Michel Bondurand of the NC Consortium Paris program spoke about the way Muslims in France practice their faith.

Professor Michel Bondurand, assistant director of the NC Consortium Paris program and professor at the Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle, gave an engaging lecture in the Global Commons on Feb. 19.

Bondurand began by explaining that the phrase “French Islam” is intrinsically different than “Islam in France.” The first suggests an essential link between being French and being Muslim, whereas the second suggests there is something foreign about being Muslim in France. 

Bondurand emphasized that Islam is part of French culture and society, and in France, Islam has taken on characteristics that make it distinctively French.

As in the United States, the French government cannot legally ask citizens about their religion on official documentation.  As a result, it is difficult to accurately determine the number of Muslims in France. Recent surveys, however, suggest that approximately 8 percent of French residents identify themselves as Muslim, in comparison to about 1 percent in the United States. 

These surveys further suggest that there is a distinguishing “French” character to the Islam they embrace.  As Bondurand explained, many French citizens identify themselves as Muslim and say they believe in the truth of the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings and acts of the prophet Muhammad), but they do not generally do the things that Islam asks its followers to do. That is, there is a separation between belief and practice that is characteristic also of French Catholics. 

Even among the most devout, only 6 percent of French Muslims say they have or will perform the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) required by Islam.

Bondurand stated that Islamic radicalism is a problem in France as elsewhere; it is a part of French Islam. Yet statistically we can conclude that only about .075 percent of self-identified Muslims in France declare jihadist beliefs and intentions, whereas they receive 25 percent of media coverage.

In sum, French Islam is a “hybrid reality,” and hybrid identities show us that “1+1=1 and not 2.”  French Muslims are unique; they are distinctly French and definitely Muslim.  They exhibit what we see increasingly around the world: identities that are truly transnational. 

After Bondurand’s talk, Professor Brian Pennington, director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society and professor of religious studies, moderated a lively question & answer session, and the event was followed by a reception. 

The event was supported by the Department of World Languages and Cultures, the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center, the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, the Department of Religious Studies, the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society, the Muslim Student Association, the French Club, the Pi Delta Phi French Honor Society, the Maison Française living-learning community, and the Elon International Society.