French Prayer Ban Has Popular Support

Written by Rachel Ryan on Wednesday September 21, 2011

On Friday, September 16th, the French government banned Muslim street prayers in its most recent attempt to curb what many French citizens believe to be the ousting of traditional French culture and traditions by Muslim immigrants.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National party, compared Islamic street prayer sessions to the Nazi occupation, claiming the Muslims in France were an occupying force “without tanks or soldiers.” While Le Pen is regarded as being the catalyst behind the anti-street prayer movement, it is not just the radical right that has denounced the overwhelming, disruptive presence of the public prayer sessions.

“Entire sidewalks are blocked off. It is not uncommon to hear calls to prayer when walking through the street,” says Emmanuelle, a resident of the heavily Muslim 9e arrondissement (administrative district) on the northern edge of the city.

While opponents of the ban criticize this as a xenophobic pre-election move by President Sarkozy to capture the far-right base, the fact of the matter is, many French citizens’ sentiments are in line with the ban. According to a poll conducted by popular French news site em><, nearly 40% of French citizens agree with Le Pen’s assertions that the growing number of street prayer sessions resemble an “invasion.”

Roughly 4 million Muslims live in France, making France the home of Europe’s largest Muslim community. France, along with the rest of Europe, has been struggling to strike a balance between religious freedom and preservation of French tradition. In 2010, the French government banned the burqa, citing the “full-face covering veil” as a threat to both security and women’s rights.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, French society has placed heavy emphasis on the separation of Church and State. La Société Laïque, as it is called in France, is one in which the government is not only religiously unaffiliated, so is anything affiliated with the government: universities, hospitals, parks, streets… anything publique. This means that university students technically cannot wear “ostentatious” religious paraphernalia, such as big cross necklaces, yarmulkas, or hijabs. This also means that large public prayer services, whether they be Muslim or not, cannot happen.

Despite the threats of arrest, many French students continue to wear hijabs on university campuses. Some Muslims also continue to hold large street prayer services in protest of the new law.