Islamophobic — ‘Having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force’.

France is a secular country, meaning that there is no state religion, and has been this way since 1905 when a law was passed to separate the Church from the State.

We all (should) know about the 2004 law passed in France, under the Jacques Chirac’s government, that banned ostentatious religious signs from public schools. This law seemed in line with the secular nature of the country, however, when put into practice, two evident problems arose:

  1. It seemed that France was defining secularism as a ban on religion. In most countries, take England, a Christian country, the country’s official religion does not affect private belief. As such, by parity, one could maintain that a country’s lack of state religion should not affect individuals — which was not the case in France.
  2. The religious groups who do wear religious signs that were described as ostentatious are already marginalised groups in French society. The law, banned Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, and Sikh turbans. Christians were unaffected by it.

Whilst living in Paris last year, I realised, with surprise, that France celebrated many religious (Christian) holidays, going as far as having public holidays for events that we do not even celebrate in England, such as Ascension Day. As I accepted with joy that France, similar to Nigeria, was a country fond of bank holidays, I was shocked that Eid was a normal working day. When I questioned it, the answer was that this was a secular country, so why would I expect it to celebrate religious holidays. Then why do we celebrate Christmas? Why is it accepted that we all take a day off for something as specific as Ascension Day?

If I’m honest, it seems that France is using secularism as a front for discrimination, as the same energy is definitely not directed at Christians and other religions. That said, what do you think? Is France secular, Islamophobic, or something else entirely?

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