France: Muslims becoming more religious

France's Muslim minority, the largest in Europe, is becoming increasingly more observant, with more of them saying daily prayers, visiting mosques and fasting during Ramadan, a new survey said on Thursday.

This appeared to reflect in part a reaction to discrimination against Muslims in France, and a growing number of new mosques being built in the country.

Thirty-nine percent of Muslims surveyed by the polling group IFOP said they observed Islam's five prayers daily, a steady rise from 31 percent in 1994, according to the study published in the Catholic daily La Croix.

Mosque attendance for Friday prayers has risen to 23 percent, up from 16 percent in 1994, while Ramadan observance has reached 70 percent compared to 60 percent in 1994, it said.

Drinking alcohol, which Islam forbids, has also declined to 34 percent from 39 percent in 1994, according to the survey of 537 people of Muslim origin.

There was strong progression among Muslims under 25 for both mosque attendance and Ramadan observance. "There is a general tendency among the young to reaffirm their (Islamic) identity," Islam expert Franck Fregosi told La Croix.

He said this was partly a reaction to discrimination against France's Muslim minority, at five million the largest in Europe: "This 'Islam as a refuge' can be a way to respond to an environment that is not favorable to young Muslims."

Part of the growth could also have come because it is easier to practice Islam in France thanks to many new mosques that have been constructed over the years, he added.

Fregosi said the growing interest among youths for Islam would force Muslim organizations, which are mostly run by older men from the immigrant generation, to rejuvenate their leadership and promote imams who relate to French-born youths.

By way of comparison, the survey said weekly churchgoing among Catholics -- the traditionally dominant religious group in France -- now stands at 12 percent.

Fifty-seven percent of Catholics polled and 38 percent of Muslims called themselves "non-practicing believers".

The survey said Muslims saw daily prayers and Friday mosque attendance as the distinctive signs of a practicing Muslim. Although fasting during Ramadan is the most popular practice, it ranks more as a sign of Muslim identity than piety.

"It is more a sign of belonging to a culture and a community," Fregosi said. "It is the only time during the year when believers and non-believers constitute a community. Not drinking alcohol also seems to be more a cultural behavior."

Source: Reuters (English)

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