Anti-terrorist GIGN elite forces storm the hijacked Air France Airbus at Marseille's Marignane Airport December 26, 1994.
Eric Camoin / Reuters

France today has roughly four or five million Muslim inhabitants, nearly a tenth of the population. Approximately half have French citizenship. More precise figures are not available, since the French state, being officially secular, is forbidden to inquire into questions of religion. It is generally agreed, however, that France, preponderantly Catholic, now has more Muslims than either Protestants or Jews, its historical minorities. Islam has become the country's second religion.

The change has come about through immigration, largely from France's former North African colonies. Although a presence since World War I, Muslims arrived in significant numbers in France only in the 1960s, when the government granted asylum to hundreds of thousands of Algerians who had fought on the French side in Algeria's 1954-62 war of independence. In the 1960s France also opened its doors to immigrant manpower to meet the needs of its burgeoning economy, bringing in a million more

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  • Milton Viorst, author of Sandcastles: The Arabs in Search of the Modern World, is currently working on a book on political Islam.
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