Wednesday, July 20, 2005

On French "Muslims" and apostates....   posted by Razib @ 7/20/2005 08:12:00 PM

A few years ago I told Randall Parker that I was reluctant to really tackle "Islam" because I didn't know enough. I know I post here and there (a lot) on the topic, but mostly they are not thematic or interconnected, just random drive-by jottings strewn across the public-web-space. Of late I've realized I will never know enough (that is, to my satisfaction), certainly I know very little Islamic history, theology and overall thought compared to someone like Thebit, but I know a lot of non-Islamic history that I find Muslims who are fluent in their own traditions tend to be blind to (you can generalize this about most people steeped in their own culture). So in the near future I'll write in a more precise and unequivocal fashion and present a series of posts that have a sequential form (last minute spare-time binge of reading though!). Since I've already admitted that I'm not particularly educated on the topic (I am compared to the median...but that's saying very little)1 I invite informed criticisms of the details of my posts. I say informed because superficial reflections are going to just muddy the waters instead of sharpening the progression of thought.

In any case, I will leave you with a little data from Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out

...In 1995 the French daily Liberation conducted a thorough survey. Here are some of its findings:

Thirty percent of those men born in France and both of whose parents were born in Algeria declared themselves to be without any religion. This percentage is higher than the national average: 27 percent of all Frenchmen describes as without any religion. Sixty percent of those men born in France with only one parent born in Algeria declared themselves to be without religion, more than double the national average! The figures for women remain almost unchanged: 30 percent born in France and both of whose parents were born in Algeria said they were without religion. This precentage is even higher than the national average: 20 percent of all Frenchwomen say they are without religion. Fifty-eight percent of women with one parent born in Algeria said they were without any religion, almost three times the national average.6

The notation is: Immigration Supplement, La Libération, Paris, March 22, 1995, p. 5. For context you can check out the France entry over at, but this is a good gauge of French religious attitudes:

In contrast, 85 percent of French object to clergy activism - the strongest opposition of any nation surveyed. France has strict curbs on public religious expression and, according to the poll, 19 percent are atheists. South Korea is the only other nation [surveyed] with that high a percentage of nonbelievers....

Please note that in France there has been a strong association between anti-clericalism, the proletariat and underclass for over a century, with religion (that is, Roman Catholicism) to some extent being a practice of the middle class. The relative secularism of French of North African ancestry and their simultaenous economic deprivation need not be surprising. I would also not put too much stock in the figures for those with one Algerian parent, as one who would outmarry (both Root French and Algerian) is less likely to have traditionalist religious sensibilities. On the number converting to Catholicism:

...In the year 2000, 2,503 adults were baptized, of which 9 percent were of Muslim origin; thus, 225 Muslims apostasized in France alone in 2000.19

The notation is "Les Pentes Croisees du bapteme," Le Figaro, Paris, APril 12, 2000, p. 9. There are various estimates for the number of conversions to Islam, but I saw a quote from a French government official (a minister of some type) last year of "4,000 native French per year" converting to Islam (there are reports that there are 30,000-50,000 converts in all of France, so 4,000 seems like a highbound estimate). Since only ~10% of France's population is Muslim origin (I'm using an estimate at the high end), the rescaled ratio of Muslim → Christian : Christian → Muslim (the religious identities seen in cultural, not confessional terms, in terms of origin) is about 1:2. Of course, since there are many more Christians in absolute terms, the Muslim conversions to Roman Catholicism can almost be ignored. But I highlight Roman Catholicism for a reason: it is possible that there are many more conversions to evangelical Protestant sects among non-religious Muslims than to Roman Catholicism. And unfortunately as my post Profile of Salafi jihadists highlights, North African Islamist radicals are often drawn from the non-religious youth of the Diaspora.

Finally, I want to end with an observation. In the section of the book titled "Testimonies of born Muslims: Murtadd Fitri," here are the countries of origin (or in one case, parental origin) of the apostates:

Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Far East (the author says he was born in a "Buddhist nation," likely Thailand I think), Turkey, Pakistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Pakistan, Malaysia, Tunisia and India. 6 from Pakistan, 3 from Iran and 3 from Bangladesh. Since the editor is of Pakistani origin the slant is probably a partial reflection of his own social networks, nevertheless, it is sad to see that only two Arabs are on the list since Arabs are, no matter what non-Arabs protest (ie; Mahathir Mohammed's boast a few years back that Southeast Asia was going to move forward and be the face of 21st century Islam), the preeminent nation of the Muslim religion.2

Update: Muslims or people of Muslim origin might be 70% of the prisoners in France.

1 - There are some technical scientific-genetical questions I'm pursuing and exploring that will prevent me, due to time constraints, from ever being fluent enough in Islamic thought to really be totally unself-conscious about commenting.

2 - Certainly Islam is a universalist faith, but my personal experience at mosques was that Arabs always had a certain confident self-assurance that went with knowing they had nothing to prove, they were all The Natural when it came to the worship of Allah, the very language they spoke was the language of heaven (Punjabis would joke that Pashtun was the language of hell).