Abstract

Based on interviews with North African women immigrants, this article examines how religious practices are constrained and the meaning of being a “good Muslim” is transformed in France. When Muslim women cannot celebrate religious holidays or pray five times a day, they instead focus on what is in one's heart, an adaptation to a country engaged in an ongoing battle to keep religion out of the public realm. While many immigrants affirm that Islam should be kept at home, in private, an increasing number of their children seek visible symbols of religious/ethnic identity, such as the headscarf, suggesting the emergence of generational differences in the experience of Islam in France. The new French law banning headscarves in schools is decried by some first generation women, but just as many support the law, including many older, religious women. This article compares American and French perspectives on the separation of church and state and questions the underlying motives behind the contemporary arguments about secularism in France.

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