The fundamentalist Salafist interpretation of Islam has gained popularity within France’s Muslim communities. French intelligence services believe that its rise is not a recent phenomenon, but is steadily increasing. According to police sources there are around 90 places of worship that preach Safalist interpretations out of 2,500 mosques. The number has doubled in five years.
The number of foreign fighters closely follows the redefinition of France’s religious landscape, as many who are leaving France were influenced by Salafism. This is best exemplified by Mohamed Merah, who became interested in Salafism before he killed seven people in Toulouse in 2012. “Salafism does not systematically lead to physical violence, but it’s necessary to remember that today’s neo-Salafism can be a gateway,” said Haoues Seniguer, senior lecturer at Sciences Po Lyon.
The grand majority of French Salafis are “quietist” and denounce armed jihad. Nevertheless, their approach to the texts is extremely literal and functions according the principles of Sharia law. Salafism’s most apparent indicator is the dress code. Men don’t shave their beards and fit their pants into socks so they don’t go lower than their ankles, while women are veiled and cover their bodies in abayas or hijab. Salafism has grown in the metropolitan areas: Paris, Rhone-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur.