Although keeping the fast during Ramadan is one Islam’s five pillars, around one third of French Muslims do not observe the sacred tradition. Many young people choose to not fast due to practical reasons, such as the inability to perform well in their profession while keeping the fast. Others are traditionally exempted from fasting such as children, the sick, the elder, travellers and pregnant women. For those who freely choose to not fast it is often a difficult to justify their decision in front of their families and communities, especially since there has been a great rise in piousness amongst young Muslims in France. In 2011, 71% of Muslims in France declared to fast during Ramadan, 11% more than in 1989.
The ‘non-fasters’ often feel ashamed in front of their peers and find it increasingly difficult to be different amongst France’s Muslim communities. Some parents, however, support their children’s decision such as those of a 20-year-old student of Tunisian origin who chose to not fast to keep his vacation job. His parents, for instance, consider his career more important than fasting.
Haoues Senigeur, a political scientist and expert on Islam, says that “this choice of
non-fasters is often resented by Muslims who carry the weight of tradition”. He considers the tradition of Ramadan to correspond with a strong social conservatism and cites the example of pregnant women, who are traditionally exempted from fasting yet sometimes feel obliged to hide to eat. According to Senigeur, Islam has intensified over the years, especially amongst young Muslims born in France aged 18-24 who practice Ramadan more strictly than before.
During Ramadan, he continues, piousness increases and social ties are reinforced.