Religion enters into secular France’s election for president.

Although France has always followed a strict policy of state and religion separation, the current political situation looks like religion is going to be a very important determinant of the outcome of the elections. One of the top contestants in the French presidential elections, Marine Le Pen is one of the figures who may be crucial in getting religion to the forefront of the French elections.

When the far–right leader declined to meet the Grand Mufti over the issue of wearing a headscarf while on a trip to Lebanon, it was taken as symbolic of France’s reluctance to have anything to do with Muslims. And when she visited the leader of Lebanon’s Maronite and Cardinal of the Catholic Church Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, the supporters of Le Pen thought it was as if the message was being broadcast in very clear terms: France was and still is a core Christian country, and Islam is not part of the French society.

France, however, is not the only European country to mobilize Christian sentiments against Muslims. There is a noticeable rise of intolerance towards Muslims, and an increase in populist emotions. This trend is very similar to the rise to power of Donald Trump, whose stances against Muslims and appeal to America’s Christian roots were key in his victory. The head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, however, condemned the rise of populism and called for an environment of love and acceptance, asking people to stop making Muslims the target of racial hatred and abuse.

The series of terrorist attacks in Europe, especially those that occurred after the influx of immigrants, may have played an important role in spurring fears and religious feelings. Although France is by large less religious, Philippe Portier, sociologist of religion says people will get influenced anyway because they feel culturally Christian, although they may not actually follow Christianity.

Le Pen’s image as anti-Islamic is underlined by how she defines the separation of church and state. For her, it means to limit the demands made by Muslims to wear the burqa, halal meat and all other demands based on religious choices. Perhaps this is a sign religion and politics will soon start influencing each other in France.

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