Much has been said about the tensions that France has had with its Muslim citizens and residents. Some, like the 2005 suburban riots have little to do with religion itself. Others, such as the rejection last year of citizenship to a Muslim woman because of her burka have, well, plenty to do with it.
The latter point of view is notable when considering the news this week that the small Indian Ocean island of Mayotte has voted to become France’s latest overseas department. Despite France’s colonial legacy, the island’s residents have essentially approved a status similar to that America gives to Guam and American Samoa, where legal and economic structures are adopted from the mainland. The catch? Over 95% of the island’s residents are Muslim.
The African Union, the Arab League and the neighbouring islands of Comoros (members of both) have objected to the referendum, as Comoros claims sovereignty over the French protectorate. And although France officially remained neutral on the referendum, anti-French demonstrations broke out in Comoros prior to the vote.
But the vote itself is not the final say – that must come from the French government itself. French president Nicolas Sarkozy is supportive of the results, but maintains that some practices on the island must change before Mayotte’s status can be upgraded. Specifically, the marriage age would be raised from 15 to 18, the jurisdiction of Islamic courts limited, and polygamy outlawed. It is this last point that caused some imams on the island to campaign for a “no” vote, arguing that the Quran permits up to four wives under certain conditions.
But permission is not the same as obligation, and the astounding 95% of voters who cast their ballots in favour of a French connection (only 70% were expected to vote yes) means that Mayotte’s citizens are more than happy to share their croissants and Euros with their solitary spouses.
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.