"Stop Islamophobia" sign held in Paris protests. Source: Global Village Space

Over 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Paris and other cities in France on Sunday to protest Islamophobia and the unfair treatment of Muslims in the country. 

The need to march was ignited after an 84-year-old former far-right National Rally member opened fire at a mosque in October, wounding two men in the southwestern city of Bayonne. The man was not only armed with a gun but gas canisters and petrol-filled jerrycans as well, intending on burning the mosque and everyone in it.

There were some controversies surrounding this protest due to the involvement of groups believed to have radical Muslims among them. One group, the Collective against Islamophobia in France, has even been accused of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In an attempt to go against the argument that the demonstration was actually a protest against secularism "under the guise of combating discrimination," protesters held up signs and banners with the words "yes to criticism of religion, no to hate against the faithful" written on them.

A topless demonstrator from the feminist group FEMEN even joined the rallies with "we're not promoting secularism" scribbled on her body. However, protesters were quick to cover her up from the surrounding cameras.

A major topic that was represented at the rallies was the issue of the veil. Many female protesters wore the veil as a sign of their immovable faith; some wore it in the colors of the French flag: blue, white, and red.

France has often been seen as intolerant of conservative Muslim traditions. The country banned students from wearing any religious symbols in public schools back in 2004. The niqab was later banned from being worn in public places in 2011; women can be fined up to 150 euros ($172) for donning the face-veil in public. Several French municipalities also attempted to ban the burkini at public beaches in their jurisdiction back in 2016. However, these burkini bans were overturned in court as a violation of an individual's fundamental freedoms.

What prompted not only the need to denounce Islamophobia but also the significance of the veil in Islam at this protest was a video on Twitter. The footage showed French far-right member Julien Odoul asking a woman accompanying her son on a school field trip to a local assembly to remove her veil.

"Madame has all the freedom to wear this veil at home, on the street, but not here, not today," Odoul argued. 

France's Conservative Senate proceeded to sanction an amendment that prohibits veiled women from chaperoning their children on school trips.

According to Anadolu Agency, almost 100 people called on President Emmanuel Macron to condemn Odoul for ordering a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf during a regional council meeting.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of La France Insoumise - translated to "Unbowed France" - stands by his belief that protesting Islamophobia does not contradict France's secular political tradition and that it's as legitimate to be anti-Islam as anti-Catholic.

According to a Pew Research Center 2017 report, mid-2016 saw over 5.7 million Muslims in France alone, making up 8.8 percent of the country's population at the time. Pew also predicted a steady increase in the number of Muslims in the country.

Mélenchon called out National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who accused him of treason for marching with "Islamists," saying "[she] turned her back on France because she does not understand that this is a march for the republican unity of the French."

"When our Muslim compatriots, who represent the second religion of this country, are singled out, insulted, threatened, it is our duty to come to the rescue," he added.