For some, the French presidential election will alter the course of a troubled nation steeped in economic and social turmoil. For others, it will alter the course of a troubled continent, challenging the very existence of European integration.
But in France itself, something far less abstract and far more intimate is at stake. In a country that remains under an official "state of emergency" following an unprecedented spate of terrorist violence in the past two years, the election also has become a referendum on Muslims and their place in what is probably Europe's most anxious multicultural society.
Before the election's first round of voting Sunday, each of the five leading contenders — from across the ideological spectrum — has felt compelled to address an apparently pressing "Muslim question" about what to do with the country's largest religious minority.