Michel Houellebecq book Charlie Hebdo
A new 'Islamophobic' book by Michel Houellebecq was featured in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo Getty Images

A new controversial book deemed by many as "Islamophobic" was featured in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the target of an attack that killed at least 12 people by three masked gunmen.

Soumission, or Submission, by prominent French author Michel Houellebecq, is set in 2022 and tells the story of a France ruled by a Muslim, Mohammed Ben Abbes, who promotes conservative Islamic rules.

The book, published in France on Wednesday (7 January), divided public opinion with some people praising the author for highlighting the "blindless, silence, passivity and complicity of centre left media and intellectuals" regarding the rise of political Islam.

Many others, however, accused the book of promoting Islamophobic content and the conspiracy theory that sees French rulers handing their country over to Muslims.

In this fictional scenario depicted by the author, women are forced to cover themselves and encouraged to leave their jobs, while new laws guarantee the practice of polygamy and the teaching of the Koran becomes compulsory in schools.

Houellebecq, who has been accused several times of being Islamophobic, defended his novel by saying during an interview with TV channel France 2 that his work is not taking any side and that the idea of a France run by Muslims "is plausible".

"It is a possibility – not in as short a term as in the book, not in 2022. But it's a real possibility," he said.

The book was published on the same day as the violent assault on Charlie Hebdo.

France's President Francois Hollande and other world leaders condemned the "barbaric terrorist attack" and witnesses said the gunmen, still at large, "claimed they were al-Qaeda".

The magazine was also bombed in 2011, after it published controversial cartoons about the Islamic prophet Mohammed.