French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has announced plans to double the number of university courses teaching Islam, in an effort to counter the rise of Islamic extremism and far-right extremism.

The courses will be funded by the state, announced Valls, who said that education was central to stamping out the ignorance that is allowing "Islamist extremism and the far right feed off each other".

Valls announcement, in the eastern city of Strasbourg on Tuesday, March 3, comes after the terror attacks in Paris in January, in which radical Islamist gunmen killed 17 people.

In recent polls, the far-right French Front National has taken the lead in the run-up to the French local elections.

In an article in the New York Times in the wake of the attacks, Front National leader Marine Le Pen attacked the French political establishment for "20 years of mistakes on immigration and Europe".

In his speech, Valls linked the rise of far-right and Islamic extremism.

"The rise of far-right populist politics, in Europe as well as in our own country, feeds directly off the rise of jihadism, terrorism and radical extremism. It is a situation that puts our democracy, our society and our capacity to live together in extreme jeopardy," said Valls.

French Interior Minister Manual Valls
French Prime Minister Manual Valls delivers his speech in Strasbourg. (Getty)

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, and Valls said that he wanted more Imams and other Muslim religious figures, such as prison chaplains, who have trained abroad, to receive education in French republican values, and "undergo more training in France, to speak French fluently and to understand the concept of secularism".

Valls said that the new course on Islamic studies and theology would be free, and that French republic values were the best means of combatting extremism.

"The only response to the dangers that we face is the French Republic," Valls said. "This means the acceptance of the secular state, improving education, universities, understanding and intelligence."

"But there will be no laws, decrees or government directives to define what Islam means," Valls said. "The French state will never attempt to take control of a religion."