In an interview with Aljazeera on Sunday, Nicolas Sarkozy discussed the three weeks of rioting by disaffected youths in French cities in October.
During the violence thousands of cars and public buildings were set ablaze and thousands of people were arrested.
He also defended France's newly approved anti-terror measures.
Referring to Muslims in France who have long complained about discrimination and marginalisation in the country, Sarkozy said: "I am without doubt the one who has fought the most to recognise the rights that are owed to them. I insisted that Muslims pray in mosques instead of clandestine places, basements and garages, and that they have imams that speak French and are trained in France."
Asked about his use of the word "scum" to describe the rebellious youth in French ghettos, Sarkozy said that he did not normally use such language but that the grave situation at the time demanded firmness.
"I do not normally use street language. I speak so that everyone would understand me. In the republic where I live, it is the thugs who must explain their actions and not the minister of interior."
Sarkozy spoke to Aljazeera while on a visit to Doha, Qatar.
Before the riots in October, Sarkozy had been riding high in opinion polls and was seen as a strong contender to become the next French president in 2007.
However, his controversial remarks sparked anger among Arab and Muslim immigrant communities in France with many civic leaders calling for his resignation.