• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

'Turn France's empty churches into mosques'

Ben McPartland · 15 Jun 2015, 12:00

Published: 15 Jun 2015 12:00 GMT+02:00

The question of the role of Islam in France is up for discussion on Monday as the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and members of his government held a conference with around 150 Muslim leaders.

The Muslim representatives, including imams and theologians, reportedly chosen because of their loyalty to the Republic, will meet the PM to discuss the concerns of their community.

Chief among them is the longstanding issue of the lack of places in France for Muslims to worship. In France there are currently 2,500 mosques with another 300 under construction but Dalil Boubakeur, Rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, says the number falls far short of what is needed.

With upwards of five million Muslims in France – the largest population in Europe – Boubakeur and other imams suggest as many as 5,000 mosques are needed.

At risk of causing a stir on the very day the government wants to build ties on the ever-sensitive subject of Islam in France, Boubakeur says the answer lies in the France’s declining Catholic population.

He told Europe 1 radio that the country's empty churches could make ideal locations for mosques.

“It’s a delicate issue, but why not?” Boubakeur told Europe1 radio.

(Dalil Boubakeur, pictured here on the left, wants to see empty churches transformed into mosques. AFP)

France is home to around 40,000 churches for a population of around four million practicing Catholics. The idea of transforming former churches into mosques has been brought up in the past.

Last year far-right National Front councillors raised eyebrows when they suggested that's exactly what should happen to a former church in the northern town of Roubaix.

Calls for more mosques have been supported by France's Christian leaders as a “legitimate” demand.

“Muslims should, like Christians and Jews, be able to practise their religion,” Monseigneur Ribadeau-Dumas, spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of France, told French radio station Europe 1.

French PM Manuel Valls opened the talks on Monday insisting that the emphasis will be on building up close relations and that it was not the role of the secular government to get involved in religion.

“We must be very clear: the state does not take care of theology. There will be no laws, there will be no decrees, and no circulars to say what Islam should be."

Valls also said that hate speech and anti-Semitism "were not Islam".

Monday’s talks are aimed at giving new life to a group that represents the Muslim community with the CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith), headed by Boubakeur, which is essentially deemed not up to the job.

The French government recognised it needed to open dialogue with the country’s Muslim community leaders in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, which were perpetrated by homegrown Muslim extremists.

Another sensitive subject on the agenda is the question of security around Muslim places of worship.

Story continues below…

The number of Islamophobic attacks has soared in France since the terror attacks with Muslim groups recording a six-fold increase since January.

The acts include violence against men and women, some of whom were pregnant, vandalism and destruction of Muslim places of worship or businesses and "Nazi" graffiti on mosques.

Also on the table will be the French government’s plan to teach 2,000 imams and chaplains about French secularism, known as laicité, but the difficulty is that not many of them speak French.

The government will also discuss issues like halal meat and Muslim rituals.

But one sensitive subject that will not be discussed is the growing issue of young Muslims being radicalised. The government says it does not want to stigmatize the religion.

 

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
15-hour tailbacks in UK as France heightens checks
The local Kent Police force said there was a 12-mile tailback, which it put down to a “vast volume of holiday traffic”. Photo: AFP

British officials were drafted in to help French border police on Sunday after 15-hour queues built up at the port of Dover due to heightened entry checks.

15 injured in Welsh bus accident in France
The bus ended on its side in a ditch. Two helicopters were dispatched to the site. Photo: AFP

UPDATED: Fifteen people were injured, two of them seriously, when a bus carrying teenagers from Wales rolled over on a motorway in eastern France on Saturday, the local gendarmerie said.

Libya armed groups urge fight against French troops
Dozens of protesters rallied Friday outside the GNA’s former headquarters in a Tripoli navy base. Photo: AFP

Armed groups including Islamists have urged Libyans to mobilise against French and other foreign troops deployed in the country, denouncing their presence as a “blatant aggression”.

EgyptAir flight broke up midair after fire: report
The Airbus A320 was en route from Paris to Cairo when it disappeared from radar over the Mediterranean. Photo: AFP

An EgyptAir flight that crashed into the Mediterranean in May likely broke up in midair after a fire erupted in or near the cockpit, the New York Times has reported.

IMF boss Lagarde to stand trial over $400 million payout
Lagarde will be the third successive IMF chief to face trial. Photo: AFP

IMF chief Christine Lagarde was ordered Friday to stand trial in France over a massive state payout to a colourful tycoon when she was French economy minister, dealing a setback to her stellar career.

Hollande defends minister under fire over Nice attack
The Nice assault was the third major attack on French soil in the past 18 months. Photo: AFP

French President Francois Hollande on Friday defended his government from accusations it relaxed its anti-terror defences after the Euro championships, and announced plans to arm the fight against the Islamic State group which claimed the Nice attack.

Why was Nice ordered to delete CCTV images of attack?
Photo: AFP

The fact that city authorities in Nice were asked to delete images of the truck attack has only given weight to those criticizing the government.

Thirteen free and easy ways to learn French
Photo: Runs With Scissors/Flickr

Struggling to learn French? Here are some free and easy ways to help you conquer the language once and for all.

32 mistakes foreigners make when they arrive in France
Photo: Tatyana A./Flickr

How many of these have you committed?

France to supply Iraq artillery as it steps up fight against Isis
Photo: AFP

France is stepping up its battle against Isis in the Middle East.

Sponsored Article
5 reasons to try dating in Paris with The Inner Circle
Features
Six outdoor bars in Paris you simply must visit
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
The open-air Villette cinema has been cancelled over security fears
Culture
Henri Rousseau exhibition proves huge hit in Paris
National
Frenchman caught trying to sell Nice massacre souvenirs online
Society
OPEN NOW: Here's why you should head to the Paris Plages
Culture
What's on in France: Still plenty to see and do in July
Lifestyle
Treasures of Versailles to go on display in Australia
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
Nice attack: What we know so far
National
Nice attacker: Body-building, drug-taking, violent flirt
National
IN IMAGES: Drawings in tribute to Nice attack victims
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Promenade des Anglais: The iconic heart of the French Riviera
France faces more questions after latest deadly attack
National
Why is France the target of choice for jihadist attacks?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
Nice truck attack: 'Bodies went flying like bowling pins'
Nice attack: Families of missing make pleas on Twitter
Politics
Boris Johnson cheered and booed at Bastille Day party
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
Ten reasons not to leave Paris this summer
Ten ways other expats in France drive you mad
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
'Very Stupid' village in France honoured for its silly name
Travel
Ten crazy things to do in France if you dare
Society
Paris: an obstacle course for wheelchair users
Brits ignore Brexit fears to make dream move to France
2,765
jobs available