SHARE
COPY LINK
ISLAM IN FRANCE

ISLAM

‘Turn France’s empty churches into mosques’

The French government opened talks with ‘loyal’ Muslim leaders on Monday with one of the main topics up for discussion being the shortage of mosques in France. One Muslim leader says the answer lies with France's empty churches.

'Turn France's empty churches into mosques'
Muslims pray in a street in Paris in 2011 due to to a lack of capacity in the city's mosques. Photo: AFP

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.

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.

 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

ISLAM

Erdogan calls French separatism bill ‘guillotine’ of democracy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a planned French law designed to counter "Islamist separatism" as a "guillotine" of democracy.

Erdogan calls French separatism bill 'guillotine' of democracy
Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as "anti-Muslim". Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The draft legislation has been criticised both inside France and abroad for stigmatising Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups.

“The adoption of this law, which is openly in contradiction of human rights, freedom of religion and European values, will be a guillotine blow inflicted on French democracy,” said Erdogan in a speech in Ankara.

The current version of the planned law would only serve the cause of extremism, putting NGOs under pressure and “forcing young people to choose between their beliefs and their education”, he added.

READ ALSO: What’s in France’s new law to crack down on Islamist extremism?

“We call on the French authorities, and first of all President (Emmanuel) Macron, to act sensibly,” he continued. “We expect a rapid withdrawal of this bill.”

Erdogan also said he was ready to work with France on security issues and integration, but relations between the two leaders have been strained for some time.

France’s government is in the process of passing new legislation to crack down on what it has termed “Islamist separatism”, which would give the state more power to vet and disband religious groups judged to be threats to the nation.

Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as “anti-Muslim”.

READ ALSO: Has Macron succeeded in creating an ‘Islam for France’?

Last October, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health”, accusing him of waging a “campaign of hatred” against Islam, after the French president defended the right of cartoonists to caricature the prophet Mohammed.

The two countries are also at odds on a number of other issues, including Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

SHOW COMMENTS