Muslims Denied Mosques By French Islamophobes
French Muslims Struggle To Have Mosques
Courtesy Of: IslamOnLine
Mon. Jul. 9, 2007
MONTREUIL, France — The construction of grand mosques in France has become a mission impossible as rightists stand as the main roadblock and derail strenuous efforts made by Muslims to have a proper place of worship just like other communities in the secular country.
"Islam is the second largest religious group in France. Surely we can have a decent place," Mohamed Aboulbaki a Muslim leader from the town of Montreuil, east of Paris, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday, July 9.
"The Catholics, Protestants and Jews all have a place to pray in dignity. Why not us?"
In Montreuil, plans for building a modern-style grand mosque was halted after a lawsuit won by far-right politicians.
The case of Montreuil echoes that of the Mediterranean port city of Marseille — home to 250,000 Muslims — where the building of a grand mosque was frozen in April following a similar lawsuit.
The construction of a mosque in the Paris suburb of Creteil is also challenged in court.
Rightists made no secret of their Islamophobic views.
"What we want to halt is the Islamization of our country," Patricia Vayssiere, the far-right councilor from Montreuil, told AFP.
Vayssiere, a senior member of the far-right National Republican Mouvement (MNR), added that they see the building of a mosque as encouraging the emergence of Islam as political force in France.
"We are not against Islam as long as it remains a private matter."
But Aboulbaki blasted the right-wing's Islamophobic tone.
"The idea that building a mosque amounts to encouraging Islamization and fundamentalism must be removed once and for all," he said.
France must "get its mosques out of the basements" if it wants its Muslim population to fully integrate into mainstream society, added Aboulbaki.
France is home to around six million Muslims, the largest Muslim minority in Europe.
Muslims have only 1,500 mosques or prayer houses, most of which are housed in small, modest halls, often described as "basement mosques."
France's first mosque, the Great Mosque of Paris, opened in 1926 in Paris' Latin Quarter. It was built with help from Algerian donors.
Far-rightists have seized on provisions of a law on the separation of church and state to argue that city councils are illegally subsidizing religion by awarding leases for little money.
But French officials have admitted that the decades-long church and state law is exploited when it comes to the construction of mosques.
"The fundamental issue is that there is a double-standard," said Didier Leschi, the director of the religious affairs office at the Interior Ministry.
"Long-term leases are only being challenged when they are for mosques."
The Montreuil city council agreed to a long-term lease of land for the paltry sum of one euro (1.4 dollars) while Marseille had demanded 300 euros per year for a plot for the new mosque. Both, after court rulings, have reviewed the leases.
"In Montreuil, there is opposition to the symbolic sum of one euro but in the 1930s, the Catholic Church in the Paris region got long-term leases for 1,000 francs, or about 1.50 euros," said Leschi.
Vincent Geisser, a researcher on Islam, says that not all politicians are Islamophobic, but rather support the construction of mosques to help ease some of the tensions in the immigrant-heavy suburbs.
"Many mayors see a mosque in their community as a sort of clinic, with clearly identified people that they could talk to and enlist for help," said Geisser.