Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

Israeli strikes on Gaza as seen on social media

Read more

DEBATE

Africa's Newest Failed State: How to Stop Civil War and Famine in South Sudan? (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Israel and the Palestinians: How to Break the Cycle of Violence?

Read more

DEBATE

Africa's Newest Failed State: How to Stop Civil War and Famine in South Sudan?

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Somalia : Al Shebab attack on presidential palace

Read more

FOCUS

Sharia law to be enshrined in British legal system?

Read more

ENCORE!

How a comedy dud became one of France's biggest box office hits

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Kenya: Clashes at anti-government rally in Nairobi

Read more

WEB NEWS

ISIS leader challenged over expensive-looking wristwatch

Read more

  • Israeli airstrikes continue in Gaza as rockets intercepted over Tel Aviv

    Read more

  • Argentina beat Netherlands on penalties to reach World Cup final

    Read more

  • Foiled French jihadist ‘targeted Louvre and Eiffel Tower’

    Read more

  • Obama in Texas to urge congressional action on child migrant crisis

    Read more

  • Iraq’s heritage 'in danger' from ISIS militants

    Read more

  • Froome crashes out of Tour de France

    Read more

  • South Sudan independence heroes ‘have lost their way’

    Read more

  • 100 years on, the Tour de France returns to the Western Front

    Read more

  • Dozens of blindfolded bodies found south of Baghdad

    Read more

  • Alps Murder wife had ex-husband who died on same day

    Read more

  • Both candidates say they won Indonesian presidential election

    Read more

  • Brazil players should never wear 'sacred uniform' again, press says

    Read more

  • Exiled Syrian opposition elects new president

    Read more

  • Ukraine imposes new conditions on peace talks with pro-Russia rebels

    Read more

  • Sarkozy's UMP party 'almost €80 million in debt'

    Read more

France

Short on mosques, Paris Muslims pray in fire station

©

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Sophie PILGRIM , Sarah LEDUC

Latest update : 2011-09-18

Parisian Muslims escaped a government ban on street prayers Friday when some 5,000 worshippers piled into a makeshift mosque in the north of the capital.

After years of unfurling prayer mats on streets, pavements and in bicycle lanes, Parisian Muslims on Friday were finally able to put their foreheads to the ground somewhere they knew they weren’t stopping traffic. Not quite a mosque yet, their new place of worship is a 2,000-square-metre disused fire station in the north of the capital.

The building’s inauguration Friday afternoon, which saw thousands of Muslims welcomed from across Paris, also marked the first day of a ban on street prayers that had long been promised by France's right-wing government. “Praying in the streets will stop [on Friday],” Interior Minister Claude Gueant told French conservative daily Le Figaro Thursday. “We could go so far as to use force if needed,” he added, although he said he believed it unnecessary.

The Muslim community had scrambled to find a suitable space for the capital’s growing number of worshippers after Gueant, a close ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy, gave them until September 16 to get off the streets. “Prayers in the street are unacceptable, a direct attack on the principle of secularism,” he told AFP last month. Just two days before the deadline and after complex negotiations, local Muslim leaders signed a three-year deal with the authorities for the disused hangar.

Local volunteers spent the two days before opening day brushing debris from the floor of the hangar. Sarah Leduc/ FRANCE 24.

While it still resembles little more than a fire station, the new “mosque” was commended by participants Friday, who recounted times when thousands of worshippers were forced to pray under the rain, unable to squeeze into their local mosque. “We used to be squashed in like sardines!”, one woman told FRANCE 24. “At least there’s more room here. And after all, a prayer is a prayer, why not have it in a fire station?”

Only a small minority of worshippers complained about the move, in the form of a tiny protest by a group of Salafi Muslims. “Brothers, wake up!” shouted one. “They’ve put us in here so we don’t pray in the street. But we should be able to pray where we like!”

Most of the surrounding crowd disagreed, however, arguing that it was against Islamic belief to bother your neighbour or block someone from going their way – which is what had been happening for over a decade as thousands of bodies spilled out from mosques onto the roads every Friday afternoon.

No praying in public before the election

French law stipulates that no show of religious allegiance is allowed in public, which is what makes praying in the street a punishable offence. But until recently, the law had only been enforced in state schools, where Jewish skullcaps, Muslim headscarves and Christian crucifixes are banned.

In spring this year, the government introduced a notorious “burqa ban”, banning women (and men, supposedly) from wearing the full Muslim veil. The move was widely viewed as a political one – an attempt by the unpopular Sarkozy administration to appease far-right voters before the presidential election next year. Gueant’s promise to rid the streets of praying Muslims is considered a similar ploy.

"Relieved", Sheik Salah Hamza stands outside the fire station as volunteers inside prepare for opening day. Sarah Leduc/ FRANCE 24.

One woman visiting the mosque told an AP correspondent that while she was “really happy,” she didn’t believe it was “by chance that this plan is coming just before the presidential election ... this site has been sitting unused here for years.”

Most of the worshippers who turned up on Friday were largely unaware of any political implications, worrying more about practical matters. “It’s not clear where we should put our footwear,” one man told FRANCE 24, clasping his leather moccasins as he peered nervously at a mountain of shoes. Another mused about the building not facing directly towards Mecca, and another, about the cold in the winter.

But Sheikh Salah Hamza, an imam involved in the project, has got grand designs for the hangar. He’s pledged 80,000 euros towards the building, promising to turn it into a “five-star mosque” in the next three years.

 

Date created : 2011-09-16

  • FRANCE

    Top court reignites debate over French secularism

    Read more

  • FRANCE

    Facebook pork party banned after racism allegations

    Read more

  • RELIGION

    French Muslims lay first stone of Marseille mega-mosque

    Read more

Comments

COMMENT(S)