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Outrage over Muslim gender ban in French grocery store

France 3 screengrab I The grocery shop is owned by a recent convert to Islam

A Muslim-owned grocery store in the southeastern French city of Bordeaux has prompted outrage after putting up a sign imposing male and female-only days for customers.

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The shop displayed a sign in the window asking “sisters” to come on Saturdays and Sundays, and “brothers” to visit on weekdays.

The shop owner, Muslim convert Jean-Baptiste Michalon, insisted he had acted in good faith and was not telling customers when they could or couldn’t visit his shop.

“We did this in response to requests from ‘sisters’ who preferred to come when my wife is working,” he told AFP. “We do also sell clothes here.”

“It was a sign meant entirely for clients who understand that mixing of sexes is not permitted in our [Muslim] religion,” Michalon, a recent convert to Islam, said. “It was not meant to be compulsory. I had no idea that it was against the law.”

Under the French penal code, discrimination on the grounds of gender is punishable by fines of up to 45,000 euros and a maximum of three years in jail.

Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé, who was prime minister under former conservative president Jacques Chirac, said the sign was “in complete contradiction to republican rules on equality and gender mixing” and called for an inquiry.

Tareq Oubrou, the imam of the city’s main mosque, was shocked by the shop sign.

“Even during the era of the prophet there were no such rules,” he told France 3 TV. “It’s a bit strange to try to apply [gender separation] in a culture where equality has been firmly established. Maybe the shop owner’s choice was personal, rather than theological.”

Michalon removed the sign from his shop window on Monday, but told AFP he was bewildered by the reaction.

“I’m shocked that I have been accused of discrimination,” he said. “After all, hammams (steam baths) have different times for men and women.”

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