The number of mosques in France should be doubled over the next two years in order to provide an adequate number of places of worship for the country’s millions of faithful, a top Muslim leader said Saturday.
Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Muslim Council, said France’s current total of 2,200 mosques was not enough to adequately represent one of Europe’s largest Muslim communities.
“We need double (that number) within two years,” Boubakeur said during the 32nd edition of the Annual Gathering of French Muslims, a four-day event that brings together more than 250 Muslim associations from across the country.
“There are a lot of prayer rooms, of unfinished mosques, and there are a lot of mosques that are not being built,” he added.
Amar Lasfar, president of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF), which organises the gathering, agreed.
“The number of mosques must reflect the number of Muslims (in France),” he said.
There are an estimated four to five million Muslims in France, though Boubakeur put the number at seven million. A ban on asking direct questions about race and religion by state bodies when compiling census data makes an exact figure difficult to establish.
In comparison, the UK, which has a Muslim population of approximately 2.8 million, has a total of around 1,500 mosques, or roughly one for every 1,850 Muslims, according to the website MuslimsInBritain.org.
Boubaker did not specify how the new mosques could be funded – something likely to be a significant hurdle to their construction.
France’s secularism laws prohibit the state from directly financing the building of places of worship, while the French government has also sought recently to prevent the funding of mosques by foreign states.
However, Lasfar noted that “fewer and fewer” mayors of French towns and cities “systematically oppose the construction of mosques”, which could make their construction easier.
“We have the right to build mosques, (the right) that mayors do not oppose it,” he added.
Church leader backs calls
The call for more mosques in France won backing from one of the country’s Christian leaders with Monsignor Ribadeau-Dumas, spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of France, describing it as a “legitimate” demand.
“Muslims should, like Christians and Jews, be able to practise their religion,” he told French radio station Europe1.
However, France’s far-right National Front party, which recently won a quarter of the votes in the first round of local elections, called Boubaker’s proposal “ludicrous and dangerous”.
“There is a cloud of murkiness surrounding the funding of mosques in France today,” the party said in a statement.
“Financial support by some foreign states … which have links with the worst jihadist movements in the world, is a clear threat to national security,” it added.
The weekend’s gathering in the town of Le Bourget, near Paris, comes just months after jihadist gunmen killed 17 people in a series of terror attacks in Paris.
Since then, there has been a marked rise in Islamophobia in France.
Figures show that, in January of this year alone, 167 acts of violence or threats against mosques were reported in France, compared to just 14 in the same month last year, and Boubaker used the conference to appeal for greater respect for the country’s Muslim population.
“Islam is no longer an Islam stemming from immigration, it is a national Islam that has the right to the recognition and consideration of the French population, just like other communities in France,” he said.
Participants at the gathering – which included groups ranged from liberal to ultra-conservative – also denounced violence committed in the name of Islam.
“We are loyal to our country, France. We love God, we love our Prophet, but we also love the French Republic,” said Lasfar.