The Islamic Post Blog

Religious Diversity Law Promotes the Building of Masjid and Fellowship in France by Khalida
December 1, 2008, 1:04 am
Filed under: December Volume 1 - 2008, Interfaith, International, World | Tags:

By Umm Abdul Malik
Islamic Post Staff Writer

While Muslims in France struggle to defend many of their cultural rights –including how adherents may dress in public schools– and complex issues related to the French social order, there is a corner of this European nation where religious diversity is being embraced, and even supported by law.  In Alsace-Moselle, an agriculturally, geologically, and industrially prosperous region in eastern France,  the local government adheres to a pre- World War II law that not only provides subsidies to the religious groups that have been established there for decades, but also promotes religious education in public schools.
Alsace-Moselle was part of Germany during   and after World War I, in 1905, when France passed laws separating “church and state.”  The regional edict still applies. The Treaty of Concordat grants public funds for the building of structures for worship, and provides funding to cover compensation for clergy.
The predominant Jewish, Roman Catholic, Calvinist, and Lutheran denominations enjoyed the multi-faceted support of the government in the region exclusively until, in 1998, leaders of these four groups officially recognized the proliferating Muslim presence within the larger local population and, by written petition, insisted Muslims be afforded  the same rights, privileges, and assistance as required by law. Despite this significant consensus, there was fierce political debate in Alsace-Moselle on how and to what degree the law should apply to the Muslims.
The then-current Mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, lost his position when the petition was presented in 1998. The new mayor restricted the building permit for the new mosque to include only the religious areas, and excluding a study center and auditorium, even refusing approval for a minaret.
Construction on the Grand Mosque did not begin until 2007.  Mr. Ries was  re-elected in March of 2008, with the help of strong Muslim support, proposing that the masjid be completed as soon as possible.
“Muslims today represent the second (largest) religion of France, as well as of Alsace-Moselle,” commented Mayor François Grosdidier of the town of Woippy, where one-third of its 15,000 inhabitants are Muslims, with the same proportion of Muslims in the regional population of 2.9 million.  “I don’t think the current situation can last in our country, it’s not sustainable.”  Mayor Grosdidier added that excluding Muslims and suppressing their ability to be open and practice their way of life openly will lead them to seek support from foreign governments, an unnecessary complication.  In the opinion of some, this historically auspicious region, once known as Alsace-Lorraine, could serve as an example of what is possible to achieve in the quest to integrate Muslims into the meld of society in France, which has the largest population of Muslims (six to seven million) and Jews of any European nation.  Although there are about 1,700 Muslim worship places in France, only 400 of them could be categorized as actual mosques, while the remainder are temporary places for prayer in gymnasiums, unused shops, or apartment house basements.
Mr. Fouad Douia, head of the consortium of Muslim communities in Alsace-Moselle, was appointed to oversee the construction of a “stately mosque” (Grand Mosque) in the renowned city of Strasbourg, on the Ill River.
In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, Mr. Douia remarked that still, Alsace-Moselle is a model for interfaith dialogue which is considerably stronger  than in the rest of France.  The consortium head commented that Muslims look forward to the opportunity for Islamic education for their school children, as well as the establishment of a theological faculty for the training of Muslim clergy. Mr. Douia, however, lamented the dichotomy of the modern societies’ refusal to expedite religious equality, among other standards of fairness. “There’s great hypocrisy in French politics; people don’t name things as they are.”


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