[QODLink]
Europe
France enacts street prayer ban
New law follows long-running controversy fanned by far-right leader over Muslims forced to lay prayer mats outdoors.
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2011 22:13

A French ban on praying in the street has come into force, driving thousands of Muslim worshippers in northern Paris into a makeshift prayer site in a disused fire brigade barracks.

The street-prayer ban, enacted on Friday, has highlighted France's problems assimilating its 5-million-strong Muslim community, which lacks prayer space.

The new law follows a long-running controversy - fanned by far-right leader Marine Le Pen - over Muslims forced to lay their prayer mats on the streets in big cities.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant directed Muslims in Paris to temporary spaces made available pending the building of a huge new prayer space and warned that force would be used if necessary as police end their tolerance of street prayers.

Seven months before a presidential election, the ban has struck some in France as an attempt to rally far-right sympathisers to President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right camp.

At the barracks, Cheik Mohammed Salah Hamza oversaw prayers for Muslims who had migrated from around the city.

Worshippers streamed in, spreading their woven prayer mats over the floor of the hangar-like building and out into the courtyard.

"It's the beginning of a solution," Hamza told the Reuters news agency before the start of the service. "The faithful are very pleased to be here. The space, which holds 2,000, is full."

Many worshippers were also upbeat. "This will be better than rue Mryha," said one man, referring to a Paris street renowned for hosting street prayers. "Apparently, it shocked people."

Le Pen has described the growing phenomenon of praying on the streets and sidewalks as an "invasion".

"It's Marine Le Pen who started all this," a woman who gave her name as Assya said on her way into the former barracks on the outskirts of Paris. "Now the government has banned street prayers and sent us here so they can gather votes from the [far-right] National Front [party]. That's all."

'Praying in the grass'

In France, where a strict separation of church and state has been in force for a century, public displays of religious activity are frowned upon.

Yet efforts by Sarkozy's conservative government to restrict religious displays, such as a ban on full-face veils, have drawn criticism as empty measures that unfairly single out Muslims.

France counts the largest Muslim minority of any European country. But only a portion - about 10 per cent, or the same proportion as among Catholics - are practising, according to  Muslim associations.

As a rule, radical Muslim voices in France are rare, but Friday's prayers in northern Paris drew a small but angry protest from a radical minority more often seen in online posts.

An hour before the first prayer, young men with beards, green headbands and banners gathered on rue Myrha to discourage worshippers from moving to the new site.

"No system in the universe can control us aside from Allah," shouted one young man. "There is more dignity in praying in the grass than in their false mosque," said another.

As the prayers began, dozens of young men belonging to a group called Forsane Alizza disrupted the service with shouts of "Allahu akbar" - "God is greatest" - and jostled with security.

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
The author argues that in the new economy, it's people, not skills or majors, that have lost value.
Colleagues of detained Al Jazeera journalists press demands for their release, 100 days after their arrest in Egypt.
Mehdi Hasan discusses online freedoms and the potential of the web with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
A tight race seems likely as 814 million voters elect leaders in world's largest democracy next week.
Featured
After a sit-in protest at Poland's parliament, lawmakers are set to raise government aid to carers of disabled youth.
A vocal minority in Ukraine's east wants to join Russia, and Kiev has so far been unable to put down the separatists.
Iran's government has shifted its take on 'brain drain' but is the change enough to reverse the flow?
Deadly attacks on anti-mining activists in the Philippines part of a global trend, according to new report.
Activists say 'Honor Diaries' documentary exploits gender-based violence to further an anti-Islamic agenda.
join our mailing list