French Muslims despondent after Champs Elysees attack

Worshippers at Paris Grand Mosque lament increasing frequency of ISIL attacks and the consequences for their community.


    Paris, France - One of the largest Muslim places of worship in France, the Paris Grand Mosque, has the capacity to host about 5,000 people at any one time.

    Still, by the time the imam had concluded his sermon on Friday, worshippers were taking up position to pray in any niche they could find.

    The service contained a grim and increasingly frequent addendum: the condemnation of yet another attack carried out by a supporter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) group.

    "Some prejudiced people want to associate Islam with these actions," the imam said in Arabic: "But Islam is innocent of what happened."

    He gave way to another member of the mosque administration, who read out a scathing statement condemning the perpetrator and paying tribute to the police officer slain in Thursday's attack on the capital's iconic Champs Elysees. 

    "The act profoundly shocks the Muslims of France, who pay tribute to the forces that give their lives to protect us," he said.

    Located in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, the mosque was built in 1926 by the French state as a gift to the tens of thousands of Muslim soldiers from its colonies, who gave their lives fighting for the country in the first world war.

    During the second world war and the Nazi occupation of France, members of its administration helped some French Jews escape the Holocaust by producing falsified birth certificates for them, which said they were born as Muslims.

    The Paris Grand Mosque is one of the largest in France [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera] 

    Slimane Nadour, the mosque's spokesperson, rued the new regularity of ISIL attacks in the country and the damage they caused to community relations.

    "It's just horrifying, these attacks keep occurring," Nadour said, recalling the murder of a priest in the western Normandy region last July and the attack in Nice the same month that killed dozens.

    "This is something that's becoming frequent now and it's terrible."

    For Nadour, the attacks are not only morally abhorrent but deliberate attempts to create division between French Muslims and the wider community.

    "The aim of these terrorists is to divide society and put Muslims against non-Muslims," he said, adding: "They've failed and they will fail again".

    "The French people are aware that these people don't represent Islam and it's a small minority of Muslims who do things like this."

    'These people are crazy'

    Outside the mosque, after the prayers had concluded, the feeling among the congregants was little different.

    Untangling his bike from the rail against which it was rested, Kamal responded bluntly and with a palpable sense of despondency when asked how he felt about Thursday evening's attack.

    "One more," he said, lamenting how easy it had become for ISIL sympathisers to carry out attacks:

    "These people are crazy ... they just step outside of their houses and if they don't have a weapon, they'll use anything they can find to attack others."

    As he spoke, men argued passionately about Middle Eastern politics, as street sellers tried to hawk prayer mats and worry beads.

    There's already so much sentiment against Muslims, so this is going to exacerbate it further

    Asma, law student

    Saleha, walking away from prayers with her children and elderly relatives, spoke briefly of her shock: "It's a disaster, this kind of killing is against our beliefs ... our values are against what happened."

    With the presidential election just days away, there were also fears that this could empower candidates who want harsher laws targeting the Muslim community. 

    Asma, a 23-year-old law student, said previous attacks had already created the perception that Muslims were a threat.

    The latest, she said, would add to that feeling.

    "There's already so much sentiment against Muslims, so this is going to exacerbate it further," she said.

    As he pulled his bike away from the rail, Kamal echoed that viewpoint.

    "Sunday is the first round of the election ... the far right will be happy."

    Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM

    Law student Asma said the attack would add to anti-Muslim sentiment [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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