Praying in the streets of Paris is against the law starting Friday, after the interior minister warned that police will use force if Muslims, and those of any other faith, disobey the new rule to keep the French capital’s public spaces secular.
The ban was inspired by the fact that hordes of Muslims were taking over Paris streets in order to perform their prayers:
Claude Guéant said that ban could later be extended to the rest of France, in particular to the Mediterranean cities of Nice and Marseilles, where “the problem persists”.
He promised the new legislation would be followed to the letter as it “hurts the sensitivities of many of our fellow citizens”.
“My vigilance will be unflinching for the law to be applied. Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism, the minister told Le Figaro newspaper.
“All Muslim leaders are in agreement,” he insisted.
In December when Marine Le Pen, then leader-in-waiting of the far-Right National Front, sparked outrage by likening the practice to the Nazi occupation of Paris in the Second World War “without the tanks or soldiers”. She said it was a “political act of fundamentalists”.
More than half of right-wing sympathisers in France agreed with Marine Le Pen, at least one poll suggested.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s party denounced the comments, but the President called for a debate on Islam and secularism and went on to say that multiculturalism had failed in France.
Following the debate, Mr Guéant promised a countrywide ban “within months”, saying the “street is for driving in, not praying”.
France is home to the biggest Muslim minority in Western Europe.
By some estimates, as many as six million French people, or just under 10% of the population, are Muslims, with origins in France’s former North African colonies.
Their integration has been a source of political debate in recent years, and earlier this year France became the first EU state to ban the wearing of the Islamic veil in public.
Sheikh Mohamed Salah Hamza, leader of a mosque in the north of Paris, said the government was treating Muslims like ‘cattle’ by stopping them from praying in the street.
He said he feared a ‘climate of anarchy’, despite Mr Gueant’s insistence that force was unlikely to be necessary to impose the ban. [...]
Public funding of places of worship has been banned in France since 1905, following the introduction of a law brought in to separate church from state.
Abdul Sidiqi, one of the country’s five million-strong Muslim population, said of the prayer ban: ‘This is another example of the government clamping down on Muslims, and the Muslim way of life.
‘If they do not want to see us in the street, then they should provide more Mosques.
‘What is going on is scandalous. The government is creating problems which do not really exist to put us in our place.’
But a spokesman for Mr Gueant said empty buildings around Paris – including a former fire station and some disused barracks – would be offered to Muslim worshippers while they waited for new mosques to be built.
Mr Gueant said there were 2,000 mosques in France, with more than half having been built over the past 10 years.