Published: 13:30 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 22 September 2011
Paris Muslims ignore praying in street ban
Country/Region: Europe, France
Hundreds of Muslims took to the streets in Paris to pray at the weekend, ignoring a new government ban on outdoor prayer.
The announcement of the ban follows the regular overflowing of Muslim prayers on to the streets in the suburbs of Paris. The authorities have been criticised for not enforcing France’s strict laws requiring public space to be secular.
Last week officials pledged that the ban would be enforced with immediate effect. However, 200 Muslims defied the ban and prayed in the streets of la Goutte d’Or neighbourhood.
French interior minister Claude Guéant promised that the new legislation would be followed to the letter, as it "hurts the sensitivities of many of our fellow citizens". He also warned that although officers would first try to persuade people to pray in the mosques, Muslims who refused and continued to pray in the street would be arrested.
"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. He added, "All Muslim leaders are in agreement."
Mr Guéant said that the problem of outdoor prayer was limited to two roads in the Goutte d'Or district of Paris's eastern 19th arrondissement, where "more than a thousand" people blocked the street every Friday. But he said that the ban could later be extended to the rest of France, in particular to the cities of Nice and Marseilles, where "the problem persists".
Under an agreement signed this week, Muslim worshippers in Paris will be able to use a huge disused fire station hangar until a bigger mosque is built.
Sheikh Mohamed Salah Hamza, in charge of one of the Parisian mosques which regularly overflows, said he would obey the new law, but complained, "We are not cattle." He said that he was "not entirely satisfied" with the new location, fearing that many believers would continue to prefer going to the smaller mosque. However, the sheikh has pledged 80,000 euros towards the building project, promising to turn it into a “five-star mosque” in the next three years.
Public funding of places of religious worship is banned under a 1905 law separating church and state. Mr Guéant said that there were 2,000 mosques in France, with half having been built in the past ten years.
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Read New York Post article Muslims defy outdoor prayer ban in France
Read The Daily Telegraph article Praying in Paris streets outlawed