France: Mosques top issue in local elections

With municipal polls around the corner, mayors and councilors of almost every political stripe are courting Muslim voters with promises of new stately mosques, or rightists with vows to allow none.

"Most of the candidates have realized that building proper places of worship to Muslims is one good way to win their votes," Eissa Nahari, an official with the Muslim Society of Gennevillier, told

Municipal elections will be held on March 9 and 16.

Up for grasp are all city mayors and municipal councilors.

Having purpose-built mosques, rather than temporary halls in gymnasiums, garages, unused shops or house basements, has become one of the key demands for Muslim voters nationwide.

The head of the Trappes municipality, a candidate of the ruling Union of Popular Movement (UMP), has promised to equip the city's mosque, according to Bashir Lasoud, a member of the Muslim Union of Trappes.

The online campaign of UMP candidate Francoise de Panafieu for the Paris municipality — the country's largest — features a photo of Muslims praying on a Paris street.

The caption reads: "France must be ashamed that citizens practice their rituals on the margins."

No sooner had Panafieu promised a purpose-built mosque than her Socialist rival Bertrand Delanoe joined the fray by vowing to build two Islamic centers in the capital.

There are some 1,700 Muslim places of worship in France but only about 400 are stately mosques, according to recent estimates by the Interior Ministry.

France is home to some 6-7 million Muslims, the biggest Muslim minority in Europe.

Or Not

Some candidates have already started translating election promises into action.

In the Paris suburb of Massy, the municipality UMP chief, who is running for reelection against a Socialist rival, has laid the foundation of a new mosque.

Nahari, the Muslim activist, says they have seen candidates fulfill their promises in the past, citing what happened after the last elections seven years ago.

"We are thankful to the head of the Gennevillier municipality who kept his word by helping build the first mosque in the city."

On the other extreme, many far-right candidates are building their election campaign on Islamophobic grounds.

One of the main banners of Thomas Joly's campaign read: "No Mosque in Beauvais."

The far-right politicians remains the stumbling bloc to Muslim ambitions to have stately mosques.

In Montreuil, plans for a modern-style mosque were brought to a freeze after a successful lawsuit by far-right politicians.

The same happened in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille — home to 250,000 Muslims — where the building of a stately mosque was halted last April year following a similar lawsuit.

The construction of a mosque in the Paris suburb of Creteil is also challenged in court.

Source: Islam Online (English)

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