Disclosure of the results of a study by the Hudson Institute, which provides a framework certainly unprecedented in the country’s religious landscape
In France there are more Islamic mosques being built, and more frequently, than Catholic churches, and there are more practicing Muslims than practicing Catholics in the country.
Nearly 150 new mosques are currently being built in France, home to the largest Islamic community in Europe. The projects are in various stages of completion, according to Moahmmed Moussaoui, President of the Muslim Council of France, who provided this data in an interview on August 2 with RTL radio.
The total number of mosques in France has already doubled to exceed 2,000 in the last ten years, according to a research entitled: “Building mosques: the government of Islam in France and Holland.” The best known French Islamic leader, Dalil Boubakeur, Rector of Great Mosque of Paris recently suggested that the total number of mosques should double, to 4,000, to meet the growing demand.
Instead, the Catholic Church in France has only twenty new churches built in the last ten years, and formally closed more than 60 churches, many of which could become mosques, according to research conducted by the French Catholic daily La Croix.
Although 64% of the French population (41.6 million people, out of about 65 million inhabitants) are defined as Roman Catholic, only 4.5% (about 1.9 million people) are practicing Catholics, according to the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP).
Also in the field of comparison, 75% (4.5 million) of the approximately 6 million Muslims of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in France are identified as “believers”, and 41% (about 2.5 million) claim to be “practitioners”, according to a report posted on Islam in France by the IFOP on August 1 of last year. Research says that more than 70% of French Muslims claimed to have observed Ramadan in 2011.
Putting these elements side by side furnishes empirical evidence of the claim that Islam is on its way to overtaking Roman Catholicism as the dominant religion in France. As the numbers grow, the Muslims in France are becoming more assertive than ever before. A case for all groups: Muslims in France are asking the Catholic Church for permission to use its empty churches as a tool to solve the traffic problems caused by thousands of Muslims who pray in the street.
In a statement on March 1, addressed to the Church in France, National Federation of the Great Mosque of Paris, the French Council of Muslim Democrats and Islamist group called Collectif Banlieues Respect asked the Catholic Church, in a spirit of inter-religious solidarity, to allow the empty churches to be used by Muslims for Friday prayers, so that Muslims “are not forced to pray in the street” or “be held hostage by the politicians.” Every Friday, thousands of Muslims in Paris and other French towns close roads and sidewalks (and consequently, block local trade, and trap the non-Muslim residents in homes and offices) to accommodate the faithful who are unable to enter the mosque for Friday prayers. Some mosques have started to broadcast sermons and chants of “Allahu Akbar” in the streets. These hardships have caused anger and reactions, but despite many official complaints, authorities have not intervened so far in fear of igniting incidents. The issue of illegal street prayers reached the top of the French political agenda in December 2010 when Marine Le Pen, the new charismatic leader of the National Front, denounced the occurrence “an occupation without troops or tanks.”
During a meeting in the city of Lyon, Le Pen compared the Islamic prayers in the streets to the Nazi occupation. He said: “For those who like to talk a lot of the Second World War, we can also talk about this problem (the Islamic prayers in the street, ed), because it is an occupation of territory. It is an occupation of sections of land, of districts in which religious law enters into force. It is an occupation. Of course there are no tanks or soldiers, but nevertheless it is an occupation and weighs heavily on residents.”
Many French agree. In fact, the issue of Islamic prayers in the street – and the wider issue of the role of Islam in French society – has become a problem of the greatest magnitude in view of the presidential election of 2012. According to a survey by the IFOP, 40% of the French agree with Le Pen that the prayers on the street seem to be an occupation. Another poll published by Le Parisien shows that voters see Le Pen, who argues that France has been invaded by Muslims, and betrayed by its elites, as the best candidate to address the problem of Muslim immigration.
The French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose popularity was at 25% in July, the lowest figure ever recorded for an incumbent president a year before the presidential election, according to TNS-Sofres seems determined not to be outdone by Le Pen in this battle. He recently declared that prayers in the street are “unacceptable” and that the roads can not become “an extension of the mosque.” And he warned that this could undermine the secular tradition of France’s separation of state and religion. The interior minister Claude Guéant told the Muslims of Paris, on August 8, that instead of praying in the streets they can use a disused army barracks. “Praying in the streets is not something acceptable, it must cease.”