Friday, September 16, 2011
Paris Ban on Street Prayers Sends 2,000 Muslims Into Barracks

Paris Ban on Street Prayers Sends 2,000 Muslims Into Barracks

A ban on praying in the streets has come into force in France on Friday, forcing thousands of Paris Muslims into a disused fire brigade barracks; a makeshift prayer site in the Goutte d'Or district.

The French authorities have declared that police could use force in cases where the new law is not being adhered to.

The Interior Minister Claude Gueant, who coordinated redirecting the worshipers into the barracks, explained earlier in an interview with Le Figaro, a French newspaper, that praying in the street is a direct attack on the principle of secularism.

The barracks feature two rooms, 750-square-meter and 600-square-meter, which can hold up to 2,700 people, according to Radio France Internationale.

To push believers into using the new prayer venue, the existing mosques will withhold from scheduling prayers next week, it has been reported.

It has also been reported that a new Islamic praying space, the Institute for Islamic Cultures, will open by 2013, offering 4,000-square-meters of additional room; a 30-million Euro investment.

About 1,000 people were reportedly using streets in Paris' Goutte d'Or district for prayers. The multi-ethnic neighborhood has seen Muslim come to its two streets for daily prayers after a nearby mosque used previously by some 4,000 worshipers was closed a few years ago.

Gueant said that similar problems with street prayers existed in two other major French cities, Marseilles and Nice.

The Muslim community in France, where a strict separation of Church and state has been in force for a century now, counts 5 million believers, by some estimates. It is home to the biggest Muslim minority in Western Europe.

An imam who oversaw the prayers in Paris on Friday, Cheik Mohammed Salah Hamza, said that the prayer location in the barracks is just a momentary solution.

"The faithful are very pleased to be here,” he told Reuters. "The space, which holds 2,000, is full."

Previously, a far-right French politician, Marine Le Pen, has described the growing phenomenon of praying on the streets and sidewalks as an "invasion."

The prayer ban became active seven months before French presidential elections.