French mosques open to non-Muslims on Charlie Hebdo anniversary
Paris - Hundreds of mosques across France opened their doors to non-Muslims to help dispel rising fears of Islam following a number of Islamist terrorist attacks in the country.
The event, dubbed a Brotherly Cup of Tea, was organised by the country’s leading Muslim body, the French Council of the Muslim Faith. Mosques opened their doors to the general public from January 7th to 9th to mark the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Non-Muslims were offered tea and pastries, given guided tours of mosques and participated in question-and-answer sessions with local imams. “We want to demonstrate that Islam is about the preaching of tolerance, peace and brotherhood,” Said Baoulahtit, chairman of the Grand Mosque of Strasbourg, said.
French President François Hollande visited the main mosque in Paris shortly after attending a low-key event that marked the Charlie Hebdo attack.
“The president had a short conversation and a moment of friendship and fraternity over a cup of tea,” a French presidency official said.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also took part in the event, calling for greater engagement from French Muslims. “Look at the brotherhood on show this afternoon at the open day of French mosques,” he tweeted, alongside a picture of him visiting a Parisian mosque.
A majority of France’s more than 2,500 mosques participated in the event. Anouar Kbibech, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said the aim was to show the French people the “true values” of Islam.
“The objective is to create a space where people can be together and meet normal Muslim worshippers and all of our fellow citizens,” Kbibech said.
“We want to use the anniversary of the [Charlie Hebdo] attacks to highlight the true values of Islam and get away from the clichés about links with violence and terrorism,” he added, describing the event as a “gesture of openness” from French Muslims.
Kbibech said France should not dwell on terrorist attacks but instead celebrate the scenes of unity and solidarity that emerged after such attacks. More than 1.5 million people, including some 40 world leaders, took to the streets of Paris on January 11, 2015, in a show of unity following the Charlie Hebdo attack.
“Instead of dwelling on these tragic acts, it seemed far more useful and important to celebrate ‘the spirit of January 11th’,” Kbibech said.
French mosque imams welcomed the opportunity to engage their local communities and differentiate themselves from the Islamist terrorists.
“Often Islam is badly perceived but in fact Islam is peace. Islam is love,” said Omar Shabani, chairman of the Grand Mosque of Arras.
France, which has the largest population of Muslims in Europe, has been the site of a number of Islamist attacks, many of which were claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS). The offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, reviled by some for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, was attacked on January 7, 2015, with 11 people killed.
France declared a state of emergency following coordinated terrorist attacks on Paris on November 13th. A total of 130 people were killed when seven terrorists, armed with automatic rifles and suicide vests, attacked a number of venues, including cafes, bars and the Bataclan theatre.