Paris Mosque threatens to sue French government over Eid prayers, charging 'discrimination'

The French government is considering allowing religious services May 29, a few days after Eid al-Fitr.
Saturday 09/05/2020
The Islamic symbol of the crescent and star atop the Great Mosque of Paris. (AFP)
Yearning to celebrate. The Islamic symbol of the crescent and star atop the Great Mosque of Paris. (AFP)

PARIS - With the holy month of Ramadan ending in less than two weeks, the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, including France, are looking forward to the celebration of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the month-long fasting.

As in all parts of the globe, Muslims in France could not perform congregational evening prayers (Taraweeh) or organise Iftar banquets for the poor because of restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

France will begin to ease its nationwide lockdown next Monday. Yet, many Muslims of Arab and African origin in the poorer Parisian suburbs, which are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, are worried that Eid al-Fitr prayers could still be canceled.

Shamseddin Hafiz, chairman of the Paris Mosque's board, expressed frustration over what he saw as the "exclusion of Muslims" from the government's efforts to allow the resumption of religious service later this month. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe recently stated that the government is "willing to examine the possibility that religious services be allowed to resume May 29," which is less than a week after Eid al-Fitr is expected to take place.

Hafiz, a lawyer of Algerian origin, said the French government chose a date that is convenient for many Christian and Jewish celebrations but did not take into account the celebration by French Muslims. The Paris Mosque consequently threatened to sue the government for discrimination.

Since France's nationwide lockdown began on March 17, congregational prayers in mosques and all other places of worship have been prohibited in the country.

While most Muslim communities in the Parisian suburbs have accepted these restrictions, some groups tried to get around them by gathering in private homes and on the roofs of buildings, putting themselves and others at risk.

The death rate of COVID-19 in the poorer Paris suburbs is in fact higher than in other regions, possibly due to more crowded living conditions and a lack of adherence to confinement measures.

Sorbonne University professor and Middle Expert Bernard Rougier said that while the majority of Muslims understood and respected the strict confinement measures, some Islamists opposed them.

Islamist networks, he said, have tried to spread their influence in Muslim neighbourhoods through local mosques and established social activities. He mentioned four groups that compete for influence in the community, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, Tablighi Jamaat and jihadists.

Rougier called on liberal Muslim thinkers in France to push back with alternative narratives. He also urged the government to defend the freedom of Muslims in France.

According to the president of the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, people "never doubted the rationale for the closure of places of worship." He said he was even surprised at the Muslim community's quick acceptance of the difficult situation.

Moussaoui also explained that the CFCM is in contact with regional authorities to learn more about the process of rolling back the lockdown measures.

Salima, a French Muslim student said although she continued fasting and praying at home during the holy month, staying confined made fasting more difficult and the days seem longer.

After being prohibited from going to evening prayers or meeting her friends during Ramadan evenings, she hoped to at least be able to celebrate Eid al-Fitr.