France’s top Muslim official has reportedly suggested turning empty Catholic churches into mosques, while the Prime Minister has defended the religion by saying there was no link between extremism and Islam. The Mufti of Paris’ Grand Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, said France needed 5,000 more mosques to accommodate the 5 million Muslims in the country.
“It’s a delicate issue, but why not?” Boubakeur, who is also the president of the French Council of Muslim Faith, told Europe 1 radio on Monday. France has the largest Islamic population in Europe and there are currently about 2,500 mosques and 300 under construction, RT reported.
Boubakeur said a Catholic church in Clermont-Ferrand, a town in central France, that had been abandoned for 30 years, was gifted to the Muslim community in 2012 and successfully transformed into a mosque. "It's the same God; these are neighbouring rites, fraternal, and I think that Muslims and Christians can coexist and live together,” he was quoted as saying.
In April, Bishops’ Conference of France spokesperson Monseigneur Ribadeau-Dumas supported a call a for the number of mosques to be doubled.
Meanwhile, French PM Manuel Valls opened a conference aimed at improving ties with France’s Muslim community by commenting on concerns the religion was linked to extremism. “We must say all of this is not Islam,” Valls said, according to local media.
“The hate speech, anti-Semitism that hides behind anti-Zionism and hate for Israel... the self-proclaimed imams in our neighbourhoods and our prisons who are promoting violence and terrorism.”
The comments come five months after two brothers stormed the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 17 people, after the magazine published cartoons deemed offensive. The forum is expected to be attended by 120-150 Muslim community leaders and government officials and ministers to debate security at religious sites, the image of Islam in the media and the building of new mosques, newswire AFP said.
The government was accused of “stigmatising” the religion earlier this month after former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing opposition party held an internal meeting on the “question of Islam” in France.