Invited by Europe 1 on Monday morning, the Rector of the Paris Mosque and President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith Dalil Boubaker was quizzed by veteran journalist Jean-Pierre Elkabach about his proposal to recover “empty churches” to serve the Muslim faith. Boubaker smiled coyly, but Elkabach bluntly called on him to be as candid as possible since this is why he was there anyway. He had been invited to discuss his suggestion made in a soon-to-be released “Open Letter to the French.”
Boubakeur relented: “This is a delicate issue, but why not,” he said.
He cited the example of the city of Clermont-Ferrand where “religious clerics had welcomed Muslims”. For more than 30 years, the chapel was abandoned until 2012 when it became a mosque, courtesy of a congregation of nuns. “It’s the same God, our faiths are neighboring, fraternal, and I think that Muslims and Christians can coexist and live together”, opined Dalil Boubaker.
According to him, the 2,500 mosques and 300 under construction were “insufficient”. He hoped that the construction of 2,500 new ones would be discussed at the “forum for dialogue” held that same day. For the demand for more mosques was ever growing.
Boubakeur recalled that France included 7 Million Muslims in 2015, and Europe 20 Millions. They would become 45 Million in 2025, so Europe had to gear up to cater to them.
As well, accommodations should be made for fasting Muslims during the month of Ramadan. “Such as?” inquired Elkabach. “Time off to pray 5 times a day, relaxed productivity standards, etc etc?” That’s right, replied Boubakeur unflinchingly. But he added, probably to make the pill seem more palatable, that concessions were already “kindly extended by some”.
Elkabach, reading from a document, then quoted Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve as saying that France’s laicism did “not forbid the veil at university, or restrict veiled women from access to beaches.” Elkabach sarcastically let out that this all sounded so “promising”, but the irony seemed lost on Boubakeur who exclaimed that Cazeneuve was” a very sensible man” who was “to be commended on his declarations”.
Elkabach further asked Boubakeur about the OIF (Union of Islamic Organisations of France), a Muslim Brotherhood front organization. But Boubakeur deftly played the matter down, asserting that this organization had ‘evolved’ a lot.
“And who’ll finance all those imams who’ll preach in the new mosques you are requesting?” (In April 2015, Boubakeur proposed to double the number of France’s mosques). ” Our communities will,” affirmed Boubakeur.
“No foreign aid at all”? Boubakeur then conceded: “Oh well, we will ask Arab countries who have billions and don’t know what to do with their money, we’ll ask them to give us a small aid, which is normal since we are their European brothers.”
In conclusion, and still in support of his proposal for more mosques, Boubakeur explained how the disadvantaged suburbs were a breeding ground for criminality, which in turn encouraged radicalization, often inside prison. He saw more mosques as a balancing factor.
Reactions to this bombshell announcement were a mixed bag, but leaning on outrage. A few atheists couldn’t care less – a church was nothing more to them than walls with a roof. One comment by a Muslim was that it was Christians’ fault if their churches fell vacant. It was up to them to fill them if they wanted to keep them. The response came that it would be better for Christians to destroy rather than cede their empty churches, because once consecrated, churches contained Christ’s living presence. Islam did not have anything similar to the Eucharist in its theoogy, all its followers needed for worship was a rug in the corner of a room, any room. Hence, the conversion proposal was felt to be unjustified – a provocation.
So was the explanation that Islam and Christianity were neighborly and fraternal faiths. How could that be true, wrote one, with the many verses in the Qur’an calling for the killing of unbelievers, and specifying the ‘People of the Book “(Christians and Jews)? Those verses had not been repealed or reinterpreted, that person wrote, and besides, there was no authority in charge of unifying the Islamic doctrine. In any event, the very word of innovation (Bida’a) was sacrilegeous in religious matters. That Christians could have neighborly and brotherly relations with Muslims was one thing, if those Muslims were secularised enough and well-meaning towards them. But it was quite another thing to equate the two religions and on that basis, to expect one of them to renounce itself to cater to the demands of the other.
So is it the beginning of the end of secularism in France? Not quite yet. But the French may be starting to realize that their much vaunted secularism is not the neutral space it purported to be. The rise of France’s Muslim population and the multiplication of its special requests (ability to pray every few hours and to have halal food in canteens and enterprises, to count on revised history curriculae, to wear head scarves or full-faced veil, to have women-only swimming pools, to avoid airport security checks, etc, etc) mean ever more accommodations to France’s precious principle of ‘laicité’, and is instituting a de facto two-speed implementation regime. How will it all end? Not well, if one is to believe alarmist scenarios such as Eric Zemmour’s “Le Suicide français” (The French Suicide’) or Michel Houellebecq’s “Soumission” (Submission), with its portrayal of 2022 France as an Islamic Republic. Unless some creative solution is found. Fast.