Building New Mosques Encounters Resistance in Europe

Islam is Europe’s second largest religion. But in recent years, some members of Europe’s 20 million strong Muslim community have met strong resistance as they seek to build mosques and minarets, the basic tangible foundation of their faith. Paris suburb of Montreuil offers a colorful study of immigration in France. There are Asian supermarkets and Arab kebab restaurants. Women in headscarves and colorful African boubous mix with French residents wearing western clothes.

A slice of this diversity can be seen in Montreuil’s 12,000-strong Muslim community. Its members, who hail from North and sub-Saharan Africa, represent about 20 percent of the town’s population.

Mohammed Abdoulbaki is vice-president of the Cultural Federation of Muslims of Montreuil, an umbrella group formed to build a central mosque for the city. He shows a visitor the building site for the future, $2.7 million prayer hall, which is now little more than a dusty patch of weeds and litter.

But construction is finally set to begin this fall, ending a years’ long fight to build a main mosque for Montreuil. In 2003, a city hall councillor from a right-wing political party filed a legal complaint arguing that a city lease for the site, for a token amount of about $1.30, violated France’s 1905 law separating church and state. Only last year did an appeals court allow building to go ahead. Mohammed Abdoulbaki. Abdoulbaki says many Muslims were afraid of investing in the mosque because they had heard about the court case. Now, he said, the community has raised about a quarter of the building costs. Lisa Bryant reports.