The Open Society Institute Muslims in Europe report series constitutes the comparative analysis of data from 11 cities in seven European countries. It points out common trends and offers recommendations at the local, national, and international levels, including to the European Union and to international organizations. While not representative of the situation of all Muslims in these cities, this report does capture a snapshot of the experiences of Muslim communities in select neighborhoods in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Antwerp, Berlin and Hamburg, Copenhagen, Leicester and Waltham Forest–London, Marseille and Paris, and Stockholm.
This body of work comes in response to major trends with regards to Muslims living in Europe: whether citizens or migrants, native born or newly-arrived, Muslims are a growing and varied population that presents Europe with one of its greatest challenges, namely how to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all in a climate of rapidly expanding diversity.
This article in Le Monde suggests that mosque construction – that of minarets in particular – is largely impaired in France because of financial constraints, and less to public opinion. Of the country’s 2000 mosques, only a minority have minarets. The Grand Mosque of Marseille, currently under construction, includes plans for a 25 meter-high minaret. The addition is more difficulty when mosques are being financed by the communities themselves.
A Libération article points to how construction details is generally formed based on consensus with the local community.
To celebrate Eid al-Kebir, the Union of Muslim Families (UFM or Union des familles Musulmanes) are organizing a large gathering in Marseille over two evenings. Films will be shown to the public, as well as traditional Algerian dancing, Arabic and Berber calligraphy workshop, as well as an art exhibit and story-telling. Last year the festivities drew 25,000 Marseillers of all different faiths.
Following the construction of several “mosque cathedrals” in France in recent years, which are expensive and complicated to build and maintain, recent developments suggest that smaller projects are perhaps more effective.
These comments come in the wake of the large mosque in Marseille set to open in 2011.
Construction of the largest mosque in France is set to begin in Marseille. UMP mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin delivered the building permit; Marseille has approximately 200,000 Muslims, approximately one quarter of the population. The 8600 m2 lot was formerly an abattoir and will house the prayer hall, theological school, library, restaurant, bookstore and amphitheatre. The prayer hall should hold 7000 and will feature a minaret 25 meters tall.
Le Monde reports that a greater number of Muslim parents are seeking to educate their children in confessional schools. Three Muslim schools have been announced, one in Montigny-le-Bretonneux (with 29 students), another in Marseille (with approximately 40 students) and a third in Toulouse (with 30 students registered).
Rap group “Psy 4 de la Rime,” one of the most popular in France, is hosting Marseille’s Eid festival. Organized by the Secular Association of Muslim Families (L’association laïque Union des familles musulmanes or UFM), festivities will begin November 28 with Algerian poet and dramatist, Kateb Yacine.
Soprano, leader of the Psy 4 group explains, “We are proud to have been chosen by the party organizers who are bringing together a lot of people of different generations and communities.” According to the president of UFM, Nassera Benmarnia, 2007’s Eid festival had more than 25,000 participants.
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Many of the 8,847 private Roman Catholic schools in France have welcomed Muslim students. The country currently has four Muslim schools. While there are no national statistics, Muslim and Catholic educators estimate that Muslim students make up more than 10 percent of the 2 million students enrolled in Catholic schools. In more ethnically-mixed neighbourhoods and in the northern part of the country, that percentage can rise up to more than half. 80% of the students at the Saint Mauront Catholic school in Marseille, featured in this article, are Muslim. Soheib Bencheikh, former grand mufti in Marseille whose eldest daughter attends a Catholic school, claims that “It’s ironic, but today the Catholic church is more tolerant of, and knowledgeable about, Islam than the French state.”
In return for teaching the national curriculum and opening its doors to students of all faiths, the government pays teachers’ salaries and a subsidy per student. Catholic schools are free to allow girls to wear the headscarf.
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A Marseille man who punched his wife in the face, fracturing her nose, because she removed her headscarf because of the heat was condemned to at least six months in prison. The couple, who live in Lille, France and were married in November 2007, were on holiday in Marseille. The 24 year-old French female victim stated, “I can’t handle the heat. I had my headscarf but I wasn’t covering my neck.” She claims to have explained to her husband that in Islam, a husband cannot tell his wife what to do.
According to Le Figaro, 2007 saw an increase of 31% over 2004 of reported domestic violence in the country.
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Arab and Muslim candidates fared poorly in the first round of French municipal elections, with only one elected to a local office and few others with opportunity in the second round of voting. Running on the Socialist slate, Samia Ghali won District 8 in Marseille, the country’s second largest city. Ghali became the first Muslim among France’s 36 000 municipal leaders. Justice minister Rachida Dati, of Moroccan origin, faces stiff challenge from her Socialist rival in the 7th District of Paris. Other candidates, Socialist Karim Bougoma and Razi Hamadi of the Rassemblement Pour R_publique have little to no chance of winning a seat, winning only 26.11 and 17.63 of the votes in the first round. In the country more generally, president Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) conceded more ground to the rival Socialists.