Praying in Paris streets outlawed

In the latest move by officials to remove Islam from the public sphere, French officials have banned Muslims praying outdoors

Muslims praying while sprawled on the streets of Paris face arrest under a strict new law passed yesterday.
French interior minister Claude Gueant said the hundreds of prostrate worshippers 'hurt the sensitivities of many of our fellow citizens'. Muslim men claim they have been forced into roads and alleyways to complete their daily prayers because of a lack of mosques in the French capital.

'Like cattle': According to Muslim leaders, they will have to squeeze into
overflowing mosques after this new law was passed in Paris. pic/AFP

But Gueant, a strict right-winger who wants to uphold France's secularity, said that the new law would be spread to other French cities, including Lyon and Marseilles, where thousands of Muslims live. He said, "My vigilance will be unflinching for the law to be applied. Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism."

However, Sheikh Mohamed Salah Hamza, leader of a mosque in the north of Paris, said the government was treating Muslims like 'cattle' by stopping them from praying in the street. He said he feared a 'climate of anarchy', despite Gueant's insistence that force was unlikely to be necessary to impose the ban. The move is the latest in a series of crackdowns on Islamic practices in France, after it became the first country to introduce a 'burqa ban', back in April.

Abdul Sidiqi, one of the country's five million-strong Muslim population, said of the prayer ban, "This is another example of the government clamping down on Muslims, and the Muslim way of life. If they do not want to see us in the street, then they should provide more mosques. What is going on is scandalous. The government is creating problems which do not really exist to put us in our place."

But a spokesman for Gueant said empty buildings around ParisĀ -- including a former fire station and some disused barracks -- would be offered to Muslim worshippers while they waited for new mosques to be built.
Gueant said there were 2,000 mosques in France. Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen claimed that praying in the street had become a 'political act of fundamentalists' and that worshippers looked like an occupying army.

5 million The number of Muslims living in France

2,000 The number of mosques in France

April 11 The date the burqa ban was introduced in France, the first country to do so

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