The same secularism law which bans head-scarves and keeps religion out of French public schools has been used to convict a radical Salafist preacher. He was charged with attempting to disrupt services at one of France’s oldest mosques and earned a €1,500 fine after being found guilty.
A lawyer acting for the Oullins mosque in Lyon said 51-year-old Faouzi Saidi was found to be guilty of disrupting sermons by criticising the Imam and holding his own prayers at the same time as the official service in the mosque. Saidi has reacted with surprise at the conviction, insisting his only crime was having a “big mouth”, and remarking he was right to criticise the Imam at the mosque, as he delivered services in French rather than Arabic.
Rejecting the notion that he was an ‘extremist’, Saidi insisted he merely practices Islam as it is laid down in the Koran, and was working to convert youth to Islam, making them “good Muslims”. “I practice religion as it is prescribed”, he said.
Despite the successful outcome of the case for the mosque, the leaders of the group which runs it expressed concern it would not prevent hard line Muslims from proselyting people while standing outside, as worshippers come and go. One said: “We know these people (Salafis) will keep saying the same things … outside the official mosque”.
The problem of radicals preaching to crowds outside mosques before and after Friday prayers, even openly recruiting for extremist groups like the Islamic State is a problem recognised in many European countries, but as they take place in public Mosque leaders are unable, or unwilling to combat it.
Breitbart London reported the comments of the Imam of London Al-Manaar Mosque last year, which has been identified as one of the main recruiting grounds in the UK for young men travelling to Iraq and Syria. Counter-terror analysts have recorded on-line conversations between ‘British’ ISIS terrorists reminiscing about services at the Mosque.
Dr Abdulkarim Khalil, the Syrian-born chairman of the Al-Manaar Mosque said: “On Fridays we have about 2,000 people come. Who meets who? Who says what to who? I think it would be dishonest if I told you ‘No’.
“But we try our best to control what goes on in our premises. We don’t allow people to address the congregation; we don’t allow people to distribute literature. Unfortunately these things happen on the big occasions, like on Fridays. And then you find people on the street outside the mosque, lobbying people, giving out literature — some of it for good causes, some of it for others”.
The 1905 French secularity law is most commonly used to prevent the ingress of religion into public life. It includes little-used clauses that guarantee the freedom of worship, which was invoked for the first time in 35 years to convict Saidi. The last time it was used back in 1980 was to prosecute a group of drunkards that interrupted a Christmas mass. The Associated Press reports the last known time it was used before then was in 1905, to prosecute a priest who was disobliging about a deceased man he was performing a burial service for.
The traditional Salafist Muslim sect, which follows closely the teachings of the Koran as it was originally intended has raised hackles accross Europe as devotees of the faith settle in large numbers in countries like France and Germany. Salafists have also imported conflict from other parts of the world, including a long-standing and bloody feud with Yazidi Kurds which has been played out on the streets of a number of German cities in recent months. Breitbart London reported last year on an extraordinary week of riots in Hamburg and elsewhere as Salafists attacked Kurds with weapons including firearms, meat cleavers, and kebab skewers.