Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy signed a petition on Thursday to oppose the ‘repurposing’ of unused churches into mosques, a proposal made by Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris and president of the Muslim Council of France.
Sarkozy, who hopes to fight the 2017 French presidential elections under the banner of his centre-right party, Les Républicains, has toughened his stance on Islam with calls for France’s ban on the Islamic headscarf to be extended from schools to universities and for halal meals in schools to be scrapped.
The Telegraph reports other signatures on the petition, called Don’t Touch My Church, included writer and political journalist Éric Zemmour (a self-identified reactionary), essayist and public intellectual Alain Finkielkraut and Jeannette Bougrab, former partner of the murdered editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stéphane Charbonnier.
The petition, published in the conservative news magazine Valeurs actuelles, comes after Boubakeur said he was in favour of repurposing unused churches due to a severe lack of places of worship for Muslims.
“This is a delicate issue, but why not,” he told Europe 1 radio last month. “It’s the same God, the rites are similar, fraternal and I think that Muslims and Christians can coexist and live together,” he said. L’Express reports since he made the original comments he has, in the face of the popular petition, backtracked somewhat. Claiming he was essentially misunderstood he accused the petition creators of “bad faith”.
The petition said the French would never “tolerate the prospect of a religious practice other than Catholic in their churches” continuing: “A church is not a mosque, and to claim that the ‘rites are the same’ is a scandalous denial of reality.”
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, another former French president, also responded to Mr Boubakeur’s suggestion in the magazine’s appeal to “preserve these sentinels of the French soul”. He wrote: “The French Catholic churches have been part of the historical heritage of the French population for ten centuries.”
Edouard Balladur, a former prime minister of France, stressed the need to save “the traditions that are largely the image and culture of our nation.”
According to a survey by the French Institute of Public Opinion (Ifop), beyond the high profile signatories to the petition more than 67 per cent of French people oppose the suggestion, and are two and a half times more likely to say “totally opposed” than “somewhat opposed”.
“Even if France is deeply de-Christianised since the 1960s, there is a real commitment…to the Christian roots and their symbols,” Jerome Fourquet, Ifop’s director of opinion and strategy, told Valeurs actuelles.
France is home to around 40,000 churches for a population of around four million practising Catholics. At the same time it has about 2,500 mosques and a further 300 under construction. However, France has the highest Muslim population in western Europe – more than five million – so Boubakeur and other imams recently suggested the number of mosques should be doubled by 2017. This received support from some of France’s Christian leaders who described it as a “legitimate” demand.
The conservative daily Le Figaro said the suggestion from Boubakeur, generally considered a moderate, was “provocative”, warning that he and other “mainstream” Muslim leaders had “lost control” of increasingly radical young French Muslims and that “it is not the mass construction of new mosques that will change things”.
Since a 1905 law to separate church and state, the French public purse does not fund the construction of religious buildings. This has led to worried accusations that many new mosques in France are funded by foreign states with radical Muslim views.
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