As the temperature hovered around freezing, hundreds of men trickled into a former slaughterhouse on a recent Friday. In the overflow crowd outside, scores more unfurled their prayer mats on the asphalt as the imam’s voice intoned through loudspeakers.
The old slaughterhouse has served as a temporary mosque for the past 21 years for many Muslims in Angers, a city in western France. Construction on a permanent home has stalled since last fall when the City Council unanimously rejected a proposal by Muslim leaders to hand ownership of their unfinished mosque to the government of Morocco in return for its completion. Local members, after donating more than $2.8 million, were tapped out.
Building a mosque in France is a tortuous endeavor at the best of times. Members tend to be poorer than other French people. Turning to foreign donors raises a host of concerns — both inside and outside Muslim communities — that are coming under intensifying scrutiny with President Emmanuel Macron’s new law against Islamism, which is expected to get final approval in the Senate in coming weeks.
Complicating matters for Muslims has been France’s principle of secularism, called laïcité, which established a firewall between state and church. While the government regards itself as strictly neutral before all faiths, the law effectively made the state the biggest landlord of Roman Catholic churches in France and the guardian of cultural Roman Catholicism.
The French government regards itself as strictly neutral before all faiths. But the financial implications of France's principle of laïcité tell a different story.
— Constant Méheut (@ConstantMeheut) March 31, 2021