‘If French churches are in disuse, convert them into mosques!’
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and a number of other prominent figures signed a petition to reject a proposal to convert France's empty Catholic churches into mosques. A recent polls of the French public showed that more than 67 percent are opposed the idea.
RT:Why do you think French Muslims want to convert old churches into mosques? Isn’t it better to create purpose-built modern facilities which are easier to maintain?
Mohammed Ansar: I think whatever the French Muslims will do in this situation they are going to get it in the neck, especially from Sarkozy who is trying to lead La Republique in a new presidential charge in 2017. I think if we wanted to build new mosques you would have opposition from the right and the far right especially from the Front National. I think if you wanted to convert what ostensibly are becoming now emptied-out Catholic churches in France, I think they would be receiving similar opposition; I think they’re in a no-win situation.
RT:It is very sensitive suggestion, isn’t it?
MA: Yes, it is. I think the poll which was put out in Valeurs Actuelles, the right-wing magazine and [the survey] was from the Institute of French Public Opinion, it said that two-thirds of those polled were opposed to it. But of course if you spin this in another way and you look at it as being an attack on French values, French history, French heritage, then of course people will be opposed. On the other hand, you’ve got to look at the dwindling number of church goers in France right now. And at the same time we’ve got increasing numbers of Muslims.
RT:How much support do you think this initiative has among worshippers from either faith?
MA: I do a lot of inter-faith work here and elsewhere, and we see that most faithful people and most people who go to mosques, churches and synagogues… are very pragmatic people, very utilitarian people. If those churches are not being used, if those churches - rather than standing empty and being disregarded and disused - and of course the act of Parliament which created the separation of churches in France was in 1905. Churches built before that period – the state is responsible for. But Churches built after that - if they are lying fallow and empty and not being used, I think most people of a faithful nature will be quite pragmatic and say: “Why not let people use those spaces or allow them to build new ones.”
RT:What would Muslims say, do you think, if someone suggested converting a mosque to a Christian church, or a synagogue?
MA: Most mosques I visit here and around the world are absolutely bursting at the seams with Muslims praying five times a day. In Britain, for example, we’ve seen the last census figures and similar figures in France: Within the last 10 years people of other faiths, non-Christian faiths have increased in their numbers in those countries. Muslims ostensibly over that time have doubled. I think the big issue is going to be with Sarkozy. In 2009 he wanted to defend the minaret ban, in 2010 he defended the veil ban, in 2012 he said there were too many foreigners in France, and this year he also defended banning pork and Halal meals and pushing very, very hard against Muslims. I don’t think this issue is really one of faith] and the use of faith spaces. This is about Sarkozy and his anti-Muslim rhetoric and pushing hard against the community.
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