PARIS // Hundreds of French mosques are taking part in a major two-day open-house event, offering visitors the opportunity to come in for tea and a chat about Islam in a country shaken by extremist attacks.
Organised by the country's leading Muslim body, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), the event – which began on Saturday – aims to stimulate dialogue about Islam and create a greater sense of "national cohesion". It comes a year after 17 people were killed in extremist attacks in Paris targeting satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.
It also follows a surge of anti-Muslim acts in France, some of which targeted places of worship.
“The objective [of the open-house event] is to create a space where people can be together and meet normal Muslim worshippers and all of our fellow citizens,” said CFCM president Anouar Kbibech.
The idea is to use the anniversary of the January 7 attacks to “highlight the real values of Islam, to set straight the clichés about links to violence and terrorism”, he added, describing the venture as a “gesture of openness”.
“Instead of dwelling on these tragic acts, it seemed more useful and important to celebrate ‘the spirit of January 11’,” he said, referring to the date when millions of people took to the streets in a mass show of solidarity.
Following November’s extremist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, France declared a state of emergency. Since then police have staged around 20 raids on Muslim places of worship. At least three have been closed on suspicion of radicalising their members.
Dubbed “a brotherly cup of tea”, the open-house initiative will take different forms with local mosques handing out hot drinks and pastries, offering guided visits, putting on debates and calligraphy workshops, and inviting people to attend one of the five daily prayers.
Although not all of France’s 2,500 mosques and places of worship are taking part, the most important ones are, including the Grand Mosque of Paris.
* Agence France-Presse