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French outrage at suggestion to re-purpose unused churches as mosques

French outrage at suggestion to re-purpose unused churches as mosques

France is both legally and (increasingly) culturally secular.  In practical terms this means that there are many no-longer-used parish churches sprinkled throughout the nation.  France also has a growing Muslim population, and recently the “head of the Grand Mosque of Paris said that Muslims needed to double the number of mosques around the country to 4,000 and that using empty churches could help them do that.”

“Why not? It’s the same God, the rites are like neighbors or brothers. I think that Muslims and Christians can coexist,” Dalil Boubakeur said in a morning radio interview.

This has created a backlash amongst french conservatives, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who have initiated a “Hands off my church” petition.

A similar uproar was created here in the US in January when the Duke University chapel announced plans to sound “adhan”, which calls Muslims students to Friday prayers.  Duke University’s plans were cancelled.  And similarly, the imam in Paris also backtracked his comments.

We continually claim that “the church is the people and not the buildings,” and yet it seems that attempts to re-purpose buildings no longer in use as churches are often met with resistance based in little more than nostalgia.


Follow more on this story at Religion News Service

posted by Jon White

image: St. Rita’s Church in Paris was shut down recently and awaits demolition. This photo was taken on July 14, 2015. Religion News Service photo by Tom Heneghan


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Paul Woodrum

I think it’s a bit more than nostalgia. Many of these buildings are part of France’s heritage and culture. To repurpose them in a way consistent with the culture, say as a museum, civic center, housing or even as a synagogue or non-RC church, would probably be welcomed. It is the cultural shift that Islam represents that frightens people and, frankly, I would rather have a secular France (or any other western country) with Christian and enlightenment roots than another Islamic theocracy.

Gary Paul Gilbert

The best part of the article was, “We continually claim that ‘the church is the people and not the buildings,’ and yet it seems that attempts to re-purpose buildings no longer in use as churches are often met with resistance based in little more than nostalgia.” Yes, the church is people and not buildings.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Paul Powers

A lot of people in France are what might be described as cultural Catholics, even though theologically they might be atheists or agnostics. For them, the idea of a church being converted into a mosque may have a negative association with Hagia Sophia in Istanbul being forcibly turned into a Mosque. Of course, Muslims (even not particularly religious ones) may make a similar association with the conversion of the Great Mosque of Córdoba into a cathedral.

JC Fisher

Churches and mosques have been going back and forth since Hagia Sophia (C -> M) and Cordoba (M -> C).

I’m ambivalent. While I don’t think there’s anything intrisically wrong w/ C -> M (English “God” = Arabic “Allah”/ ا ل ل ه), the fundamentalist values of sexism and homophobia SEEM to be undergoing reform in many churches, in ways which are dramatically less (if not non-existent) in mosques. In short, it’s not the worship inside the sanctuaries which alarms me, either for “God” or “Allah”, it’s the agenda expressed outward into the larger community.

Ann Fontaine

JCF – you may want to check out Islamic Feminism – Also many Islamic majority countries have had women leaders.

JC Fisher

Well, I did qualify my response, Ann. I’m not unaware of feminist and LGBT movements in Islam. But I believe they are far more on the fringes than in Christianity (usually!).

Paul Woodrum

Perhaps most famously, there is the magnificent Roman Pantheon, built as a temple to all the Roman gods, but from 609 AD a Christian Church dedicated to the BVM and all the saints. But in that case there was a cultural continuity. I have an inkling the French fear, and perhaps rightly so, a different religion and a different culture taking over their country. While we may believe in one god, it would be naïve to think there aren’t many gods worshiped by us humans or that even all those who claim to believe in one god necessarily worship the same one god.

David Allen

But if you follow the logic of St Paul when he spoke to the Athenians with regard to their altar to an unknown God, regardless of what folks may believe differently about God, we are all ignorant in some respects to whom it is we worship. So Paul taught them that in their ignorance they were inadvertently worshipping the same God.

I firmly believe that the LDS worship the God whom I worship. And yet, they teach many things with regard to God that I don’t recognize and find strange.

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