Marseille breaks deadlock over Great Mosque
MARSEILLE, France, July 6, 2006 (AFP) - The French city of Marseille on Thursday broke a decades-long deadlock over the construction of a Great Mosque in the Mediterranean port, where Muslims make up a quarter of the population.
In a ceremony attended by Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Buddhist leaders, the centre-right mayor of Marseille Jean-Claude Gaudin allocated a plot of land for the mosque, paving the way for the project to begin.
“We wanted to perform this act of justice towards our Muslim compatriots in Marseille, to allow them to build a place of worship like all the other major religions in Marseille,” said Gaudin.
It was also about catching up with other major cities such as Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg, which either have or plan to build Great Mosques, he said.
While Marseille’s Muslim community is estimated at around 200,000 people – not all of whom practise their religion – the city’s 62 places of worship provide room for only around 13,000 faithful.
Under an agreement to be finalised on July 17, Marseille will make available an 8,000 square-metre (two acre) plot of land in the north of the city to the association in charge of the project, on a 99-year lease.
The plot of land, the site of a former slaughterhouse, is currently used by a company of opera costume designers.
The 2,500-square-metre mosque – to be adapted from the existing buildings in a simple, modern style – will provide room for up to 5,000 faithful, according to architect Abdelouahab Khelif.
Construction work is not expected to start for several years however, since the Muslim community has yet to start collecting the eight to 10 million EUR (10 to 13 million dollars) needed for the project.
The money must come from private donations since the French government cannot finance places of worship under laws on the separation of church and state.
“It is going to take time,” said Abdou Diarra, treasurer of the association in charge of the mosque construction work.
Foreign contributions will be tightly monitored and limited to 20 or 30 percent of the total, in order to prevent any single country asserting too much influence over the project, he said.
The first plans for a great mosque in Marseille go back to the 1930s, but the project repeatedly floundered due to divisions within the city’s Muslim community, as well as a degree of resistance from the local population.
Marseille city hall finally decided to break the deadlock and provide the land for the project after most – although not quite all – of the city’s Muslim groups and trends rallied around the project.
Subject: French News