By Karen Allen
Behind a wire-mesh fence embedded in weeds, in the northern Paris suburb of Gennevilliers, stand a cluster of terracotta-coloured buildings and a row of tents.
This is the site of the El Houda Association Mosque, raided and closed down less than a fortnight after the jihadist attacks on Paris last November, which triggered a state of emergency across France. The reason, according to the authorities, was its alleged links to militant Islamist groups.
For Mohammed, a local resident who worshipped there, the mosque was unremarkable.
“I’m a practising Muslim and I always come here and I’ve never seen anything strange. Closing spaces for the Muslim faith is not the right way,” he says.
El Houda was one of around 20 mosques closed down in the name of national security. That move has forced many of France’s Muslims – a diverse community estimated to be close to five million – into a period of deep introspection.
Jihadist attacks in France
- Paris 7-9 Jan 2015: Seventeen people died in attacks on Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket: Three days of terror
- Paris 13 November 2015: 130 people murdered in coordinated attacks on the Stade de France, bars and restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall: What happened on the night
- Magnanville 13 June 2016: Police commander and partner fatally stabbed
- Nice 14 July: Jihadist kills 86, driving lorry into families celebrating Bastille Day on Promenade des Anglais: What we know about Nice killings
- Near Rouen 26 July: Father Jacques Hamel, 86, was murdered by two young IS militants during morning Mass
Many French Muslims resent the idea that violent acts of terrorism have been carried out in their name by jihadist groups such as so-called Islamic State.
But they also object to the sense that they are having to justify themselves, in a country that prides itself on a strong secular tradition and the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), which acts as a bridge with the French government, is planning to create a foundation to oversee the vetting of imams and the funding of the mosques in which they preach.
“The idea would be to examine the theological path that imams have taken,” says its president, Anouar Kbibech, “to encourage them to study and sign a charter which promotes an open Islam, a tolerant Islam and an Islam that respects the values of the French Republic”.