PARIS: Opinions among Muslims in France are divided about whether or not mosques should reopen in time for Eid Al-Fitr.
The imam of The Paris Mosque, Chamseddin Hafiz, a French citizen of Algerian descent, asked the authorities on May 5 to grant permission for mosques to open for the religious holiday, which is expected to fall on May 24.
His request came after French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told the Senate that the government is willing to consider reopening churches and synagogues on May 29 for the Christian feast of the Pentecost and the Jewish Shavuot, if the situation does not deteriorate after France begins to ease the national lockdown on May 11.
Hafiz vowed to use all legal means to defend the interests of French Muslims. Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is just as important as the Christian or Jewish holidays, he said. If a decision is made to reopen churches and mosques, it would be a double standard amounting to discrimination if Muslims are prevented from celebrating their religious holiday, he added.
Mohamed Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent and president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, does not agree with Hafiz’s comments. He said the lockdown must be ended and mosques reopened in a way that guarantees the health and security of Muslims. He also pointed out that they were informed before Ramadan began that mosques would not reopen in time for Eid.
“We are talking as if the crisis is behind us but it is not,” said Moussaoui. “All scientists are saying that a second wave of the pandemic might occur, with a possible increase in the number of infected persons and new admissions to intensive care. If that were indeed to happen, it would be unreasonable to permit large gatherings.
“Eid Al-Fitr means gatherings of very large numbers; there might be as many as 2 million people who would want to go to mosques. For me, the most essential question to ask is whether on May 23 we will be able to tell the faithful who want to go to mosques that they are safe and that they should not worry.
“The imam of The Paris Mosque took a stand based on what is happening with other religious groups but this is not an argument for me. The highest priority is the issue of health.”
Philippe on Thursday confirmed that France will begin to ease the lockdown on Monday, almost two months after it began, and provided details of the plan for a “progressive” exit. He said it will be a gradual process in an attempt to avoid a second wave of infections. The plan will also vary in different parts of the country, he said, as the risks remain higher in some areas. He urged the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions to continue to remain at home, although they will not be obliged to do so.
Depending on the risks, areas have been classified as red zones (where the threat is higher) or green zones. Primary schools and most businesses — but not cafes or restaurants — in both zones will be allowed to reopen from May 11. In green zones, secondary schools, cafes and restaurants might be allowed reopen in early June, if the infection rate remains low.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said hotels, bars, parks and public gardens will remain closed for now, and that the possibility of reopening places of worship will be discussed at the end of May. He added said people will only be allowed to travel up to 100 km from home. Anyone wishing to go further for business or personal reasons will need to obtain official permission.