A mosque in the southern city of Cannes has been closed by the authorities for alleged promotion of “antisemitic remarks,” the French Interior Minister has announced.
In an interview with a French TV channel, CNews, Gerald Darmanin said the decision to close Al Madina Al Mounawara mosque for two months was also taken because it supported the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) and BarakaCity – two groups that were banned for spreading “Islamist propaganda.”
The other reasons cited for the closure are the mosque’s support of “antisemitic remarks” and “incitement of hatred.” However, no particular incident was specified by the minister.
A statement from the Cannes municipality said that the decision “comes after meticulous research by the state services and multiple reports made directly by the municipality of Cannes since 2015. The vast majority of Muslims who frequent this very old mosque do not share its orientation; some also alerted us. It is therefore up to the emergence of new leaders respectful of the French Republic and the country so that the place of worship can then reopen.”
However, the mosque’s new imam, Amhed Guessoum, said he had nothing to do with these accusations.
“The request for closure is not justified,” he said. “The accused is the former rector Mustapha Dali who has retired, but continues to express himself on social networks and on the mosque’s Facebook page when he has been living in Paris for six months. We cannot intervene directly on this Facebook page and we will create another one.”
The decision comes two weeks after regional authorities in northern France closed down a mosque in Beauvais because of an imam’s alleged “speeches against Christians, Jews and homosexuals.”
According to Interior Ministry data, 99 mosques and Muslim prayer halls have been investigated in recent months. Some of them were accused of spreading “separatist ideology.” Around 23 have already been closed for various reasons and more are being investigated.
The crackdown came after the October 2020 murder of teacher Samuel Paty who was targeted following an online campaign against him for having shown blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) published by the magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The ministry data says there are 2,623 mosques and Muslim prayer halls in France. In December last year, interior minister ordered an investigation into 76 mosques for what the government described as a “massive and unprecedented action against separatism.”
France does not have a state religion but the country has armed itself with laws that allow it to close mosques, churches, synagogues and other places of worship in certain circumstances.
A law, Sécurité Intérieure et Lutte contre le Terrorisme, came into force in 2017. It states: “For the sole purpose of preventing the commission of acts of terrorism, the representative of the State in the department, or in Paris the Police Préfet, may pronounce the closure of places of worship in which the remarks that are held, the ideas or theories that are disseminated or the activities that take place provoke violence, hatred or discrimination, provoke the commission of acts of terrorism or glorify such acts.”
Similarly, In July, the National Assembly of France passed an “anti-separatism” bill. Later in August, it was approved by the highest constitutional authority.
The law was criticised for restricting religious freedom and singling out Muslims. The government has defended itself stating that it is intended to strengthen France’s secular system.