The Grande Mosquée de Paris is not easy to find. Hidden in the Latin Quarter of the 5th Arrondissement and opposite the Jardin des Plantes and the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, the Mosquée is surrounded by narrow streets encased in imposing white walls. The majestic minaret, with its height of 33 metres and Spanish-Moorish style, hints at its location and the mysteries behind its massive key-hole-shaped door.
The entrance to the Mosquée is where Rue Georges Deplas and Rue de Quatrefages intersect the Place du Puits de l’Ermite. As we approached, we came upon a scene, not all that unfamiliar in Paris these days. Heavily armed French soldiers guarded the entrance and blocked access to the road. The 2 pm prayer service was about to begin, and dozens of worshippers rushed in. The military presence was a reminder that militant Islam is no respecter of person, race or creed. But the violence is not always Muslim on Muslim. Vandals frequently target mosques with graffiti insulting Islam.
Interestingly, when we left the Mosquée, long after the worshippers had gone, there was no sign of the military. They were only on duty before and during prayer time.
Built between 1922 and 1926, the Grande Mosquée de Paris was a gift from France in gratitude for the 100,000 Muslim soldiers who died during World War I fighting for the French Republic. These soldiers were primarily from the French colonies of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
It is interesting to contrast France’s generous gift to the Muslim community in 1926 with the current debate banning foreign finance for French mosques. France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population and over 2,300 mosques, many of them funded by Middle Eastern countries. As a secular society, France cannot finance the mosques’ construction, and worshippers cannot cover the expense alone. However, foreign funds tend to reach the more prominent mosques, which are less likely to foster radicalism.
The Grande Mosquée de Paris also addresses another concern of the French Government, namely the training of Imams. Within the walls of the Mosquée is the Institut de Théologie, one of only two centres in France that are qualified to train Imams. The shortage of French-trained Imams has meant hiring Imams from abroad, including many with poor French language skills.
The Mosquée has always been a voice of moderate Islam and is the first to condemn terrorist attacks on French soil. It is open to anyone looking for calm and has a history of supporting those in need. During the Second World War, the Mosquée sheltered over a thousand Jews trying to flee abroad.
Once behind the high walls, you are in an Arab-Andalusian universe. Inspired by the Karaouine Mosque in Fez, the old capital of Morocco, the Mosquée combines ceramics, engravings, sculptures and calligraphy to provide a peaceful retreat amid the hustle and bustle of the French capital. The lush garden, with its fountains, palms, and roses, evokes images of a tranquil oasis in North Africa.
In addition to a prayer room, a library, a gift shop, a tea room, a restaurant and a Turkish bath, the Mosquée offers a complete Islam experience in the middle of Paris.
But the Mosquée is more than stunning architecture or a peaceful escape. It is an opportunity to discover an Islam whose values are more moderate, open-minded and welcoming than that conveyed by radicalised terrorists. By understanding the cultural heritage of this religion, we can better understand how it relates to our own.
2a Place du Puits Hermit 75005 Paris
< span class="wp-svg-phone phone"> (33) 1 45 35 97 33
< span class="wp-svg-envelop envelop"> [email protected]
< span class="wp-svg-clock clock"> 9.00 am-6.00 pm every day, except Friday and Muslim holidays
< span class="wp-svg-road road"> Métro: Line 7 Censier-Daubenton, Place Monge, Jussieu. Bus: 47, 89
< span class="wp-svg-globe globe"> Grande Mosquée de Paris