French Muslim Leader's Call for More Mosques Rejected by Front National

Paris Grand Mosque
A French police officer stands guard in front of the entrance of the Paris Grand Mosque, January 14, 2015. Christian Hartmann/Reuters

A French Muslim leader's call to double the number of mosques in the country have been rejected by the vice-president of the country's far-right Front National party.

Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Muslim Council and imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris, said at a conference this weekend that the country's 2,200 mosques were insufficient to accommodate its burgeoning Muslim population.

Boubakeur, who estimates there to be seven million Muslims in France, said: "We need double [the number of mosques] in two years."

However, Florian Philippot, one of five vice-presidents in Marine Le Pen's far-right party, said that "100% of places of radicalisation are mosques" in a television interview with French news channel iTele today.

Philippot also claimed that to build the number suggested by Boubakeur "would mean three mosques a day, a mosque every eight hours — it would be the largest construction project in France".

American thinktank the Pew Research Center estimates there to be 4.7 million Muslims in France, constituting 7.5% of the total population and one of the largest Muslim populations in Western Europe along with Germany. Definitive numbers are difficult to determine, since religious affiliation is considered a private matter and not required in French census data.

Boubakeur did not suggest how the new mosques might be funded, and state funding of places of worship is forbidden in France. Philippot raised questions over potential backers of new mosques, which he linked to Arab countries with an interest in controlling the influence of Islam in France.

"We know that there is a game of influence between foreign countries that fund mosques: Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia," he said.

In a previous statement, the party said financial support by foreign states with links to "the worst jihadist movements in the world" posed a threat to national security.

Boubakeur's comments were made at the annual meeting of the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UIOF), an umbrella body for more than 250 Muslim groups in France.

The conference was set against a tense backdrop. In January, Islamist gunmen killed 12 people after storming the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a further four hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris.

In January this year, 167 acts or threats against mosques were recorded, compared to just 14 last January. Conference attendees called for greater respect and integration for French Muslims.

"We are loyal to our country, France. We love God, we love our Prophet, but we also love the French Republic," said Amar Lasfar, head of the UIOF.