Hege Storhaug, HRS
Planene om en stormoské i Marseille er mildt sagt ikke snaue: moskeen skulle romme plass for 7 000 bedende til en pris av 22 millioner euro, og med minareter ragende 25 meter mot himmelen. Lokaliseringen er i nordområdet av Middelhavsbyen der fattigdom og arbeidsløshet dominerer folks hverdagsliv. Foreløpig har retten satt en stopper for byggeprosessen, blant annet grunnet mangel på parkeringsplasser og fordi moskeen ikke er tilpasset omkringliggende arkitektur. Dens grandiose utforming vil dominere området, heter det, hvilket jeg ville tro nettopp var meningen, akkurat slik mange kirker gjennom tidene er utformet og plassert.
Marseille har som Paris slitt med fredagsbønner i gatene som forårsaker sosial uro og begrenser fremkommeligheten. Man kunne kanskje forvente at dette skulle være et godt argument for å tillate at en gigantisk moské reises? Nei, sier en nylig lekket rapport, som advarer mot at det etableres en eneste ny moské i byen, tvert om må heller myndighetene få kontroll med hva som predikeres i moskeene: ”Ikke flere moskeer, men bedre moskeer,” heter det.
Initiativtakerne bak moskeen fikk byggetillatelse i 2009. Hvor pengene kommer fra, sies det ikke noe om. Pengene kan vanskelig komme fra lokale omgivelser, da området Saint-Louis er dominert av en solsialt og økonomisk marginalisert befolkning.
The 22-million-euro ($31-million) project would have seen the Grand Mosque — boasting a minaret soaring 25 meters (82 feet) high, and room for up to 7,000 worshippers in a vast prayer hall — built on the north side of the city’s old port in the city’s northern Saint-Louis area, an ethnically mixed neighborhood that suffers from poverty and high unemployment.
Several decades in the planning, the project was granted a construction permit in November 2009. At the time, city officials said the new mosque would help the Muslim community better integrate into the mainstream and foster a more moderate form of Islam.
The first cornerstone of the 8,300 square meter (92,000 square feet) project was laid in May 2010. The elaborate stone-laying ceremony was attended by Muslim religious leaders and local politicians, as well as more than a dozen diplomats from Muslim countries.
Full-scale construction of the Grand Mosque — which was also to have included a Koranic school and a library, as well as a restaurant and tea room — was scheduled to begin in February 2012.
But the project has faced stiff opposition from local residents and businesses. Opponents of the Grand Mosque have argued that it would be out of harmony with the neighborhood’s economic and social fabric.
Local residents also pointed to potential parking problems surrounding the building. Authorities have estimated that the number of people attending Friday prayers at the mosque could reach 1,500, a figure that could rise to up to 14,000 on Muslim holidays.
The court decision comes as the French newspaper La Marseillaise on October 24 published extracts of a leaked intelligence report about the state of Islam in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, where the Muslim population has reached 25% of the total population.
The confidential seven-page document, drafted by domestic intelligence in the French administrative department of Bouches-du-Rhône in March 2011, focuses on the phenomenon of Muslim street prayers in Marseille, but also provides a more general assessment of Islam in the city.
The document also addresses a specific mosque on Gaillard Street in the 3rd district of Marseille that is associated with Muslim immigrants from the Comoros Islands, an archipelago island nation in the Indian Ocean that gained independence from France in 1975.
«Far from being Comorian, this mosque promotes Islam marked by tribalism. It is clear that this mosque is a direct obstacle to the proper integration of Comorians in the Marseilles area, a kind of voluntary marginalization,» the document states.
The Koranic school associated with this mosque is also criticised: «Far from awaking spirituality and minds, it locks them even further into a cultural loop and thus increases their communitarian inwardness.»
The report describes the Muslim population of Marseille as a «marginalized population, poorly informed, uncultured and with a limited understanding even of their own religion, finding themselves in the hands of self-proclaimed imams, barely more competent than their flocks but sufficiently charismatic to obtain their blind obedience.»
The document also calls for fewer mosques in Marseille. It states: «The abundance of prayer rooms in Marseille is largely a reflection of divisions of all kinds: obediential as well as nationalistic, ethnic and even business strategies that set Muslims in Marseille against each other.»
The proposed solution is to «refocus the places of worship» which would «permit a professionalization of the imams, achieve economies of scale and force the Islamic federations and sects to reach a consensus. It would marginalize extra-national interests and also facilitate relations and observations with our institutional partners. Not more mosques but better mosques.»
Nevertheless, the report warns against the construction of a grand mosque: «This building would dominate an entire part of the city which is not very elevated. It would be visible from most of the surrounding main roads and would perform the call to prayer by using a massive beam of light that would be seen across Marseille. The mosque is generally considered aggressive to the point where a local referendum on the matter would give results at least equivalent and perhaps more emphatic than the voting organized in the Swiss confederation last year [the Swiss vote to ban minarets].»
The report says that building new mosques is only a solution if their architecture is «discreet» in order to «limit their visual impact on the urban landscape.»
The document concludes by stating that Muslims in France appear to want the state to intervene in religious matters: «It is interesting to note that the majority of Muslims find it natural for the state to organize religious practice, even by force if necessary, and that many of them even declare that they do not understand the neutrality of France in this matter.»