The rector of the Paris Grand Mosque has sparked uproar by suggesting that disused churches could be turned into mosques. Dalil Boubakeur, who recently said France needed double the 2,000 or so mosques it now has, said on French radio this was a sensitive question but he thought it could be done.
“We have the same God ... I think that Muslims and Christians can coexist and live together,” he said in a radio interview.
Four churches in France have been turned into mosques. Many others are empty or rarely used, but since the buildings belong to the state, parishes do not have to sell them when congregations dwindle.
Church leaders and conservative politicians were quick to reject the idea. “I am completely opposed to handing churches over to Muslims to turn into mosques. I see they need to have more houses of worship to meet for prayer. It’s a real question but Mr Boubakeur’s suggestion is a bad answer," said Pontoise Bishop Stanislas Lalanne.
Conservative MP Philippe Gosselin pointed out that places of worship were not simply interchangeable. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, also dismissed the idea, saying: “Muslims have no intention of praying in Christian churches – don't kid yourself.” However, Bishop Michel Dubost of Evry, head of the Church’s council for interfaith relations, said he preferred "that churches become mosques rather than restaurants".
Boubakeur, who has good relations with heads of other religions in France, later said that “only the Church was authorised to speak about the fate of empty churches”.