Religion

French minister warns of ‘foreign meddling’ in Strasbourg mosque funding row

France's interior minister Gérald Darmanin.
France's interior minister Gérald Darmanin. AFP/Pool/Christophe Ena

The construction of a mosque in Strasbourg has led to a row with the French Interior Minister, who accuses the Strasbourg municipal authorities of using public money to fund foreign meddling on French soil.

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The planned Eyyub Sultan mosque in the eastern French city has found itself in the government's crosshairs because it is backed by a controversial Turkish Muslim group.

In most of France, under the country's strict rules separating state and religion, the government is not allowed to help fund religious practice. However for historical reasons, the rules are different in the Strasbourg region. 

On Monday, municipal officials in Strasbourg, which is run by Green mayor Jeanne Barseghian, approved a grant of 2.5 million euros to the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation, (MGIC), a pan-European movement for the Turkish diaspora.

But the MGIC is one of three Muslim confederations in France that have refused to sign a new anti-extremism charter championed by President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron wants the groups to commit in writing to renouncing "political Islam" and to respecting French law, in a bid to combat radical Islam, which he sees as a threat to the country's secular system.

Separately, the government has also drafted legislation which would force religious groups to declare major foreign funding and would give the state increased powers to shut down speech judged to spread hate or violence.

'Meddling' on French soil

Speaking on French television station BFMTV on Tuesday, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin expressed the government’s view that the MGIC’s refusal to sign the charter meant it could no longer be counted as a group representing Islam in France.

He went on to criticise the local authority saying the ministry believed that it "should not be financing foreign meddling on our soil."

Darmanin said he had asked the government's top representative in the Strasbourg region to file an administrative court complaint to stop the subsidy.

Strasbourg Mayor Jeanne Barseghian has said the mosque project has been in the works since 2017, before she was elected. But she insisted the funds are contingent on Milli Gorus presenting both a solid financing plan and "a reaffirmation of the values of the Republic."

An MGIC official, Eyup Sahin, told AFP news agency his association was refusing to sign the charter because it had not been allowed fully to participate in its elaboration.

There are longstanding divisions between the different groupings within the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

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