STRASBOURG - Confirming Islam as part of France, the country's socialist government has vowed to do more to integrate the religious minority, warning it will not tolerate radical members in the French society.
Islam has its place in France because the Islam of France, it is a part of France, Interior Minister Manuel Valls told representatives of the Catholic, Jewish and Protestant communities attending the official opening the mosque capable of hosting 1,500 people, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
Vowing to do more to integrate Muslims, Valls praised Muslims for their measured response to the recent publication of offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
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Two weeks ago, the French weekly Charlie Hebdo published cartoons displaying a man said to be the prophet as naked.
Entitled Muhammad: a star is born, one caricature depicts a bearded figure crouching over to display naked buttocks and genitals, a star covering his anus.
A second cartoon, in reference to the scandal over a French magazine's decision to publish topless photos of the wife of Britain's Prince William, showed a topless, bearded character with the caption: "Riots in Arab countries after photos of Mrs. Muhammad are published."
The French Council of Muslim Faith accused the French magazine of fuelling anti-Muslim sentiments at a sensitive time.
The minister's comments were given in a speech marking the inauguration of the Strasbourg Grand Mosque, the biggest Islamic place of worship ever built on French soil.
The new mosque is built within 2km from Strasbourg's celebrated cathedral.
With the capacity of 1,300sqm, it is 1.5 times as big as the previous largest one in France, at Evry in the Paris suburbs.
It has a 16m copper dome but no minaret and has taken nearly two decades to complete since the project was first launched in 1993.
The cost of construction was 10.5mn euros ($13.5mn), with the local region and the governments of Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia all contributing.
After courting the Muslim minority, the French interior minister warned that the country would not tolerate the country becoming a hotbed of Islamic radicalism.
I would not hesitate to expel those who claim to follow Islam and represent a serious threat to public order and, as foreigners in our country, do not respect our laws and values, Valls said.
Valls, whose rhetoric has frequently drawn comparisons with that of right-wing former president Nicolas Sarkozy, pointed that the Muslim community as a whole had to accept responsibility for tackling extremism, linking it to a re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the country.
France's Muslims can congratulate themselves on the singular model that they are building, Valls said.
Of course it remains fragile, not every problem has been solved or overcome.
If all religions have their share of fundamentalists, it is in Islam that this raises fears. It was on French soil and with a French passport that Mohamed Merah killed in the name of Islam.
Anti-Semitism is a terrible scourge and its resurgence cannot be disguised.
France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe's largest.
French Muslims have been complaining of growing restrictions on their religious freedoms.
In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places. Several European countries followed the French example.
France has also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has adopted a series of measures to restrict Muslim freedoms in an effort to win support of far-right voters.
Under Sarkozy, the French government a national debate on the role of Islam in French society.
The French government also outlawed Muslim street prayers, a sight far-right leader Marine Le Pen likened to the Nazi occupation.
Muslims have also complained of restrictions on building mosques to perform their daily prayers.
A poll by French paper Le Fegaro suggests that an overwhelming majority of Muslims voted for Hollande's Socialist party, including some Muslim women who wanted an end to the state's intrusive policies like the burqa ban.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net