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French Muslims heed call to mourn Paris victims

Elizabeth Bryant, ParisNovember 21, 2015

Tens of thousands of Muslims responded to calls to pray for those killed and wounded last week in Paris. Muslims in France have said they feel obligated to show their religion has nothing to do with terrorist attacks.

Frankreich: Gedenken an die Terroropfer von Paris eine Woche nach den Anschlägen
Image: Reuters

Shaff Beljid waited in a drenching rain for his turn to be inspected. Police patted down his jacket and examined his bag, before letting him go to join hundreds of faithful at the Paris Grand Mosque.

"We're here to pray and to pay our respects to all of the victims of terrorism," Beljid said, as a long, sodden line snaked behind him. "I feel I've been personally targeted - not as a Muslim, but as a French citizen."

Tens of thousands of Muslims responded to calls by Islamic leaders to turn out in force to mosques on Friday to pray for those killed and wounded in last week's string of terrorist attacks around Paris.

The French capital's main mosque had earlier planned to hold a rally after Friday's prayers. But the event was hastily canceled, after authorities banned demonstrations due to security concerns, which have authorities evaluating the safety of cities across Europe. Still, that did not stop Muslims and non-Muslims alike from packing the midday service. Some said they knew people who were killed or injured in the attacks.

Frankreich Saint Denis Polizei Absperrung Terrorismus
Paris, and Europe, remained on high alert after last week's attacksImage: K. Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

"We're just as much victims as non-Muslims," said 26-year-old Samuel Sartori. "It's not only important for us to condemn terrorism, but I would say it's obligatory. These people are acting in the name of Islam, and we have the duty to protect our faith."

Grief and fear

The "Islamic State" terrorist group has claimed responsibility for last week's string of horrific bombings and shootings that killed 130 people and injured more than 350 around the French capital. A police raid on Wednesday outside Paris reportedly killed the top suspect in the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. At least five other assailants died during the attacks.

But another key suspect, Salah Abdeslam, appears to be still at large, and the hunt also continues for other possible accomplices.

As France recovers from its second major terrorist attack in just 10 months, some Muslims feel a double burden: the grief of loss and the fear of being stigmatized.

Anti-Islamic attacks soared following January's attacks in the French capital, rights groups have said. The National Observatory Against Islamophobia, linked to a prominent Muslim umbrella group, reported the numbers of Islamophobic acts jumped 200 percent over the first three quarters of the year, compared to the same period last year.

Frankreich Trauer nach Terroranschlägen in Paris
People have flocked to memorials around ParisImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Christians

"There were a lot of attacks against Muslims, hate speech against Muslims, and even, in some cases, people were beaten for allegedly being Muslims," said Nicolas Krameyer, head of Amnesty International France's freedom of expression unit. Those same concerns, he added, are present after this second wave of attacks.

A scattering of anti-Muslim acts - graffiti daubed on mosques, stones thrown at a kebab restaurant, "death to Muslims" scrawled on a wall of a Normandy town - have been reported over the past week.

'Today we are all together'

But on Friday, those interviewed at the Paris mosque said they had generally not faced reprisals.

"I have had looks that are more insistent by people who don't know me," said Sartori, the young Muslim worshipper. "But I haven't experienced any Islamophobia among my acquaintances."

As the crowds gathered earlier this week to mourn the victims at the city's iconic Place de la Republique, a sense of solidarity also prevailed.

"I feel as if it were my own children who have died," said a 70-year-old Algerian woman, who would only give her first name, Fatiha. "I've worked here for 40 years, and I'm incensed when people mix those people up with us."

An elderly French man took her hand. "Not all French do that, madame," he said. "Today, we're all together."