As churches continue to close, France opens massive mosque in Toulouse to accommodate 4,000 worshippers

The Mirail mosque is the largest place of worship in Toulouse, even bigger than all the city’s other largest places of worship combined

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: John Cody
The Mirail mosque is located on Place Édouard-Bouillières, next to the Géant Casino shopping center in Basso-Cambo. (Mosquée Mirail Toulouse)

The Mirail mosque in Toulouse, which can accommodate 4,000 people, opened on Monday after seven years of work, local media reported.

The mosque itself is so large that it is bigger than all other places of worship in the city, even with all faiths combined together. It is therefore the central place of worship in the city.

The new mosque in Toulouse is larger than the mosque in Empalot, which can accommodate 2,800 faithful, and the mosque in Al Salam.

According to its designers, the establishment represents a “harmonious integration” of the symbols of Islamic architecture into the French urban landscape. Fayçal Benafla, secretary-general of the Islamic Religious and Cultural Association in France (ACCIF), stated that the project had sparked “unprecedented enthusiasm.”

The opening of the mosque comes at a time when France’s churches are closing their doors across the country. Muslim leaders have even openly called for converting churches into mosques, an idea the Macron government said it was open to. A group of 150 Muslim leaders said that although France has 2,500 mosques and has 300 under construction as of 2015, the country needed at least 5,000 for its fast-growing Muslim population, which is already the largest of any country in Europe.

The new Toulouse mosque and other massive projects are becoming a symbol for the country’s rapid demographic transformation, along with other key signs, such as the fact that nearly 25 percent of all newborn children have an Arab name.

Although the trend in France is largely in line with other Western countries, nations like Hungary are bucking the trend, with the country building or renovating 3,000 churches in the last decade.

France loses approximately one church every two weeks, with many being torn down in demolition projects while others are victims of arson attacks, which have been widespread. In 2020, a Rwandan migrant confessed to setting a church in Nantes on fire even after he was taken in and cared for by the clergy in the church. The Notre Dame Cathedral, which went up in flames under mysterious but unclear circumstances, will now be turned into a pro-migrant “cultural center.”

“Although Catholic monuments are still ahead [in terms of overall numbers], one mosque is erected every 15 days in France, while one Christian building is destroyed at the same pace,” Edouard de Lamaze, president of the Observatoire du patrimoine religieux (Observatory of Religious Heritage) in Paris, said. “It creates a tipping point on the territory that should be taken into account.”

The mosque in Toulouse is located on Place Édouard-Bouillières, next to the Géant Casino shopping center in Basso-Cambo. It has a large glazed dome measuring 13 meters in diameter, a mihrab facing Mecca, and a minaret 22.5 meters high, which lights up during the opening hours without a call to prayer on the loudspeakers outside due to the respect for secularism, Benafla explained.

The mosque provides three prayer rooms, nine Arabic classrooms, a meeting room, a library, offices, a kitchen, toilets, and a space for ablutions (washing of part or all of the body or possessions with the intent of purification or dedication) for men and women, and even a gym.

Those responsible for the mosque managed to raise the €4 million needed for its construction in the summer of 2017. According to the imam and leader of its project, Mamadou Daffé, the donations covered the entire financing of the construction.

“From the start, we insisted on the financial and ideological independence of the mosque. We were a pioneer in this area,” said Benafla. “We have always been transparent with the authorities. The place was completely financed by the faithful. That is why the project took so many years,” he added.

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