Islam's public visibility in France is now a political issue and President Sarkozy's ban on street prayers came into effect yesterday. The 5 million French Muslims have been told that praying in the street will no longer be tolerated and they have been directed to alternative prayer venues away from public view.
Officials have made it clear that temporary prayer spaces are to be used pending the building of a huge, new 30 million euro Institute for Islamic Cultures set for completion in 2013. Police will be brought in if necessary to ensure that worshipers are kept off the streets.
France has the largest number of Muslims in Europe but as a rule, radicals are in a minority. However, an hour before the first prayer, a group of young men with beards, green headbands and banners tried to stop worshipers from moving to the new site at a disused barracks.
"No system in the universe can control us aside from Allah" shouted one young man. "There is more dignity in praying in the grass than in their false mosque" said another. As prayers began a group of young men called Forsane Alizza disrupted the service with shouts of "Allaha akbar" until security took control.
Maybe you can't imagine that ever happening here in Australia. Wrong, the above picture is outside the Lakemba mosque in Sydney, celebrating the end of Ramadam in 2010.