French Muslims protect Catholic church

Muslims Protect Catholic Church

Young French Muslims protected a Catholic church following a deadly attack by Islamic extremists.

When French-born Muslim Elyazid Benferhat heard of the deadly Islamic extremist attack on a church in Nice, he decided to act.

Benferhat and a friend gathered a group of young Muslim men together in the small southern French town of Lodeve.

The group stood guard outside the town’s cathedral for the All Saints’ holiday weekend. Their goal was to symbolically protect it and show solidarity with Catholic churchgoers.

Parishioners at the 13th-century church were deeply touched. The parish priest said their gesture gave him hope in a time of turmoil.

Benferhat was born in France and grew up speaking only French, his mother is a native of Algeria.

“But I am also Muslim …, and we have seen Islamophobia in this country, and terrorism,” he told The Associated Press.

“In recent years, every time Islamic extremist violence strikes France, French Muslims face new stigmatization, even though we had nothing to do with it.”

When three people were killed in the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, Benferhat said he was so sickened that he wanted to do something “so that everyone wakes up.”

Benferhat works for French oil company Total and coaches at a local football club.

He talked to a Muslim friend who was in Nice that day, “and we had this idea. We needed to do something beyond paying homage to the victims. We said, we will protect churches ourselves.”

They recruited volunteers among their friends and at his football club, and guarded the church that night and again for Sunday Mass. He said they also coordinated with local police, after France’s government promised to increase security at sensitive religious sites.

“It’s very good, these young people who are against violence,” the cathedral’s priest, the Rev. Luis Iniguez, told the AP. He hung a photo of the ‘guards’ inside the Gothic cathedral. “People were happy to see that,” Iniguez said.

Benferhat said the response has been “90% positive.” But there had been online invective from some far-right voices.

Benferhat and his group intend to to repeat their action for Christmas. He is encouraging Muslims in other towns to follow Lodeve’s lead.

Due to Covid-19 all religious services are banned in France until Dec 1.


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