France and its Muslims

May 29, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The Economist

The Guillotière cemetery in Lyon is much like any other French municipal burial ground. Ornate tombstones in dark stone line the alleys; plaques are carved in memory of Marie-Hélène and Jean-Pierre. Yet in one corner, on an open plot covered with poppies, lie three dozen graves lined up at a diagonal to the rest: simple mounds of earth, marked by wooden stakes in the ground. They are aligned with Mecca, and are the first of 380 places in the cemetery's new Muslim section.

For Muslims who won this plot in negotiations with the local authorities, it is a small triumph. When the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith (CRCM) in Lyon surveyed cemeteries two years ago, it found only 300 burial plots available in special Muslim sections, for a local population of Muslim origin estimated at 300,000. In the past, says Azzedine Gaci, the CRCM's regional head, four-fifths of burials involved repatriation, usually to north Africa. Today, he says, a growing number of families want to be buried in France, where their French children can pay visits.

Members of France's official Muslim body, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), bicker interminably at national level. But, step by step, a few are getting practical things done in the regions. The contrast between the dysfunctional national body and its active regional offshoots is striking, because the CFCM is squabbling yet again ahead of a leadership election on June 8th.