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Street view

Arabs have been emigrating to France since some returned from Egypt with the remnants of Napoleon’s Grande Armée in 1801, but most first generation émigrés arrived in the ’60’s and ’70’s as an outcome of the Algerian conflict.

 

 

 

 

Decorative tile detail, courtyard wall

Decorative tile detail, courtyard wall

 

 

 

 

Today,  Arabs are now France’s largest non-European immigrant group, and nearly half of the nation’s Arab population lives in and around Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fountains evoke the Alhambra

Fountains evoke the Alhambra

The Grande Mosquée de Paris – the Paris Grand Mosque – was completed and dedicated in 1926 as a token of gratitude to Muslim tirailleurs from French Africa, among whom more than 100,000 died fighting against Germany during World War I.

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Intricate stonework and woodwork

 

The mosque’s earliest worshippers were Berbers from Algeria, but  its construction was first promoted by the king of Morocco, and its design in the mudéjar style mimics that of mosques from Marrakesh to Seville.

The mosque serves not only as a place where Muslims can come together for salat – prayer –  but also as a center for information, education, and conflict mediation.

 

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Outer courtyard

 

 

 

The compound covers more than two acres, and at one end is a courtyard decorated with mosaics, wood carvings and wrought iron brought from Morocco.  The minaret towers more than 100 feet above the complex.

 

 

 

 

Detail, outer courtyard wall

Detail, outer courtyard wall

 

The Mosque has a surprising and little known history.

 

During the German occupation in World War II, the mosque’s imam operated it as a secret refuge and way station for Algerian and European Jews.

 

He provided them with forged Muslim birth certificates and arranged for safe passage, and even had  stonecutters carve false gravestone for Jews who had been given new identities.

 

 

Minaret from the inner courtyard

Minaret from the inner courtyard

Many Jewish children were given refuge in Muslim clinics outside Paris which also hid downed Allied airmen and paratroopers.  The Nazis, unwilling to risk an insurrection among Muslims in North Africa, never challenged the imam.

 

At one end of the Grand Mosque compound are fountains and gardens that recall Granada’s Alhambra.

Detail, carved wooden door

Detail, carved wooden door

 

At the opposite end, the walls of a courtyard are covered in intricate Andalusian mosaics, and  trimmed in dark eucalyptus and cedar.

 

Elaborately carved ceilings and arches soar above walls inscribed with Quranic verses in delicate calligraphy that both supports worship and serves as a decorative element.

 

Inner courtyard

Inner courtyard

 

 

There are no angelic statues or stained glass saints here; Islam considers such human images to be idolatrous.

 

The entire place is wrapped in striking serenity.

 

 

 

 

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Cloistered hallway

 

 

 

 

Five times daily, the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer from the minaret, and five times daily the imam leads the congregation in prayer.

 

Muslims precede all prayers with a ritual purification, which is why an ablution fountain is provided.

Decorative tile detail, inner courtyard

Decorative tile detail, inner courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shoes are disallowed in the musallah – the prayer hall –  and racks at the entryways are stacked with shoes.

The great dome above the hall signifies the vault of heaven.  The hall has no pews or other furniture; worshippers alternately stand and kneel.

The Paris mosque features a marble Turkish bath that’s open to women two days weekly.  In winter it attracts many neighborhood residents.

 

 

There’s a restaurant in the mosque adjoining the courtyard, where it’s not unusual to see students from nearby universities gather for couscous and sweet mint tea.

Le Mechoui du Prince, Moroccan restaurant

Le Mechoui du Prince, Moroccan restaurant

After an afternoon of immersion in the mosque, a meal at a Moroccan restaurant seems like a fitting end to the day, and Restaurant Le Méchoui du Prince – located a block from the Odeon – fits the bill admirably.

Visitors are welcome to the mosque and guided tours are available.

To reach it, take the Metro to the Place Monge stop and walk about four blocks, or walk less than two kilometers from Notre Dame and take in more of the city along the way.  Consider an along-the-way stop at the Pantheon or a visit to the botanical gardens just across the Rue Linne.

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