French Muslim leaders opened on Friday, March 29, the Bourget’s 30th annual gathering in a climate of anxiety resulting from the recent controversy about hijab ruling.
“There is a real sense of unease among us,” Ahmed Jaballah, the president of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), told Agence France Presse (AFP). “The latest statements on secularism show that there is a drift away,” he added.
Ahmed was referring to the recent controversy which followed a ruling by France’s top court that the dismissal of a Muslim woman from a private nursery school for refusing to remove her hijab amounted to “religious discrimination”.
In an unusual move, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls criticized the ruling against the nursery school as putting “secularism into question”.
Organized by the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), the event opened to discuss several topics of interest for French Muslims.
Opened in the northeastern Paris suburb of Le Bourget, the conference will be held from March 29 to April 1 under the slogan of “Islam Message… ‘Peace, Justice, and Dignity.’”
Attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually, Le Bourget’s attendants will be able to visit a 15,000 square meter exhibition space in which typical products from the Arab and Muslim world will be displayed.
There will also be an exhibition on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Several Italian Muslim organizations will be attending, including the Islamic Alliance, which is laying on coaches to Paris leaving from the northern Italian city of Verona.
The prominent Swiss Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan will attend the second day of the conference, which closes next Monday.
Le Bourget has become a fixture in the French calendar, a chance for Muslims to meet, hear speeches from intellectuals and scholars. Thousands of Muslims came in droves to the annual gala, going through a miscellany of books and items on display, attending lectures and vying in contests for the memorization of the Qur’an.
More than 150,000 Muslims from across Europe were expected to attend this year’s activities, with young women in their unmistakable hijabs and enthusiastic young men making up the bulk of attendees.
France is home to some six to seven million Muslims, the largest Muslim minority in Europe.