French court grants permit for Marseille mosque
An appeals court granted permission Tuesday for the building of a multi-million-euro mosque in the city of Marseille that has been touted as a symbol of Islam's growing place in France.
The court overturned an October ruling by Marseille's administrative tribunal that cancelled the project's construction permit for supposed failures to meet urban-planning requirements.
A community association led by a local butcher had filed a complaint against the building permit, saying the mosque project did not fit with the surrounding urban environment.
The project was granted a permit in September 2009 but construction was suspended following complaints from local residents and businesses.
The 22-million-euro ($28-million) project would see the Grand Mosque, boasting a minaret soaring 25-metres (82-feet) high and room for up to 7,000 worshippers, built in the city's northern Saint-Louis area.
Muslim leaders in the Mediterranean city had hailed the approval of the project as a key step in recognising the importance of Marseille's large Muslim community.
France's second city is home to an estimated 250,000 Muslims, many of whom flock to makeshift prayer houses in basements, rented rooms and dingy garages to worship.
Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, estimated at between five and six million, France has for years been debating how far it is willing to go to accommodate Islam, now the country's second religion.
The appeals court in December also rejected complaints against the mosque project filed by France's National Front (FN) party and another far-right group.
Abderrahman Ghoul, the head of the Marseille Mosque association backing the project, hailed the court's decision as "very good news" but said there were still efforts to be made to finance the project.
"The case was in the hands of the courts, we had total confidence," he said after the ruling.
The decision could still be appealed to the State Council, France's highest administrative legal authority, but Ghoul said construction would begin once financing for the project was finalised.
Only 200,000 euros worth of donations have so far been collected, but Ghoul said he now expected fundraising to pick up pace.
"With the approval of the construction permit and the door that is opening today, we will be able to rebuild confidence with donors," he said. "Algeria, the Maghreb in general, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others could join us."
Marseille regional authorities, who backed the project, also welcomed the decision as important for the city's Muslim communities.
"The Grand Mosque of Marseille will finally offer a place of worship worthy of the name to the Muslims of the Marseille urban area, who have been waiting for a long time," said Eugene Caselli, the head of the regional MPM authority.
The project's architect, Maxime Repaux, said construction was expected to start in the beginning of 2013.