30 September 2014

Great Mosque

The Grande Mosquée de Lyon is situated at 146 Boulevard Pinel on the eastern edge of the city at the border between the 8th arondissement and the adjacent town of Bron.

(It's also right next door to the subject of my Lyonnais Mystery No. 1)

Although it is not as big as its counterpart in Paris, the Great Mosque of Lyon is the sixth-largest mosque in all of France.

Today it celebrates the twentieth anniversary of its inauguration.

Some 100,000 Muslims died defending France against the Germans in the First World War. To thank them for their sacrifice, the French state permitted the Muslim community to build metropolitan France's first mosque in Paris in 1926.

Lyon's Islamic community would have to wait another seven decades for their own grand mosque - and only then in the face of stiff opposition fanned by the ultra-nationalist Front National.

Prayer clock
In April 1980, Rabah Kheliff, Kamel Kabtane and Mohamed Tahar founded a non-profit organisation - the Association Culturelle Lyonnaise Islam-Francaise (ACLIF) - to promote the construction of a Muslim centre in Lyon comprising a mosque to be funded by Muslims and a cultural centre to be paid for by the state. 

The following year, a month before presidential elections, French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing told a crowd of 20,000 people in Lyon that the state would indeed fund the construction of an Islamic cultural centre. Even though Giscard d'Estaing subsequently lost the election to François Mitterand, the mayor of Lyon, Francisque Collomb (no relation to the current mayor, Gérard Collomb) awarded ACLIF a 99-year lease on a site on Boulevard Pinel in the 8th arondissement in 1984, along with a building permit. 

Delays, delays & more delays

Just five months later, a newly-formed local residents' group got Lyon's administrative court to annul the permit on the grounds that the site of the proposed new cultural centre encroached on a classified wooded area.

Protesters demonstrating against the construction

A new building permit was tacitly accepted by the court in June 1985, and ACLIF set about collecting money for the construction from the Muslim community.

Given the ongoing objections by local residents to a mosque on Boulevard Pinel, the Lyon municipal authorities proposed and granted building permission for construction on at site on Rue de Surville near the Hôpital Saint-Jean-de-Dieu on the extreme southern edge of Lyon. However, rather than allaying fears, this prompted the Front National to form a pressure group opposing this location. 

The central chandelier
For a while, the entire project appeared doomed to stalemate.

In August 1989, newly-elected Mayor Michel Noir signed a new building permit for the original Boulevard Pinel site, and this too was countered by local residents, who collected 4500 signatures and then led a demonstration to the mayor's office on 25 September. But the tide appeared to have turned when a subsequent poll revealed that 42% of Lyonnais supported a mosque in their town and and only 28% rejected the idea.

Although the Front National and residents' groups tried to get the lease revoked in 1991 (and again in 1993), the first stone was laid on 14 June 1992 in a ceremony attended by more than 3000 people - though unfortunately not a single representative of the municipal authorities. 

Two years later, on 30 September 1994, the Great Mosque of Lyon was inaugurated in the presence of Religious Affairs Minister Charles Pasqua, Lyon's Mayor Noir, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia (one of the main financial sponsors of the project) and various other religious and civilian leaders.

Laying the first stone: 14 June 1992
Kamel Kabtane, one of the three founders of ACLIF, became the Great Mosque's rector, a post he has held to this day.

Despite a few racist attacks on the mosque and even a written death threat on its rector in 2012, members of Lyon's Muslim community come to pray at the Great Mosque of Lyon every day. Some 2000 worshippers attend the weekly Friday prayers. The mosque has a food bank and organises an annual international Islamic conference in October. 

White, light & airy

Designed by Lyonnais architects Ballandras and Mirabeau, the complex comprises not only a mosque but also a library, a school and the Institut Francaise de Civilisation Musulmane, IFCM (hence the name "great" rather than simply "mosque", which can denote any building or even a room used for prayer). 

Alcove in the prayer hall
Entering through the main door, you find yourself in an inner courtyard with a small, gently bubbling fountain, surrounded by offices, a cloakroom for shoes and, next door, the entrances to the prayer hall.

The airy and wonderfully light two-level prayer hall has space for 3000 people, although on special occasions, when carpets are laid out in the basement and gardens, it can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers. A huge candelabra hangs down from the domed ceiling, the edges of which are inscribed with passages from the Koran in gilt lettering.

The whitewashed mosque has a 25-metre minaret and is decorated in a mixture of Persian, Maghreb (North African) and contemporary styles and calligraphy.

The mosque, cultural centre and grounds of the Grande Mosquée de Lyon can be visited free of charge every day except Fridays between 9am and midday and from 4-5pm. Guided tours are given during the annual European Heritage Days in September.

Locate the Great Mosque of Lyon on Google Maps

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy Islamic architecture and decoration very much. I'm glad that this particular edifice overcame extremist / racist opposition.


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