"This is the method we are denouncing, they behave like thugs. They came by surprise without warning us. The door lock was changed, the hinges were welded and all our hardware remained inside. Torn between anger and sadness, the president of the religious association Alliance, Abdelhak Bellamine, is still in shock but does not intend to give up. The lease of this small Red Cross mosque, installed since 1978 at 11, rue des Savoyards in Reims (Marne), was coming to an end with the Foyer Reims. The association was asked to vacate the premises by December 31, 2023 in anticipation of an energy renovation of the building. But the social landlord has just signed an early termination of the lease in the name of the tenant who was at the origin of the creation of this place of worship.
"So we're going to continue to pray outside until a solution is found," says Abdelhak Bellamine, pointing to a large striped carpet installed in the covered passageway that crosses the building. It is here that since Wednesday, December 6, the faithful have been meeting for prayers. "Whether it's snowing, windy or raining, we'll be praying in front of our mosque, we're mobilizing people. All the inhabitants are like us, they are stunned by this way of doing things. We feel that we are second-class citizens and we would like the mayor to intervene in this matter."
"Closing is the return of prayers in the cellars without the Imam's speech"
On the City's side, the position is inflexible. In a press release, it said it "has no jurisdiction or right to intervene in this case, which concerns a religious practice. The principle of secularism is clear: the city has no business preventing or facilitating the installation of a place of worship." Every day, about 30 people went to the five daily prayers in the hall of the Red Cross district. This figure doubled on Friday.
This installation dates back to the arrival of the first immigrants in Reims in the 1970s. "This place has crossed generations, it is a place of learning and sharing. Today we have about a hundred members in the association. Until now, we paid rent for this space, but the Foyer Rémois did not offer us any viable alternative. We are ready to rehabilitate a premises and pay the inherent rent. Closing this place is the return of prayers in the cellars without the Imam's speech," warns Abdelhak Bellamine. A petition has already collected more than 2,000 signatures and a demonstration is planned this Saturday in front of the small Red Cross mosque at 14 p.m. and a second rally is planned in front of the sub-prefecture of Reims on Saturday, December 16.