The cornerstone for La Grande Mosquée de Paris in the Latin Quarter (5th arrondissement) was laid in October 1922. On the occasion of the centenary, in 2022, the French newspaper Le Monde republished an article from eleven years before, which described the Grand Mosque as “a grandiose and controversial project” which “symbolizes both France’s recognition of the role of Muslims in the nation and its desire to control French Islam.”
The article, by the Swiss author Matthieu Mégevand, maintains that the French government’s decision to construct the Grand Mosque “was primarily an act of recognition of the tens of thousands of Muslims who died for France during the First World War.“ Nonetheless, “we must not forget the historical context in which this decision was taken — at that time, Algeria was a French colony and Morocco and Tunisia were protectorates.“
Another Swiss author, Ricarda Stegmann, has written about the Grand Mosque of Paris in her doctoral dissertation for the University of Heidelberg (in German, published 2018). Her dissertation is entitled Verflochtene Identitäten: Die Große Moschee von Paris zwischen Algerien und Frankreich (Entangled Identities: The Grand Mosque of Paris between Algeria and France).
She writes that the mosque was originally intended as “a visible symbol of French colonial rule.” Later, after the colonies and protectorates had gained their independence, the Grand Mosque retained its importance for French policy regarding Islam. “Despite the lack of representativeness and recognition on the part of the Muslims living in France, various politicians have tried to elevate the Grand Mosque to the center of Islam in France, where a moderate Islam compatible with the French way of life is propagated.” (Stegmann, page 14.)
“Since its foundation, the Grand Mosque of Paris has been more of a symbolic institution than a living Islamic center with which a majority of Muslims living in France have identified.” (Stegmann, page 132.)
But Stegmann also writes that since the 1980s, the Grand Mosque has increasingly come under the influence of the Algerian state, whose Ministry of Religion supervises the teaching that takes place in the mosque and the adjacent institute. This arrangement is not always free of conflicts, since the French and Algerian governments do not always agree about what is to be taught or with what emphasis.
Back in 2007, I took a guided tour of the Grand Mosque. The tour was in French, and I found it quite informative at the time, though I must admit I had trouble understanding our guide’s North African accent.
At one corner of the Mosque there is a café which serves tea and Near-Eastern pastries. (Open to everyone, not only Muslims.)
The postal address of the Grand Mosque is listed as Place du Puits de l’Ermite, which looks as though it must mean ‘Square of the Well of the Hermit.’ I imagined that a religious hermit of some sort, probably Christian rather than Muslim, must have lived here at some time in the distant past, near a holy well. But I was disappointed to learn that the square was actually named after a tanner called Adam l’Hermite, who lived near a public well where his neighbors came to get their water. Tanners, like dyers, were notorious in past centuries for polluting the nearby Bièvre River, so I hope Adam l’Hermite was at least careful not to pollute the water in the public well near his house.
My photos in this post are from 2007. I wrote the text in 2022.
See also: The Grand Gallery of Evolution, across the street from the Grand Mosque.