While a demonstration to obtain a place of prayer for Ramadan ended on Saturday March 18 in front of the town hall of Wattignies, the Muslim community of the city had the unpleasant surprise to discover the premises of the Muslim association Al Amal totally vandalized.
“Looks like they had the plans: they went down into the basement, ripped out the wires from the electrical box to disable the alarm and the cameras!“This Sunday, March 19, in the premises of the Al Amal Muslim center, the spirits are tense.
A meeting was held between the Muslim community of Wattignies (North), Mayor Alain Pluss and his deputy Jean-Marie Décan. In question, an act of vandalism which affected the premises of this cultural and religious association which happens when the faithful demand a place to pray, a few days before the start of the month of Ramadan.
The ceilings have been destroyed, the electrical wires torn out and the floors are strewn with debris. “It’s like we broke your own house“, deplores a resident who wonders if the recent demonstrations to obtain a place of prayer have not attracted the attention of a small far-right group.
The mayor, for his part, is convinced: this vandalism is indeed of a “Islamophobic act“.”The act of vandalism is outrageous, shameful, we can’t do things like that“, he laments. His deputy adds: “Thethe cassette containing money was not stolen and they did not recover a centimeter of copper“.
“We no longer feel safe”launch several faithful, recalling that this rampage is a new blow as they are in the midst of a battle to allow the opening of this center, unoccupied because of several refusals of building permits.
Because, since the acquisition of the premises, many administrative and prefectural obstacles prevent them from opening the place. “One time it was a fire door and then there was a tracing thing on the ground, once the tracing was fixed we got another problem. It’s really detail on detail to prevent the opening“, enumerates Sofiane, member of the collective of Muslims of Wattignies, created to carry out actions on the ground and to make heard the needs of the faithful of the city.
Some consider these to be unfounded excuses to delay the opening of the venue. The mayor and his deputy, who do not hesitate to send their favorable opinion to the prefecture, also believe that certain justifications given for not providing the building permit contradict each other from one refusal to another.
This case is all the more complex as the faithful, in addition to fighting to have a temporary place to pray and open this center definitively, must now deal with the damage linked to the act of vandalism. An investigation is also underway to determine the exact circumstances and find the culprits. The extent of the damage will be estimated from Monday by an insurance expert.
To understand the attachment that the Muslim community of Wattignies has towards this place, you have to go back to 2008, when the Al Amal association was founded. It struggled for several years to find a place that would allow both to have a cultural space and a place of worship.
It took until 2019 to find one. Hundreds of people then mobilized to help with donations and manpower.
“We received donations from the faithful but also from inhabitants of other faiths, some did not even come from Wattigniesrecalls Najih, a Wattignisian. I have never seen such solidarity and fundraising so fast“. In just a few months, 750,000 euros have been raised. Small jobs “to fix the paint, the false ceiling or change some windows” took place and mobilized the inhabitants of the city, explains Abdelghafour, the president of the association.
Najih says he is saddened that the place has never opened its doors yet. “We did this project to offer a place of open-mindedness, it’s a project for young peoplehe explains. We wanted to offer a place that puts forward the Islam of light, not that of obscurantism. It was to be a model of living together“.
From now on, the act of vandalism adds additional difficulties to the association and the collective of Muslims of Wattignies. Sofiane regrets the absence of a place of prayer and the fact that some have to travel to the Lille-Sud district to pray in a mosque, “but it is not easy for the elderly“.
And beyond the question of accessibility, that of security arises. “I prefer to have an official, controlled, managed place of prayer than cellars, apartments in underwater mode where you don’t know what is said there, it can quickly turn into a disaster. While here, we have an official place“.
The mayor findsit is legitimate to ask for a place to practice one’s worship“. He also distinguishes two essential points in this file. The first is that of instructing “on the proposal of a place” but proposals for three rooms “were negative because of conventions laid down” with the youth-sport service of the city, among others.
The second, “which embarrasses me a lot“, concerns the unfavorable opinions given on the accessibility and safety of the place. “Every other shot, they alternate, we go to one side then another“, emphasizes Alain Pluss.
And as long as he does not have a favorable opinion from the prefecture, neither he nor his deputy can instruct the building permit. “And when the notices are lifted, we will process this permit like all the other city permits.“, he assures.
Until the situation evolves, other demonstrations should be held in the coming weeks. A meeting will take place at the beginning of the week to find a temporary place where the Muslims of Wattignies can meet for Ramadan.