Continued from page 1

The Paris mosque issued a statement saying it opposed the Lyon call.

“Mobilize, yes, but not in the name of Islam,” he said. “In the name of justice, the economy, housing projects, misery, unemployment. But not in the name of Islam.”

However, other Paris imams have pressed for Muslims to vote, including Mohamed Saleh Hamza who heads the northern Paris mosque where, until last fall, the faithful spilled into the street to pray because crowds had grown too big to fit inside.

For Le Pen, the street prayers were ammunition for her anti-Islam cause. Sarkozy took up the call and a giant prayer room was opened in a firehouse barracks where thousands now pray. At Friday’s prayer service in the new space, there was no mention of the presidential election; the sermon was on the power of love.

Earlier, however, mosque leader Hamza had called for Muslims to go to the polls.

Muslims “have a tendency not to vote. Now, we’re telling them that they are full citizens,” Hamza said. “They’re not organized yet, but that will come.”

The calculations of the Mosque of Paris puts the number of Muslim voters at some 10 percent. It’s a diverse population, most with family origins in former colonies in North Africa and Saharan Africa, and political opinions are not homogenous.

Experts say that Muslims in poor neighborhoods and Muslim youth tend to vote for the left.

Sarkozy has walked both sides of the line in addressing Muslims. While campaigning, he has spoken out against Muslim prayers in the street, the multiplication of halal butchers and the immigrant flux, in France seen as mainly Muslim. However, he embraced the Muslim population at the start of his term in 2007, appointing two ministers of Muslim North African origin and working for an “Islam of France.”

Well before that, he was behind the creation of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, bringing France’s diverse Muslim population under the same umbrella group. As interior minister, he was even once a guest speaker at the annual pow-wow of the powerful fundamentalist Union of Islamic Organizations of France, or UOIF — only to be booed for saying headscarves must be removed in identity card photos.

Sarkozy initiated last year’s law banning face-covering Islamic veils and is no longer in the good graces of the UOIF. He forbade six guest speakers from abroad from attending this year’s gathering on the grounds that they preach a radical brand of Islam.

UOIF leader Ahmed Jaballah called this year for Muslims to vote at the close of the gathering.

The director of the widely respected Bondy Blog, born during the 2005 riots in France’s housing projects, says that many Muslims are more French than politicians think, and want respect.

“There is a part of the population that is French first of all, but not recognized as such,” said Nordine Nabili. “They try to drag this population into cultural, ethnic or religious issues, but it is all about social suffering, really. There is the will of a whole generation saying, ‘I am French. You need to accept me as I am.’”

For Jamel Nouri, leaving Friday prayers at the Paris mosque, “Nicolas Sarkozy fell into the trap of the National Front. He was dragged through the mud.”

Story Continues →