A group of French Muslims decided to stand guard outside the town’s cathedral to protect it and show solidarity with Catholic church attendees.
PARIS ̵1; As a French Muslim, Elyazid Benferhat cramps when he hears of a deadly attack by Islamists on a church in Nice. Then he decided to act.
A self-proclaimed peacemaker and pragmatist, Benferhat and a friend gathered a group of young Muslims to stand guard outside the town’s cathedral for All Saints weekend, to symbolically protect it and show solidarity with those who go to Catholic churches.
The parishioners at the 13th-century church in the southern town of Lodeve were deeply moved. The parish priest said their gestures had given him hope in times of turmoil.
He called the beheading of a teacher near Paris last month – targeted because he showed his class a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad during a debate over freedom of speech – an act of “unbelievable, unprecedented cruelty.”
Then, when three people were killed last Thursday at Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, Benferhat said that he was so sick that he wanted to do something “to get everyone up.”
Benferhat, who works for French oil company Total and coach of a local football club, said to a Muslim friend who was in Nice that day, “and we had This idea. We need to do something more than show respect to the victims. We said we would protect the churches by ourselves.
They recruited volunteers among their friends and at his soccer club, and guarded the church that night and several times during Sunday Mass.
“Very well, young people are fighting this violence,” the church’s priest, Father Luis Iniguez, told the AP.
When a local newspaper published a photo of parishioners posing with their Muslim guards, Iniguez hung it inside the Gothic cathedral, which serves as an anchor point for town life. “People are very happy to see that, especially amid recent concerns about tensions between France and the Islamic world, alongside ongoing viral concerns,” he said.
The small-town gesture caught the nation’s attention and with it an online outcry from some far-right voices.
But Benferhat said the response was “90% positive.”
His team is looking at how to implement the idea and wants to re-implement it at Christmas, and other towns will follow Lodeve’s lead. But for now all religious services in France are banned at least until 1 December to try to slow down the rapidly growing virus infection.
Whatever he does next, he says, “It will come from the heart.”