Faith, politics clash over Muslim-run women's gym in France

Fri Oct 4, 2013 10:06am EDT
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By Alexandria Sage

LE RAINCY, France (Reuters) - A pink and orange all-women's gym has become an unlikely focus of a very French row over Muslim integration, secularism and what some view as blatant populism in the run-up to France's municipal elections.

The gym, which opened last month in the up-market Paris suburb of Le Raincy, is owned by a French Muslim couple who say their religion and appearance - she wears a headscarf and he a long beard - are the reason the mayor wants to shut them down.

The squabble has erupted five months before conservative mayor Eric Raoult, who says safety is his only concern, seeks re-election in nationwide municipal polls in which the anti-immigrant National Front is expected to gain ground.

It reflects France's uneasy relations with its five million-strong Muslim minority, Europe's largest, and tensions over an official policy of secularism Muslims say is used against them.

"'I don't want any veiled women in my town,' he told us," said gym manager Nadia El Gendouli, who sports a piercing in her nose and plunging neckline.

"'You're a fundamentalist!' he told me."

At the town hall on Thursday, Raoult denied the allegation that he did not want women wearing Muslim veils in Le Raincy. "These are fundamentalists, they lie!" he shouted.

"They consider because they're Muslims they're victims and they consider they have more rights," he said.   Continued...

Orty Gym owner Lynda Ellabou poses in font of her new all-women's gym on the outskirts of Paris, in Le Raincy, October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann