Paris Muslims break Ramadan fast in soup kitchen

Thu Sep 11, 2008 9:46pm EDT
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By Brian Rohan

PARIS (Reuters) - It's sunset in the French capital, and hundreds of hungry people are poised to begin their meals at the sounding of a Muslim call to prayer.

Elsewhere in the world, the call rings forth from the minarets of mosques, but inside a tent in a gritty part of north Paris, it comes from a tinny radio speaker.

For the holy month of Ramadan, a soup kitchen has opened outside Cite Edmond Michelet, a tough public housing project in Paris' notorious 19th arrondissement. On the menu is a traditional dinner, starting with yoghurt and dates.

"A lot of people can't make ends meet nowadays, but they'd never tell you," said Ali Hasni, 45, a volunteer for the non-profit group "Une Chorba Pour Tous" (Soup for Everyone).

France is home to Europe's largest Muslim minority and debate about the integration of these 5 million people into an avowedly secular society is a recurring theme in a political arena where only a handful of Muslims hold government posts.

The tower blocks surrounding the tent are a common sight in the French urban landscape.

Often run down, the forbidding high-rises are home to many Muslim immigrants who came here to work in the construction boom of the 1960s and 70s, as well as immigrants from other faiths.

Many tower blocks were on the frontline in 2005 when mainly immigrant youths rioted across France after two teenagers were accidentally electrocuted in a power sub-station after a run-in with police. Violence has flared sporadically in many such neighborhoods since then.   Continued...

<p>Volunteers serve meals to the needy at the non-profit "Une Chorba Pour Tous" (soup for everyone) soup kitchen in a tent outside a public housing project in Paris in this September 8, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Files</p>