Hundreds of Muslims began a four day Islamic congress in Paris on Friday, as fears grew of a religious backlash following the Toulouse killings.
More than 200 organisations from all over France are taking part in the four-day event which comes just weeks after Al Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohamed Merah shot dead seven people.
Many think the tragedy has led to French Muslims being marginalised further and feel there is a need to reassure the wider French community. 22-year-old Sara Taharaoui from a south-eastern Paris suburb said: “The whole Muslim community condemns what happened with Mereh. Terrorism isn’t part of the Islamic religion and we are here to condemn his acts.”
Some Muslims said they felt increased scrutiny after the French government decided to ban several foreign Muslim clerics from entering France. The men were due to give speeches at the conference.
Some political analysts think President Nicolas Sarkozy is playing up fears ahead of first-round leadership elections in a fortnight. Many think he’s not done enough to distinguish between the radical few and the mainstream Muslim community.
In the conference hall, many members of France’s Muslim community also expressed their disapproval about the current political atmosphere.
“Public perceptions about Muslims have been exaggerated. This has now become the main issue in the presidential election. It’s like there’s no unemployment or housing problem in France anymore; no financial crisis, just a problem with Muslims,” said Marwan Muhamad, spokesman for the Committee Against Islamophobia.
The conference is now in its 29th year.