Over 13,500 people marched in Paris on Sunday against Islamophobia, in a controversial protest that created tensions on the left and attracted criticism from the French government and right-wing parties. Smaller protests were also held in other French cities like Marseille and Toulouse.
Protesters waved banners reading slogans such as "Yes to religious criticism, no to hate of the faithful" and "stop Islamophobia". Marchers chanted "Solidarity with women wearing the hijab."
The march left Paris' Gare du Nord at 1 p.m. and made its way south to the capital's Place de la Nation. In the procession were marching social rights groups such as the French collective against Islamophobia.
Left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon attended, the only French party leader to do so, and one of the few elected officials from his far-left party La France Insoumise and of the Green Party who marched.
Left-wing MP Clementine Autain, of Melenchon's party, tweeted that she attended to overcome "hate, rejection and stigmatisation of Muslims" while Greens Senator Esther Benbassa praised a "calm, good fun, citizen march".
The call to march was published on 1 November in the French newspaper "Libération", four days after the attack on a mosque in Bayonne, southwestern France, and as the country's public debate has pondered over the French concept of "laïcité" (secularism) and the hijab for weeks.
"We came to raise the alarm, to say that there is a level of hate that we shouldn't cross", Larbi, a 35-year-old entrepreneur, told the AFP.
"We want to be heard, to stand for an open society, we don't want to be moved aside", Asmae Eumosid, 29, an engineer who wears the hijab, told the AFP.
"Nonsense is being said about Islam and Muslim women these days. Muslims are being stigmatised and ostracised", she added.
As night fell, marchers sang the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.
In Marseilles, a few hundred people marched, among them Muslim families as well as union members and left-wing activists. "We are all the Republic's children", the crowd chanted.
Claudine Rodinson, a 76-year-old pensioner marching with the Lutte ouvrière union, told the AFP that she didn't understand how the left "had lost all dignity" in the current debate: "A scandalous propaganda is being spread against Muslims, that conflates terrorism and Islam", she said.
The notion of "Islamophobia", as well as the identity of some of the march's organisers, led a part of the left to dissociate with the movement. The Socialist Party has said it will organise a march against racism soon.
As well as Melenchon, Ian Brossat, an official of the Communist Party at the Paris mayoralty, attended the march and told the AFP that in France there currently is a "climate of hate against Muslims". "We can't stand idly by", he said, criticising far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who said that the march was a "protest hand in hand with Islamists".
Several members of the French government also had harsh words for the march, which the Secretary of state for youth, Gabriel Attal, described as "unbearable".
Elisabeth Borne, the French minister for Ecological transition and solidarity, said that the march was "pitting people against each other" and criticised its "ambiguities".