Opening of Muslim supermarket in Paris suburb causes concern

The opening of a Muslim supermarket in a Paris suburb has caused a split in the community.

A supermarket's decision to cater to its Muslim customers has sparked a debate in a Paris suburb.

The neighbourhood market is part of a national chain, but has decided to go its own way and cater to customers who adhere to Islamic dietary laws. It's banned the sale of alcohol and only offers meat slaughtered according to halal, or Muslim law.

The Pyramides neighbourhood in the town of Evry is probably one of the most multicultural in France. It is a tough suburb, populated by the working poor and unemployed. Most are immigrants from Africa, Arab countries, and nearly everywhere else in the world.

Muslims represent about 10 per cent of the French population. But in Evry, Islam is the number one religion.

For Abdel Jawed Djaziri, opening a halal supermarket in the Pyramides neighbourhood made perfect sense. Since most of the 10,000 people living in the housing complex are Muslims, he thought they would appreciate having a halal supermarket.

"When we took over this store, it was losing money," he said. "It was a typical supermarket. But we wanted to see the store evolve to keep up with the population changes in the neighbourhood."

Jawed and his brother Mohamed bought a franchise under the Franprix name and opened their store in the plaza that stands at the centre of the Pyramides complex. The brothers took all the wine and other alcoholic products standard items in French supermarkets off the shelves.

They stopped carrying any pork products and they started selling halal meat.

But not everyone welcomed the change, including Evry's mayor, Manuel Valls. "We can't accept that neighbourhoods that are already at a disadvantage because of things like unemployment and poverty, be further disadvantaged by what we in France called 'ghettoization' which is when a community turns inwards."

Valls argues that a local supermarket should cater to everyone in the community, not just to one religion. And, he says, in poor neighbourhoods residents don't have a lot of choice. Families without cars are forced to buy their groceries at the nearest supermarket.

France doesn't have a policy of multiculturalism. The emphasis is on integration into broader French society. Immigrants are presumed to come to France because they want to live in France. They are kindly requested to leave as much cultural baggage as possible at home.

Examples like the Muslim supermarket in Evry bother officials because they suggest the policy of integration isn't working.