Tensions between French authorities and the country’s Islamic community resurfaced on Tuesday after it emerged that four summer camp instructors had been sacked for fasting during Ramazan.
In a row that echoed last year’s controversy over a law banning women from wearing full veils on French territory, Muslim leaders denounced a Communist-run town council’s dismissal of the workers on health and safety grounds.
The four had been employed temporarily by the town of Genevilliers in the Paris suburbs to help run a summer holiday sports camp in southwestern France.
They were dismissed on July 20, the first day of Ramazan, after an inspector visited the camp and told them they were endangering children’s safety by not eating or drinking between dawn and dusk.
Although they were fully paid for the week they had remaining on their short-term contracts, the instructors plan to contest their dismissal through labour courts.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) described the town’s actions as “an attack on religious freedom” and said it was considering pressing charges against Genevilliers council for discrimination.
CFCM President Mohammed Moussaoui added: “Hundreds of millions of people fast for Ramazan every year without it having any impact on their professional activities.”
Genevilliers Mayor Jacques Bourgoin defended the decision to remove the four employees from the camp, a stance which won strong backing from the far-right National Front.
“This lack of nourishment and hydration could have resulted in these employees not being in full possession of the means required to ensure that activities at the camp were correctly and safely run, as well as the physical safety of the children in their charge,” said a statement issued by the mayor’s office.
Nicole Varet, an aide to the mayor, said three years ago a fasting camp worker had been taken ill while driving, resulting in an accident in which a child was seriously injured.
But the four sacked workers believe the safety argument is a smokescreen for anti-Muslim prejudice.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2012.