French Religious Leaders Protest Debate on Islam

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy is being criticized for plans to hold a debate next week over the role of Islam in France.

The goal of the April 5 debate, backed by Sarkozy's conservative UMP party, is to discuss France's secular traditions, while accommodating Islamic customs.

However, the country's top religious leaders of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims are protesting the debate.

They issued a statement saying the event could cause confusion as France deals with internal troubles over the rising impact of Islam.

One example - the French government says the country now has about 751 No Go zones -- Muslim areas that are dangerous for whites and non-Muslims to enter. Some of these No Go zones function like micro states - governed by Islamic Sharia law.

One French shopkeeper said she had been attacked numerous times by Muslims because she refuses to leave their area.

"Do we want our daughters to wear veils in the future? Do we want them to live under Sharia law? So we want stoning to be practiced? No, it is not possible. I want to be the symbol of "no." The symbol of "stop," Marie-Neige Sardin told CBN News.

France formally separated church and state in 1905. The law has been praised by religious leaders as a "precious achievement" and "one of the pillars" of national accord.

UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope issued an open letter to Muslims this week saying he wants a new "Code of Secularity" that would spell out rules about how to keep public schools, streets and businesses secular.

"The practice of Islam in a secular nation is not the burqa, not prayers in the street, nor the rejection of diversity," he wrote in the letter, published on the website of the weekly L'Express.

Muslim leaders in France have said the debate will further stigmatize western Europe's largest Islamic population, estimated to number at least 5 million people.

The debate would be held the week before a law goes into effect banning face-covering Islamic veils such as the burqa or niqab anywhere in the streets of France

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