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Setting the record straight on Islam: French mosques open their doors

People listen to the explanations of guide Loubardi as they visit the Strasbourg Grand Mosque during an open day weekend for mosques in France, January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Hundreds of French mosques are participating in a major open-house event this weekend, offering visitors the opportunity to come in for tea and a chat about Islam in a country shaken by jihadist attacks.

For those in the dark about what Islam really is, France's mosques are opening their doors to the public this weekend to debunk long-standing stereotypes.

And the timing of the event, one year on from a spate of deadly jihadist attacks, is also a message in itself. "The idea is to use the anniversary of the January 7 attacks to "highlight the real values of Islam, Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), told AFP.

"To set straight the clichés about links to violence and terrorism," the head of the country's leading Muslim body, added.

Dubbed "a brotherly cup of tea", the initiative will take different forms with local mosques handing out hot drinks and pastries, offering guided visits, putting on debates and calligraphy workshops, and even inviting people to attend one of the five daily prayers.

Most of the country's 2,500 mosques and places of worship are taking part, the most important being the Grand Mosque de Paris. All with the aim of fostering greater national cohesion, a year after 17 people were killed by islamist gunmen in Paris targeting satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

"Instead of dwelling on these tragic acts, it seemed more useful and important to celebrate "the spirit of January 11" Kbibech said, referring to the date when millions of people took to the streets in a mass show of solidarity.

That spirit of solidarity has been shaken by a slew of further attacks, like the recent November bloodshed, which one again saw a hike in anti-Muslim incidents.

If organisers can convince the public that Islam is not synonymous with terrorism, then their operation may well be successful.