CRETEIL, France -- On a recent Friday, 200 Muslim worshipers crowded into a former carpentry workshop here for noon prayers. The men knelt on red carpets in a first-floor hall, the women squeezed into the tiny administrative office upstairs.
Outside the makeshift mosque, Karim Benaissa watched other men lay rows of rainbow-colored carpets on a damp concrete slab. "Even when it's cold, there are more faithful outside than inside," said Benaissa, an Algerian with a tightly trimmed beard who heads the Creteil Union of Muslim Associations. "It makes me ashamed."
But next June, Creteil's Muslims are scheduled to move into a new, $7.4 million mosque with room for more than 2,500 worshipers. The nearly finished building, with its 81-foot minaret, stands on a knoll overlooking the town's picturesque lake, within sight of city hall and the local police station.
The mosque will make Creteil something of an exception in Europe. From London to Cologne to Marseille, governments and residents are fighting the rise of minarets on their skylines in campaigns that underscore cultural, religious and ethnic divides within a continent undergoing its most dramatic demographic change in half a century. Islam is now Europe's second-largest religion after Christianity, and its fastest-growing.
But Creteil's city government is taking a different path, helping Muslims build and finance what will be one of France's largest new mosques.