Abdelkader Arbi's office is fairly typical for an employee of the French military, with its spacious desk, ceiling-high French flag planted in one corner, and a portrait of President François Hollande affixed to the wall.

But from time to time, it serves an unorthodox purpose for a room in a state-run building: when the Army prayer room is unavailable, it becomes a makeshift mosque for soldiers who don't have a place to pray.

"Obviously, soldiers need to learn to live together, but sometimes it's just not convenient or practical for them to pray," says Mr. Arbi, the French military's first ever Muslim chaplain, who is celebrating his 11th year in the position. Soldiers often live up to six in a dormitory or work in an open space during the day, which can be a challenge for practicing Muslims trying to observe the required five daily prayers. "They come to pray here so they don't bother anyone."

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