“Yes to criticism of religion, no to hatred of believers”, “Stop Islamophobia” and “Co-existing is crucial,” read some of the signs held aloft at the demonstration, as marchers set off from the Gare du Nord train station in the French capital on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
“Solidarity with veiled women”, some in the crowd chanted.
French media on Sunday evening estimated the number of participants in Paris at around 13,500.
The rally – held at the initiative of a number of left-wing political organisations including the New Anticapitalist Party and groups including the Collective Against Islamophobia in France – was called for by the left-leaning daily Libération in an editorial on November 1, four days after a man attacked a mosque in Bayonne and amid the flare of renewed debate over Muslim women wearing the veil in public establishments like schools.
But the march drew criticism from the far-right National Rally party (formerly the National Front), which accused organisers of forming an alliance with “Islamists”. It also spurred divisions among political parties on the left.
Some critics questioned “the very definition” of Islamophobia, said FRANCE 24’s Alison Sargent, reporting from the march in central Paris. Some say “that they feel ‘Islamophobia’ means that you are not allowed to criticise Islam as a religion”.
“They feel that is anti-French, that the very meaning of being French is being able to criticise religion, and that that is at the heart of French secularism,” she said.
But at the rally in Paris, many marchers insisted that Islam and French secularism are indeed compatible. “We’ve also seen a lot of French flags here, so it’s quite a patriotic rally in its own way,” Sargent said.
To watch our correspondent’s report in full, click on the video player above.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)