Paris, capital of love and romance, is often seen as a museum-city, a beacon of classicism and high fashion. France, however, has a very long history with Islam, from al-Andalus which reached the south of the country to the disasters of colonialism, and today France is a multicultural society with the largest Muslim community in Europe. While it has often been a conflictual relationship, France is a country deeply influenced by its Maghrebi and African communities: the French’s favourite dish is Moroccan couscous! An estimated five million Muslims live in France, contributing to every aspect of social, cultural and political life. Paris is a relatively small city with a good transport system, and it is easy to walk everywhere here. One word of warning though: the metro system is not wheelchair friendly, and it is difficult to access with prams, so make sure to take a baby carrier or a foldable stroller.
What to see
Beyond Paris’s popular tourists spots such as the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, there is plenty to do for couples and families. True, Parisians are not famous for being particularly welcoming, but the beauty of the city largely makes up for it. There is something to suit all tastes, with a large number of museums, halal restaurants, shopping galleries, markets and parks.
Barbès, in the North of Paris, is considered the North African area, with countless little cafés to enjoy a glass of fresh mint tea and almond delicacies, but it is in fact the Latin Quarter that historically hosted Arab immigrants. The Paris Grand mosque (metro stop: Place Monge), built in 1926 to thank Muslim soldiers who fought alongside France against Germany, is a little peaceful oasis with its gorgeous courtyards, and it has its own café and traditional hammam (Pro tip: you might be asked for an entrance fee as tourists are allowed in parts of the mosque. Do not pay! Say you are coming in to pray).
After prayers, walk down towards the Seine and visit the Arab World Institute (IMA) on the riverside, where they organise various events and exhibitions about Arab culture, including crafts and storytelling for children. Pop up to their terrace on the top floor and enjoy the panoramic views of Notre-Dame. When you leave, have a look at the local Arab bookshops, such as Librairie Avicenne which holds a wide collection of Islamic books.
Paris has a large number of museums and it would be a shame not to visit a few if you have time. The recently opened Institute of Islamic Cultures in Barbès is worth a visit: they exhibit young Muslim artists, and they even organise workshops in zellige and mosaic making, iftar cooking, poetry and much more.
The Louvre has a lesser known but extensive department of Islamic art, comprising a large selection of objects from Spain to South Asia. Two more destinations for art lovers: the Quai Branly museum, next to the Eiffel Tower, is a fascinating space collecting artefacts from a large variety of cultures, and it is very family friendly. The Maison Rouge museum (metro stop Bastille) is a relatively unknown space showing emerging artists, perfect as an alternative to the very touristy Pompidou museum.
For a bit of fresh air, head to Jardin des Plantes or Jardin du Luxembourg, two favourite spots for Parisians: these are the perfect spots for a lazy afternoon of reading and enjoying the manicured gardens. Both have playgrounds for children, and the Jardin des Plantes also has a small zoo, one of the oldest in the world. There is a larger zoo in Parc de Vincennes, recently refurbished with five large biozones reproducing animals’ native environments. This is a fun way to introduce children to the variety of Allah’s (SWT) creation!
After a long day out, have a walk around the Ile St Louis on the river Seine and get an ice cream from the famous Berthillon. Continue your stroll along the riverside, particularly enjoyable in the summer. Alternatively, walk up the stairs to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre, where you can enjoy the most breathtaking views over the city and visit one of the prettiest areas of the city, once famous for its painters and artists.
A trip to Paris necessarily includes a shopping stop; why not plan your holiday during the sales season and bag a few bargains? The Printemps Haussman (metro Havre Caumartin) is a large department store where you will find everything you need. Le Bon Marché (metro Sèvres Babylone) is smaller, but also includes a food hall for foodies! For a more original experience, visit one of the many flea markets (the biggest one is St Ouen, metro Garibaldi) and browse the antiques. In addition, every April the Bourget Muslim fair is organised, the biggest event for Muslims in the country with dozens of exhibitors. Favourite brands amongst French Muslim ladies include Misstoura, Ines à Paris and Fringadine.
Where to eat
There’s a huge range of halal restaurants available, including ones selling gourmet French cuisine such as Les Enfants Terribles (metro Parmentier) and Le Jumeyrah (metro Rue St Maur), which are well worth a visit for a local culinary experience, while being halal. Other popular restaurants include La Troika Libanaise (metro Charles Michel) or Moroccan Atlas Couscous (metro Alesia). Please note, the large majority of ‘halal’ restaurants in Paris serve alcohol; I have tried to include the few that don’t.
Cafés and takeaway shops selling kebab, Lebanese falafel or Tunisian spicy tuna sandwiches for a quick snack are pretty much everywhere, particularly in Muslim areas. For those of you with a sweet tooth, there are also a number of famous North African bakeries serving delicious delicacies: Algerian brand La bague de Kenza has a number of shops throughout the city and is worth a trip. Tunisian La Rose de Tunis sells pistachio baklava and date makroud that are to die for. To finish, learn French Patisserie at the newly opened Halal cooking school (metro Cadet) and make your own macarons!
Where to pray
Apart from the Grand Mosque, most masaajid are located in the North East of the city, in the areas of Barbès or Belleville/Couronnes. Many are small and don’t have sisters’ facilities; the ones that do are: Omar mosque (metro Parmentier), Khalid Ibn Walid mosque (metro Chateau-Rouge), Abou Baker Assidiq mosque (metro Couronnes). There are also larger mosques just outside of Paris in Evry, Créteil and Clichy, amongst others.
If you are feeling adventurous, head outside of the city to the Versailles Castle, a popular tourist spot, and why not pass through Disneyland in Marne-La-Vallée for a memorable family day out. There is no need to say any more about these two iconic attractions, so this is just a reminder that both are great outings for a day away from the city. Fontainebleau Forest is further afield, but easily accessible from Paris, and it will delight nature lovers. It is a very large, protected reserve particularly known for rock climbing and perfect for little explorers.
Hope to see you soon in Paris, insha Allah!
Cleo is a French convert living in London, mummy of two and a crafts lover, blogging at amodelhouse.wordpress.com.