French Muslims pay heavy price in COVID pandemic

Every week, Mamadou Diagouraga visits the Muslim section of a cemetery near Paris where his father is buried.

He is one of many, many French Muslims to die from COVID-19 -- and a Reuters analysis shows the Muslim community has been hit far harder than the wider French population.

""My father was the first one in this row, and it's filled up within a year. It's unbelievable, all the people that followed him. It's unbelievable. // Having a loss in this context, during COVID, it's brutal because we are in lockdown, we are not able to visit our relatives at hospital, we are limited in our rituals, graveyards were closed for two or three months, and a limited number of people were allowed attend funerals."

France is estimated to have the EU's largest Muslim population.

But the country does not know how hard the group has been hit.

That's because French law forbids the gathering of data based on ethnic or religious affiliations.

Evidence collected by Reuters does paint a picture, though.

For example: One study showed excess deaths in 2020 among French residents born in mainly Muslim North Africa were twice as high as among people born in France.

Head of the union of Muslim associations in Seine-Saint-Denis M'hammed Henniche has a theory on why that is.

"It's not because they're Muslims, it's because they belong to the least privileged social classes. Their social class put them on the frontline of this pandemic. Many of our citizens could work from home, but a garbage collector, or a cleaner or a cashier, they cannot work from home. These people have to go out, use public transport, they have to be in contact with other people. Those jobs force you to be contact with people and so they've paid the heavy price."

The unequal impact of COVID-19 on minorities has been documented elsewhere in the world too.

But the pandemic has thrown the inequalities that fuel tensions between French Muslims and their neighbors in France into sharp focus.

Those differences look set to become a battleground in next year's presidential election.

President Emmanuel Macron's main opponent, polls indicate, will be far-right politician Marine Le Pen.

She is campaigning on issues of Islam, terrorism, immigration, and crime.

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