NICE, France – Branding him as non-Muslim, the Muslim community in the French city of Nice has disavowed the man behind last week attack, saying the person who did not pray or fast the holy month of Ramadan does not represent Islam.
“What happened on Thursday has nothing at all to do with Islam because the person who did it, even according to his outward acts, wasn’t a Muslim,” the 46-year-old Sheikh Abdulmonam, imam of al-Wahda prayer room, told Newsweek, declining to give his last name.
“He smoked, he didn’t pray, he didn’t fast, he didn’t do all these things that Muslims should do. It was a horrible crime.”
The attack occurred late on Thursday when a lorry ploughed through a crowd of people watching fireworks to celebrate French national holiday Bastille Day in the city on the French Riviera.
No clear motive has yet emerged why the driver, who was known to the police for petty crimes, carried out the attack, but the incident is being treated as a terrorist incident.
The council called for French Muslims to pray on Friday for “the memory of the victims of this barbarian attack”.
Muslims in America, Canada, Gulf, and Egypt also condemned the vicious attack.
Guillaume Gourves, 35, a French Muslim revert and worshipper at the Al-Baraka mosque, agreed with Abdulmonam, saying that Bouhlel “is going straight to hell” for carrying out such a heinous act, rejecting the notion that ISIS represents Islam and Muslims.
“They just represent themselves. Islam is salam, it’s peace,” he said.
“This man apparently wasn’t even doing Ramadan or the prayer. He just thinks, ‘Oh let’s kill people.’ Is that what is Islam? No, it is not.”
Lhouasaine Khalfaoui, a 41-year-old French-Moroccan butcher at the Boucherie Atlas, a minute’s walk from al-Wahda, was a neighbor to the first person killed in the attack, a 60-year-old Muslim mother-of-six, Fatima Charrihi.
Khalfaoui points to a fly on the shop’s counter and said that a true Muslim wouldn’t hurt it.
“One person dead, is all of the community dead in the Qur’an. This was not a Muslim,” he says.
“He did not practice the religion. No Ramadan, no prayer. This was an animal. This is a contradiction with Islam.”
Though rejecting the attack that resulted in the death of many Muslim victims as well, French Muslim community is steeling itself for a backlash.
“When these things happen in France, we always become the victims because we are one of the weakest sections of society here,” Abdulmonam said.
“When we saw the prime minister of France [Manuel Valls] come out and say it was a terrorist attack, we think he did that to placate the far-right so they wouldn’t rise up against him, but in reality this attack has nothing to do with Islam.”
Adding to Muslim concerns, the recent attacks gave surge to the right-wing Front National leader Marine Le Pen ahead of the French presidential elections next April.
“I think Marine Le Pen is extreme, just like Hitler, with Muslims or with French people. It is not good, not for us,” says 46-year-old Moroccan national Salmi Saed, who sells frozen chickens at the bustling Islam Viandes supermarket on the Rue d’Italie, which sits in the shadow of the city’s main train station, Gare de Nice-Ville.
“Every Muslim will go away from France.”
Witnessing Nice carnage, Saed gave a German mother and her daughter a room to stay in for the night when they could not find a hotel.
He said despite what the media says, the city is “united” with people of different faiths continuing to live side by side in peace.
“In our shop, you can look, we have Muslims, French; different people who come here, Jews,” he says.
“Everybody comes here. You have people with kippahs who come here and buy their things. We stay together.”
Nevertheless, the French government has publicly linked Bouhlel with the so-called “radical Islamism”.
“What can we do? Every time we say this is nothing to do with us, are we going to all the time say ‘sorry, sorry’?” asks Gourves, the Muslim revert.
“We can’t say sorry about that—it’s nothing to do with us. This is us being attacked in France. It’s our country.”