Muslim-themed 'Beurger King' opens in France

After the success of Mecca Cola, a soft drink marketed to French Muslims, perhaps it was only a matter of time before a Muslim-themed fast-food restaurant opened in the country with Europe’s largest Islamic population.

The bright and colourful “Beurger King Muslim” was launched in July in an eastern Paris suburb crowded with immigrants and dilapidated housing projects. Its name plays on the French word “beur”, meaning a second-generation North African living in France.

The menu is standard fast-food fare: burgers, fries, sundaes and doughnuts, and prices are comparable to those in major chain restaurants. But the beef and chicken burgers are halal—made with meat slaughtered according to Islamic dietary laws.

Waitresses wear Islamic headscarves and so do many of their customers.

Mouna Talbi (24) travelled 90km to Clichy-sous-Bois with her husband and two small sons to try it out.

“I was so happy to come here that I had tears in my eyes when I walked in,” she said, watching her kids climb on coloured blocks in the play area as she ate a halal burger.

Her kids always clamour for fast food, but this was the first time they’d been able to order something other than fish, she said.

“A woman in Muslim dress feels at home here,” she said, sitting in a red tunic and matching headscarf.
She said she was fed up with being stared at in other restaurants.

Three Muslim friends from the Paris suburbs set up the restaurant after seeing similar restaurants in Thailand and Algeria.

They saw a demand for a clean, family-oriented halal fast-food restaurant that would offer an alternative to the big non-halal chains and the many downscale halal street vendors.

Morad Benhamida (33), one of the founders, said he and his partners worked for almost two years on a business plan to convince French backers.

“I was shocked when my bank manager believed in the project straight away,” he said, sitting under a parasol on the restaurant’s terrace.

He had not anticipated how successful the idea would be.

“I was very surprised because people really liked the restaurant, so much so that we have tripled stocks since opening a month ago,” he said. “It seems like magic.”

He is planning to hire eight new employees in the fall, expanding his staff of 28.

In an area with high unemployment, people are grateful to find work. Some female employees said they took the job because they are allowed to wear headscarves, unlike workers in other French fast-food restaurants.

Female customers also seemed happy. Cherifa Halimi (19) sat in a booth sipping drinks with four friends, all dressed in black, flowing gowns covering all but their hands and faces.

“There are a few changes they could make to give the place a completely Muslim image,” Halimi said.

“The television is OK, but there shouldn’t be any music,” she said. “But I’d like to work here.”

Muslim diners said they feel more misunderstood in France since the terror attacks in London last month.

“Even the media demonise the image of Islam in this country,” Ahmed Talbi said, sitting in a booth opposite his wife. “People are afraid of terrorist attacks here too.”

Customers, including non-Muslims, said the restaurant is not segregating Muslims but showing a normal, peaceful Muslim activity that is open to all.

“Both Muslims and other people feel at ease here,” said Talbi. “Maybe this kind of place will help to correct the bad image of Muslims and tell the world to stop talking nonsense about us.”—Sapa-AP

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