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French Supermarkets Sell Islamic Literature for Ramadan

This Ramadan season, Muslims and non Muslims living in France can buy Islamic literature in an unusual place: hypermarkets, or large supermarkets. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports that some 150 of these large-scale stores, which sell everything from deck chairs to string beans, are now selling so-called Ramadan boxes full of Muslim books.

Go shopping at a Carrefour store in France this month and do not be surprised to find a Koran on sale alongside jams, coffees, and chairs. This major French chain store is among several across the country that are snapping up so-called Ramadan boxes, offering a collection of Islamic literature during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.

The boxes are the brainchild of Albouraq Editions, a Paris-based Muslim publishing house. Albouraq's 33-year-old head, Mansour Mansour, explains the thinking behind this new venture to tap mainstream distributors.

Mr. Mansour says his publishing house believes that during Ramadan people are especially interested in reading spiritual books on Islam, along with practical ones. But he also thinks that selling Islamic books in mainstream supermarket will also attract non-Muslim buyers and better help integrate Frances five-million-strong Muslim community, the largest in Europe.

Albouraq started testing its Islamic book initiative two years ago, tapping supermarkets in the Paris area. The response was good, Mr. Mansour said, so it began branching out to other regions in France.

Participating supermarkets, about 150 of them this year, get a so-called Ramadan box, with about 24 different Islamic books. Besides two different versions of the Koran, the box also includes books on Islamic history, the prophet Mohammed and practical books on the Muslim faith.

But the Ramadan marketing is only part of Albouraq's larger goal to make the Islamic religion more accessible, particularly to second-generation French Muslims.

When Mr. Mansour's family-owned publishing house opened, in 1992, he said a new generation of French-Muslims wanted access to Islamic literature, but written in French. That is because many second-generation Muslims, often ethnic North African Arabs, did not know how to speak and write Arabic. French converts to Islam also wanted to read the Koran and other Islamic works in French. With time, Albouraq also started branching out from selling its editions only at Islamic book shops to mainstream French book stores like FNAC.

Mr. Mansour says some non-Muslims are also snapping up Muslim books at the supermarkets this year. He thinks that is a good thing. He says after so much negative media attention on Islam, non-Muslims can read and learn about the many positive aspects of the Muslim religion.