(BBC) — A ban on saying prayers in the street, a practice by French Muslims unable to find space in mosques, has come into effect in the capital, Paris.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant has offered believers the use of a disused fire brigade barracks instead.

The phenomenon of street prayers, which see Muslims spreading mats on footpaths, became a political issue after far right protests.

France is home to the biggest Muslim minority in Western Europe.

By some estimates, as many as six million French people, or just under 10% of the population, are Muslims, with origins in France’s former North African colonies.

Their integration has been a source of political debate in recent years, and earlier this year France became the first EU state to ban the wearing of the Islamic veil in public.

Update: Itching for a fight?

PARIS — Hundreds of Muslims defied a French ban on outdoor prayer — which came into force Friday –and took to the streets and sidewalks of Paris to pray.

The French government announced Thursday it was banning praying outside, with officials pledging to enforce the ban from Friday.

But 200 Muslims ignored the ban and prayed on the streets in the neighborhood of La Goutte d’Or, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

French interior minister Claude Gueant said he had nothing against Islam but wanted it out of the public eye because France was a secular state.

He added, “Street prayers must stop because they hurt the feelings of many of our compatriots who are shocked by the occupation of the public space for a religious practice.”

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