ED KASHI

In 2010 – 2011, Ed Kashi spent time photographing in Marseille, France on assignment for National Geographic. Marseille is the second largest city in France, and has the largest Muslim population of any city in Europe. A 2012 New York Times article touted this diverse port city as “a multicultural Garden of Eden, a cosmopolitan melting pot where all people irrespective of creed or color live together mostly peacefully.”

In light of the recent events and tensions looming in France, we revisit Ed’s work from Marseille:

Identity-bound as a migration route between the Orient and the Occident, Marseille is a proud Mediterranean port city on the southern French coast. Since ancient times, this gateway of immigration has been home to a conglomeration of distinct cultures and faiths. Marseille embraces its multiplicity, and all sides have apparently learned to work with one another in developing methods to cope with potential violence, discrimination, and animosity. And while France’s national philosophy of secular republicanism inclines toward cultural assimilation, the city of Marseille sets itself apart by acknowledging ethnic politics. This broad-based perspective promotes a unique atmosphere of optimism, mutual respect, and cooperation often absent when dissimilar cultures, religions, and ethnicities are forced into a melting pot of existence.

 This story examines Islamic life and ethnic identity in Marseille; to explore the microcosm of the Muslim community in the city that demographers predict will become the first one on the European continent with an Islamic majority; capturing those elements that make this defiant French seaport an exceptional illustration of the willingness by politicians and clerics alike to bend or ignore some of the rules of conventional French society in order to keep the peace.

Marseille illustrates a paradox as one of the most ethnically diverse cities in France; yet one of the most successful (at least so far) in maintaining general peace. Besides being the name of a city, “marseille” also means a type of “strong cotton fabric with a raised pattern”. The name seems to suit this French seaport whose natural strength endures despite its conspicuous texture of different ethnicities, religions, cultures, and people.

As the sun rises on the Old Port, the lights of the city fade in Marseille, France on Nov. 25, 2010.

As the sun rises on the Old Port, the lights of the city fade in Marseille, France on Nov. 25, 2010.

People congregate at the Gare St. Charles, the main train station in Marseille, France on Sept. 24, 2010.

People congregate at the Gare St. Charles, the main train station in Marseille, France on Sept. 24, 2010.

A Muslim woman waits for a bus at the Old Port of Marseille, France on Sept.19, 2010.

A Muslim woman waits for a bus at the Old Port of Marseille, France on Sept.19, 2010.

A rich tapestry of people pass the Le Reforme Church in Marseille, France on April 30, 2011.

A rich tapestry of people pass the Le Reforme Church in Marseille, France on April 30, 2011.

An ethnically diverse crowd enjoys the sun and sand at Le Prado beach in Marseille, France on May 14, 2011.

An ethnically diverse crowd enjoys the sun and sand at Le Prado beach in Marseille, France on May 14, 2011.

Camorians gather at the Mosque of Gaillard/Felix Pyat for Friday prayers in Marseille, France on Sept. 17, 2010.

Camorians gather at the Mosque of Gaillard/Felix Pyat for Friday prayers in Marseille, France on Sept. 17, 2010.

At the funeral of William Barkats, 67, a prominent professor member of the local Jewish community, family and friends gather to pay their respects in Marseille, France on Nov. 23, 2010. The initial ceremony for family members was held at La Rose Community Center and the burial was at the St. Pierre Cemetery.

At the funeral of William Barkats, 67, a prominent professor member of the local Jewish community, family and friends gather to pay their respects in Marseille, France on Nov. 23, 2010. The initial ceremony for family members was held at La Rose Community Center and the burial was at the St. Pierre Cemetery.

Marseillians play the classic local game of petanque at the Boulodrome des 3 Mages in Marseille, France on May 10, 2011.

Marseillians play the classic local game of petanque at the Boulodrome des 3 Mages in Marseille, France on May 10, 2011.

The family of Imam Maoulana Charif, of the Comorian community, sits together the day after Eid al Fitr in their home in Cite D'aou in Marseille, France on Sept. 11, 2010.

The family of Imam Maoulana Charif, of the Comorian community, sits together the day after Eid al Fitr in their home in Cite D’aou in Marseille, France on Sept. 11, 2010.

A Camorian prays at the Mosque of Gaillard/Felix Pyat for Friday prayers in Marseille, France on Sept. 17, 2010.

A Camorian prays at the Mosque of Gaillard/Felix Pyat for Friday prayers in Marseille, France on Sept. 17, 2010.

Nabila Boudjellal, 31 years old, of Algerian descent, celebrates her upcoming wedding with her fellow Muslim friends by wearing festive costumes on the street near the Old Port, on Sept. 11, 2010.

Nabila Boudjellal, 31 years old, of Algerian descent, celebrates her upcoming wedding with her fellow Muslim friends by wearing festive costumes on the street near the Old Port, on Sept. 11, 2010.

The original story and image gallery were published in Nat Geo in March 2012.