The Grand Mosque of Paris
The Grand Mosque of Paris

“The best thing I heard this week, it’s what the Pope said. The press can’t say anything it wants, there are things we can’t talk about.” Students at the Institute of Theology at the Great Mosque of Paris cited Pope Francois when discussing the recent attacks at Charlie Hebdo. While flying to the Philippines the Pope said, “one shouldn’t provoke or insult the faith of others, or make a game of it.”

Every Saturday and Sunday at the Institute from 9 am to 7 pm adults take classes in order to become imams, or, for only two years in order to become a chaplain. Courses were suspended on January 10 and 11 due to recent “events” and restarted January 17.

Missoum Chaoui, a tutor and prison chaplain in Ile-de-France decided to facilitate discussion among his students, the “future leaders” of Islam. Men sit in one corner, women in the other. “Go ahead, unload your baggage,” encourages Chaoui in front of his first-year class.

The discussion is a reminder that Muslims “don’t have to excuse these crimes,” because the terrorists aren’t one of them. Or to clarify that “the Muslim community, it mourns these men but not the freedom of expression.” Another said, “It’s been said that there weren’t many Muslims who participated in the demonstration. They forget that ‘Muslim,’ isn’t written on our foreheads.” Some preferred to write “anger” on social media rather than “Je suis Charlie.” “Open your Facebook page, go on the Internet,” recommends Chaoui, “They took out their poison pens, take out pens of peace to show who the Prophet really was.”

Some expressed their frustration with “double standards,” such as the fact that “anti-Semitism is prohibited,” while Islamophobia is not. “It will come. We just have to work for it,” assured their teacher. “There will always be those who speak badly of the Prophet. He has already been called a sorcerer, a liar and he always pardoned them.”

“Caricatures, it’s just the beginning,” says one student. Examining the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo he says, “The turban isn’t holy, it speaks volumes. For those who look hard, we see male genitalia, on the turban. And on the face…it’s like a woman’s private parts. It’s going around Facebook.” Chaoui interrupts and reframes: “Attention to what is open to interpretation.” Another older man doesn’t believe the media’s version. “The scenario, it was constructed in advance,” by others, he says. “It’s not what’s said, we didn’t see their faces,” he grumbles four or five times. “They’re at the forensic institute,” retorts the professor, “Then who is it?” he asks. No response. Another woman responds, “This newspaper was on the brink of bankruptcy, there are a lot of Muslims in France, we provoke an event…Now they have a lot of money.” Certain people nod their head, others don’t, but the whole room falls silent, even the professor. Two or three questions later the class is over.

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