Following the January terror attacks in Paris, the French government has launched a reform of the “Islam of France,” pushing for a “dialogue forum,” which is believed to better represent Muslims in their diversity. Government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll announced that the “dialogue forum” would be instituted by this summer, highlighting the “willingness to work to engage in in-depth discussion with Islam’s major players.” Similar to the current situation put in place for Catholicism’s leaders, the forum will meet with the Prime Minister twice annually, stated Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve.
The body will address questions such as the training of imams in France, ritual slaughter, or the security of places for worship, “with the utmost respect for the principles of secularism,” stated Mr. Cazeneuve, insisting on the “Islam’s compatibility with the Republic.”
The idea is to provide more public representation than the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) currently provides. The CFCM was created in 2003 and has been criticized for its lack of representation of France’s Muslim community, estimated to contain between 4 and 5 million people. The CFCM will continue to exist, but “it is up to [the group] to assume its place,” stated Mr. Cazeneuve.
“The CFCM will represent the majority of the new forum and will maintain a pivotal role,” stated one of its vice presidents Anouar Kbibech. Currently, meetings will be held to determine possible members: associations, intellectuals, key figures, etc. The government denies any notion of a “takeover.” The initiative remains within the boundaries of the 1905 law, and the State “has neither the authority to organize a religion nor to determine who are the right Muslims,” indicated a source.
For Mohamed-Ali Adraoui, political scientist and research at IEP-Paris, this announcement is “a Jacobin response to a more complex question. We risk quickly encountering a paradox: in a supposedly secular state where the government is not allowed to interfere in religious affairs, I’m not sure if we’re following a secular approach.”
Another expected measure in a time of “great sensitivity to radicalization,” is the training of imams and chaplains, now encouraged to obtain a university diploma of civic and civil training, which will be instituted in a dozen institutions by the end of the year.
Certain imams have “an insufficient knowledge of the language and the laws,” said Mr. Cazeneuve. The idea is to “support the beginning of a generation of imams fully integrated into the Republic.” Many of the 2,300 mosques and prayer rooms in the country do not have a permanent imam, creating a void within which self-proclaimed imams can gain influence. Other proposed measures include the development of funding for PhD students and reinforcing control of educational establishments.
The reform was long awaited, but the attacks, which prompted increased risk of stigmatization, accelerated the process. 176 Islamophobic acts were reported in January 2012, altogether more than in 2014.