France’s leading Muslim body said on Tuesday it would create a permit to preach for imams in a bid to root out extremists, as well as a new religious body to fight back against jihadist propaganda.
Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), said the country’s imams should be given a certificate – “like a driving license” – that ensured they promoted a “tolerant and open Islam”. The move comes 11 days after the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, amid increasing fears about homegrown Islamist extremists radicalized by rogue preachers.
There were at least four Frenchmen among the gunmen who carried out the attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group.
The CFCM said it would hand out the permits by testing theological knowledge and adherence to French principles, and make them sign an “imams’ charter” in which they agreed to “respect the laws of the Republic”.
At this stage it does not appear that the permits will be compulsory – particularly as the CFCM, set up at the instigation of the authorities around a decade ago, does not represent every mosque and prayer hall in France, which is home to around five million Muslims.
But Kbibech said that while withdrawing the permit from an imam might not stop him preaching, it would make mosques face up to their responsibilities about who they hired.
“The time for action has come. The Muslims of France will play their part,” said Kbibech, reiterating his “absolute condemnation” of those who turn to violence, saying they would “never have the support of France’s Muslims”.
He also said the CFCM would set up a “religious council” to use theological arguments to defeat “every argument used by terrorist and jihadist organizations to recruit our young people”.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve underlined the “government’s willingness to do everything” to stop “hate preachers” spreading their message.