Imams in Lyon reject Macron’s Charter of Republican Values: Local Resistances to the “French State Islam”

Emmanuel Macron initiatives aiming at better control French Islam face significant resistance. This article focuses on one local case in Lyon, and gives an overview of the ongoing critiques of the project. 

Two Imams and associative leaders from Rhône-Alpes – Lyon’s region – have published a joined press release, on Monday January the 25th, to express their strong opposition to Emmanuel Macron’s current policy toward Islam. While the “Law to Strengthen Republican values” is at the time of this writing debated in the National Assembly, two other projects have also raised objections. 

The Charter of Republican values (designed by the executive) aiming at fighting against “political Islam” has been ratified by the CFCM (The French Council of the Muslim Faith) Monday the 16th of January. This Charter made of 10 articles will be used to draw the general frame of so-called National Council of Imams (CNI) that would be in charge of the regulation and control of preachers[1]. Imams would thus have to adopt and respect the Charter principles – ironically called “the 10 commandments of Republican Islam”[2]–, otherwise they would risk being revoked or expelled.

This initiative explicitly targets foreign Imams, since the limitation of foreign influence within French Islam is a recurring political concern. Many preachers have protested against this charter, noting that most of them have not been consulted. 

Furthermore, the Charter reasserts the presidential goal of fighting “political Islam” , which refers to everything that the government would gather under this label. As such, the Charter enumerates Wahabbism, Tabligh or Muslim Brotherhood as trends of “political Islam”, while also listing the duties of French Muslims, to condemn both apostasy (ridda) and proselitysm.

As stated from the preamble, the Charter reasserts the prevalence of the Republican law over the “law of god”. Such tension is present all over the text, as if French Muslims should explicitly express their loyalty to the state on the presumption that being Muslim hinders their civic status. 

It must also be said, that there is no equivalence of such Charter for other religious groups in France. 

By extension, Imams tend to be presented in the Charter as supposedly mediators between French State and “ordinary Muslims” or perhaps even as potential “guarantors” of the Republican conduct of French Muslims.

However, local leaders in Lyon denounced in a press communiqué[3] the absence of concertation before the adoption of the Charter. Consequently, Kamal Kabtane, rector of the Great Mosque of Lyon and Azzedine Gaci, head of the Mosque of Villeurbanne, jointly stated their refusal to apply the Charter. They both declared their “non-recognition of this Charter, established without preliminary consultation at the grassroots level”. Overall, they consider this Charter a discrimination against Muslims and call to other Muslims to support their opposition. 

In an interview, to Libération Maroc Franck Frégosi, specialist of the institutionalisation of Islam in France, explained that local actors everywhere in France largely share such resentment. They are not necessarily hostile to the Charter per se, but they do not accept the lack of cooperation between religous actors and the state[4].[5]. They also criticized the specific rules imposed on French Muslims that differentiate them from main stream citizens.

Another important point noted by Franck Frégosi, is the fact that the Charter does not mention the term of Islamophobia. It even rejects and presents the concept of structural discriminations towards Muslims as “defamation”. On can understand this absence of the term Islamophobia as a clientelist concession of Muslim elites to reassert their loyalty to the executive. Conversely, it might also present the risk to cut Muslim leaders from their supports at the local level. 

In that regard, the case of Lyon is emblematic of the French situation. Both Kabtane and Gaci carry out important local and national responsibilities as they cumulate their Imam mandates with chairing two regional independent Muslim federations. They also maintain good relationships with local authorities. Their official opposition, could weaken the Charter project. For Kabtane and Gaci the representation of French Muslims must emerge from grassroots level with the involvement of local and diverse actors. 

Their actions exemplify numerous critics towards Macron’s stated ambition to shape Islam in accordance with his (political) views.


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