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France Looks into Reconstructing its Islamic Foundations | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The head of France’s top Muslim body Anouar Kbibech (right) speaks to journalists alongside his deputy Abdallah Zekri (left) and France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in Paris on August 1, 2016. Jacques Demarthon, AFP

Paris – French government and French Ministry of Interior began setting a plan to protect French Muslims from extremism.

The government suggested several steps including fortifying the Islamic Council for French Faith, funding mosques and houses of worship, and methods to choose and train imams.

This step suggests that the government is aware that security alone is not enough and a comprehensive plan is needed with all its ideological, social and religious aspects to make the Islamic community part of the state.

The government had assigned a high-ranking official at the ministry of interior to study the project and present suggestions. Yet the terrorist attacks that happened only two weeks apart led the government to speed the process to avoid criticism.

Over the past few days, two things were highlighted in France; the first about funding mosques and the second training imams.

There are 2200 mosques and prayer halls in France of which only 90 can be called mosques.

Rector of Mosque of Paris Dalil Boubakeur said that the current number of mosques is not enough especially that there are around around six million Muslims in France.

Boubakeur explained that Muslims wanting to building mosques are facing difficulties in attaining the permits and if there are permits, funding becomes an issue. He added that the French secular laws ban the government from funding places of worship and thus Muslims rely mostly on donations or financing from abroad.

Rector Boubakeur added that France wants to have its French Islam funding and considers foreign funding to have influence on the policy of the mosque and the sermons recited in it.

The government is planning on restating a foundation that was formed for this purpose in 2005. The foundation was formed to help build and restore mosques and provide appropriate funding for them. Yet, due to internal affairs, the foundation was no longer active.

During the coming fall, the foundation will be reinstalled under a new name: foundation of French Islam and French President Francois Hollande suggested Jean-Pierre Chevenement as head of the foundation.

Chevenement, 77, is a well-respected politician who highly supports secularism.

Funding mosques seems to be an issue within the government with PM Vals saying that helping funding the mosques should be looked into.

As for the imams, the government wants improve the training of imams in France so that they have a better knowledge of the country’s secular history and the institutions of the Republic. The government considers imams as possible transporters of radical messages.

Ministry of Interior reported that 80 imams have been fired since 2012 and 20 mosques and places of worship have been closed since the beginning of this year. The minister said he won’t hesitate in announcing a state of emergency saying that many of the extremists were influenced by what they heard in mosques.

The French government wants to better train the imams and stop foreign imams, whether from Turkey or Moroccan countries or others, from coming to France.

What remains is the issue of Islamic representation in France. Muslim community admits there is a dilemma which the state tried to overcome especially after the Charlie Hebdo incident.

The government established the Dialogue Committee with Islam in France which includes prominent figures of the French Council and society that can influence the Islamic community. Nothing has been achieved yet.