Foundation for Islam in France to be launched
Casablanca - The establishment of a Foundation for Islam in France to help improve relations between the state and the Muslim community has been welcomed by many French Muslims although reservations have been expressed about the appointment of veteran French politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement as its head.
After a meeting between French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and the country’s Muslim leaders, France announced the establishment of the Foundation for Islam following a tense summer for French Muslims, including terrorist attacks and controversy over the burqini ban.
The aim of the meeting was to create an “Islam of France”, Cazeneuve said. “We need an Islam that stands with both feet in the republic,” he added, asserting that the newly formed Foundation for Islam would play an important role.
“The aim is to forge an Islam anchored in the values of the French republic. It will act as a bridge between the French state and France’s Muslims,” Cazeneuve said.
A number of prominent French Muslims will sit on the foundation’s board, including Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, Lyon grand mosque Imam Kamel Kabtane and academic Ghaleb Bencheikh.
Many people welcomed the establishment of the agency but questions were raised about the appointment of Chevènement, 77.
In particular, many observers wondered why a Muslim was not appointed to head the body. “It’s a joke,” civil rights activist Yasser Louati told France 24. “It is like appointing Ronald Reagan to head up African-American affairs.”
Hakim el-Karoui, a secular Muslim who participated in the talks between Cazeneuve and French Muslim leaders, described Chevènement’s appointment as “clumsiness at the very least”.
Chevènement, who served as Defence minister (1988-91) and Interior minister (1997-2000) among other government portfolios, did not directly address the controversy over his appointment.
“As a former Interior minister myself, I could not turn down the opportunity to contribute to this initiative of great interest to the public,” he told Agence France-Presse.
Chevènement was criticised for comments over the burqini ban controversy, calling on French Muslims to practise “discretion”.
“Muslims, like all French citizens, should be able to worship freely but they must also understand that in the public space where there is public interest, all citizens should make an effort to use ‘natural reason,’” he said in an interview with Le Parisien.
All indications seem to be that Chevènement’s appointment is a temporary measure and that he will be replaced by a figure appointed from within the new agency.
“He [Chevènement] is the person who will help in the beginning,” said French Senator Nathalie Goulet, who asserted that the most important thing at the moment is to get Foundation for Islam in France running as quickly as possible.
Once the centre is operational, Muslims will be able to choose its president, who should be a Muslim, Goulet, who participated in the meeting between French Muslims and Cazeneuve, said.
Al-Sadiq al-Othmani, secretary-general of Supreme Council of Imams and Islamic Affairs in Brazil, said that it was a good thing that a veteran French official, such as Chevènement, had been appointed to head the new organisation.
“His experience and his history in defending France’s stability and security will be valuable,” he said.
“France, as a secular state, is known for its principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. All its citizens are equal before the state; there is no difference between a Christian or Muslim or Jew so long as they respect the values of the republic.”
“France is calling, and it has every right to do so, for a French Islam that is compatible and consistent with the secular values of the state. And when we say a ‘French Islam’, this does not mean that there are different Islams. What France is calling for is an enlightened formula that is based on the essence of the religion, not an over-literal reliance on juristic texts,” he added.