Foundation for Islam in France to be launched

Sunday 11/09/2016
Towards forging an Islam an­chored in values of French republic

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.