French Muslim activists debate licences for imams

The French Council for the Muslim Religion says imams should be tested on theological knowledge and French values.

CFCM meeting at French interior ministry
Kbibech, right, called for licences for imams after meeting Cazeneuve in Paris on Tuesday [EPA]

France’s leading Islamic body has called for imams to be licensed before being allowed to preach, a move that has prompted criticism from voices within the country’s Muslim community.

Anouar Kbibech, the president of the French Council for the Muslim Religion, known as the CFCM, has called for imams to be tested on their knowledge of Islam and French values before being allowed to preach, the AFP news agency reported on Tuesday.

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During a meeting with the Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, in Paris, Kbibech said that the move would ensure religious leaders promoted a tolerant version of Islam.

The proposal  follows attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group on the French capital, which left 130 people dead.

All those identified as having taken part in the attack so far have either been French or Belgian nationals, a fact that increased scrutiny of Muslim communities in both countries.

Al Jazeera spoke to two prominent Muslim activists in France about whether the idea could deter French Muslims from joining ISIL and other armed groups intent on attacking the country.

Yasser Louati, a spokesman for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, told Al Jazeera that he did not see how the move would counter the appeal ISIL has to some French Muslim youth.

“I don’t see any added value in this announcement, the people who did it [the Paris attacks] were not religious and were not radicalised in mosques.

“We already have a curriculum in place where imams get what’s called an ijaza (permit) so there is nothing new to add. Who will license this? It is not for the government to interfere in the religious affairs of Muslims,” Louati said.

The CFCM, though not a state body, serves as the main representative of the Muslim community to the government.

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Felix Marquardt, a Parisian Muslim and cofounder of the al-Kawakibi Foundation, which works towards Islamic reformation, said that the move was a “normal reaction” to the attacks but questioned its effectiveness.

“To think this is product of some kind of slow radicalisation in a mosque is wrong, it’s simply not the case,” Marquardt said, adding that did not mean the Muslim community could distance itself from the attackers.


“They are completely hostile to the idea on any kind of reform in Islam and we have a community that is lacking in courage to confront the problem … There is a problem and it comes from our incapacity as Muslims to see that there is a problem,” he said.

Nevertheless, Marquardt said a number of factors contributed towards the appeal of groups such as ISIL to French youth.

“If you’re French Muslim, there’s a big chance you’re going to end up without a job, either selling drugs or up to no good, and you’re going to be told all day that you’re not French,” he said.

“Then one day, you’re going to go on the internet and meet ‘Sheikh Google’, and that’s going to show you the way to ISIL propaganda and they’re going to tell you that you’re not with the French, you’re with us …You’re going to end up blowing yourself up without ever opening the Quran.”

France has the largest Muslim community in the European Union, made up mostly of North Africans from its former colonies [EPA]
France has the largest Muslim community in the European Union, made up mostly of North Africans from its former colonies [EPA]

For Louati, continued lack of opportunity coupled with severe security measures threatens to stigmatise Muslim communities further.

“The police have carried out 1,200 raids since the attacks and most of these have led to nothing … Muslims are paying the price for a failed foreign policy, failed domestic policy and intelligence failures. We keep repeating the same mistakes,” he said.

France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, made up mostly of Arabs and Berbers from its former colonies in North Africa and their descendants.

Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM

Source: Al Jazeera