Reforming Islam or the relationship with Islam?

As long as governments act on behalf of Muslim citizens, they should be held responsible when their initiatives fail.

Ramadan in Paris
Radicalisation does not take place inside mosques and communities, but rather online, in jails or in clandestine assemblies, thus outside of the community's control, writes Louati [EPA]

Here we go again with the hype show of every known society trying to lecture Muslims on what they must do after the latest string of attacks in France.

Shockingly enough – or rather, as usual – the ones coming forward with their two cents are completely disconnected with the realities of everyday Muslims.

Some of these lecturers range from bourgeois intellectuals to self, state or media-appointed representatives of the Muslim community, and who all share the common trait of not having a clue about what the everyday French Muslim goes through.

It is, of course, easy to lecture the voiceless when you are in a position of privilege, but that gives no one the right to speak on behalf of people one doesn’t even live with.

Sadly enough, though, some of the people lecturing the Muslim community today are the very same ones who’ve been sitting in positions of power for decades without having proven their added value either to the country or the community they pretend to represent.

Blaming everything on Islam

Those lectures continue, despite the absence of a link between Islam and terrorism, just as there is no link between Christianity and George W Bush’s destruction of Iraq – even though it was done in the name of Jesus – or the Ku Klux Klan.

Despite the fact that the criminals who killed more than 240 people within 18 months in France were completely ignorant about the teachings of Islam – from the womaniser to the drug addict to the isolated psychopath.

Despite the fact that those who are well versed in the teachings of Islam are highly unlikely to be tempted by the extreme ideologies of terrorist groups.

And despite the fact that radicalisation takes place outside the mosques and outside communities but rather online, in jails or in clandestine assemblies, thus outside the community’s control.

There are between six and 10 million Muslims in France and if their religion was inherently dangerous, France would be in trouble.


The lecturing continues even though French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ umpteenth new idea on the reformation of Muslim institutions in France is just a smokescreen to avoid questions on the failure of the intelligence community and the justice system which are under his direct authority.

Even though the 1905 law on “laicite” prohibits the French government from interfering in the internal affairs of religion, Islam and Muslims are again at the centre of the debate. So let’s take all these moralisers at their word in these times of national mourning.

What needs to be done?

France is a staunch, secular country with strong institutions to keep it that way, so let’s stop hindering the autonomy of the Muslim religion vis-a-vis the state.

Let’s stop manipulating secularism and let the principal become again a constitutional right for granting freedom of religion, equality among citizens and protection from government interference.

Instead, today secularism is being used as a tool to exclude, dominate and discriminate against French Muslim citizens by denying them the right to practise their religion. Laws that specifically target Muslim women are just clear illustrations of twisting secularism.

OPINION: Why satire is holy to the French?

Let’s stop questioning the national identity of Muslims to demonise them as eternal “others” – inherently hostile aliens and impossible to integrate.

Let’s allow graduates of French Islamic institutions to take over the Islamic education. Only they can make it possible for Islam to be fully part of French society.

Let’s keep the state from interfering in the nomination of the representatives of French Muslims, and let Muslims decide on their own affairs.

Let’s keep the French government from signing agreements with foreign countries to bring foreign imams who may be very competent in their own countries, but are clueless about the realities of French society – let alone capable of speaking French with French Muslims.

Muslim worshippers leave the Yahya mosque after the midday prayer in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, France, July 29 [EPA]
Muslim worshippers leave the Yahya mosque after the midday prayer in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, France, July 29 [EPA]

Let’s stop misinformed speakers from commenting on Islam and Muslims, and find a platform in the media. Having a Muslim name does not make them an expert on Islam nor Muslims, just as being named “Francois” does not make them experts on French law.

Let’s keep mayors from interfering in the affairs of their local mosques. This practice is widespread and many mayors are running their cities as if they are colonial settlements: double standards in terms of separation of politics and religion.

Many mayors still have their say in who could or should be imam, a member of the mosque board and who can represent the community in official events or meetings. These practices send us back to colonisation, which is supposed to be long gone now.

Let’s allow Muslim citizens to choose their own representatives and speak on their behalf, and let’s allow the chosen ones to answer to the community. Democracy is not a bad idea, even for Muslims.

Let’s allow the management of mosques to be overseen by those attending them, not the state, not the consulate, not the mayor.

Let’s apply the law and let Muslims build their own mosques when they decide to, instead of putting obstacles before it.

If institutions emerge from the autonomous choices of Muslim citizens in this country, then their representatives will have the legitimacy to speak and act effectively. The state will hence have a reliable partner.

Let’s put an end to the systematic demonisation of Muslim religious representatives so we don’t discredit their community and grassroots work and then find ourselves without competent people to do that crucial work.

OPINION: Why is Tariq Ramadan demonised in France?

Incidentally, let’s stop holding Muslim citizens – who don’t have a say in the management of their own affairs – responsible for our bombing campaigns and the mangling of innocent civilians abroad.

It is our support for dictatorships and our responsibility in the misfortunes of other people who in turn – and quite legitimately – blame us for our deeds.

One-way street

As long as governments keep acting on behalf of their Muslim citizens, then governments should be held responsible when their initiatives fail.

There are between six and 10 million Muslims in France and if their religion was inherently dangerous, France would be in trouble.


According to the 2014 National Institute of Demographic studies report “Trajectories and Origins”, integration is a one-way street in France as minorities do all of the work without being able to reach the status of equal citizens.

If France’s prime minister really wants to do something positive, he should reform the government’s relationship with Muslims, not call for the reformation of Islam itself.

Yasser Louati is a French human rights and civil liberties activist. His work focuses on Islamophobia, national security policies and social justice for minorities.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.