Will Islam À La Française Take Hold? Paris’ Grand Mosque Is At Center Of Effort To Build A Moderate French Islam

By Daniel Strieff PARIS – Mustapha Tougui says he has the Quran in his blood. The Moroccan-born, Saudi-educated lecturer at the Muslim theological institute at the Paris Grand Mosque uses earthy language as he tries to preserve what he calls his students’ spiritual hygiene. His enthusiasm is infectious. “If you eat always your mother’s cooking, what a pity. I like other cooking, and Islam invites me (to appreciate) that. Islam shows me that,” Tougui said as his students laughed. “The situation is a bit difficult now because (terrorists) give us an image and it’s too difficult to clean … this dirt from the image of Islam.” The government hopes that moderates like Tougui at this Algerian government-funded mosque will play a leading role as this country tries to forge a so-called French Islam – one that is not only compatible with Islamic tradition but also palatable to the French government, mainstream society and, not least of all, Muslims themselves. The mosque is serving as a kind of incubator for a moderate strain of France’s second religion, which the government hopes will head off any drift toward radicalism within Europe’s largest Muslim minority. “We are an open Islam,” Dr. Djelloul Seddiki, the head of the theological institute at the mosque, said. “But there are other Islams in France,” including fundamentalists and radicals, he said. The Paris Grand Mosque oversees the affairs of around 400 of the 1,800 facilities described as mosques throughout France, which can include simple one-room structures. The head of the mosque, Dr. Dalil Boubakeur, described by the Le Monde newspaper as “the ideal Muslim,” is the most prominent Muslim in France and a friend of President Jacques Chirac. “We prefer that [the radicals] are inside than outside, because it keeps them close,” Seddiki said. “The best defense is education.” That’s where Tougui comes in. The 56-year-old’s courses are open to all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The mosque’s theological institute also runs courses that it hopes will train a new generation of French-born imams, which is a hot topic in France. “I hope to bestow the right religion so that they can educate themselves. I want to preserve them from spiritual pollution,” Tougui said. “Unfortunately you have very few teacher-lecturers who know how to lecture. They have gold in their hands, but they don’t know how to manage it,” he said. France, along with other countries across Europe, is eager to limit its dependence on foreign imams. “In the mosque, if the imam is not a French citizen and if he does not speak French, you can not speak about a ‘French Islam’,” Seddiki said. […]