French Islamic school teaches imams

News Agencies – November 6, 2012

Deep in the wooded hills of Burgundy in central France, an unusual institute is training unusual students: aspiring French imams who hope to minister to the country’s large Muslim population. After seven intensive years of study, only 10 or so graduates each year to lead prayers or preach at mosques following graduation from the European Institute of Human Sciences de Saint-Leger-de-Fougeret Over the past nine years, various governments have encouraged the professional training of local religious leaders. Interior Minister Manuel Valls recently backed the practice, even if the job of imam is badly paid, if at all, and enjoys no official recognition.

The initiative goes back 20 years when the Union of Islamic Organisations in France, which has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, converted a former children’s holiday centre into the institute. Its stated aim is to train imams equipped “with a solid knowledge of Islam and the socio-cultural realities of Europe.” The idea was to provide an alternative to the recruitment of foreign imams, who often spoke no French and had little or no knowledge of French lifestyles.