Muslim organisation organises interfaith vigil

A Muslim organisation in Manchester, the Ramandan Foundation, organised an interfaith vigil in St Ann’s Square for the victims of the Manchester terrorist attack. The ceremony included a message from Pope Francis, read by the regional head of the Catholic Church, the Bishop of Salford John Arnold. There were also speeches by other religious leaders from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds.

Bernard Cazeneuve presents Legion of Honor to the Head of the Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman, Anouar Kbibech

Bernard Cazeneuve recently presented Anouar Kbibech, President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), with the prestigious Legion of Honor.

“It’s impossible not to see your love for the Republic that has always guided you, in the same title as your religious convictions and your intention to ardently defend the interests and the reputation of French Muslims,” Cazeneuve said, recognizing Kbibech as “an important leader in religious dialogue and organizer of the Muslim faith in France.”

“Following the murder of Jacques Hamel, you called on Muslims to attend Mass at churches the following Sunday to bear witness to their mourning and compassion. Such an action is a gesture of determined calm, similar to the remarks made by leaders in the Catholic Church, in light of the suffering felt by the people of our country.”

“Respect is the most important Republican value, without which there would be no democracy, the Republic, or vivre-ensemble,” the Prime Minister concluded.

 

 

Francois Fillon, embracing his Catholicism, challenges France’s secular tradition

When French presidential contender François Fillon marked the Feast of the Assumption last summer, he attended Mass at Solesmes Abbey, a Benedictine monastery known for resisting the anticlerical purges of the French Revolution. The trip, coming just weeks after the slaying of a Catholic priest in a terror attack, didn’t go unnoticed.

“He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s Catholic,” said Christophe Billan, head of Sens Commun, a grass-roots movement comprising thousands of French Catholics.

In France, the strict separation between personal faith and public life, known as laïcité, is a pillar of national identity. However, a confluence of events—from the legalization of gay marriage to the more recent string of Islamist terror attacks—has many conservative voters looking to the country’s Christian heritage as a bulwark.

Mr. Fillon’s candidacy is seizing on that impulse. In publicly embracing his faith, the 62-year-old is tapping a wellspring of Catholic voters who have begun coalescing into a potentially decisive voting bloc.

His performance during the country’s first-ever conservative primaries provided the clearest sign yet of the revived Catholic vote. After lagging behind rivals for weeks, Mr. Fillon spent the homestretch of the race debating opponent Alain Juppé over which of them stood closer to the teachings of Pope Francis —a development Le Monde described as “unprecedented.”

More than two-thirds of the people who voted in the primaries described themselves as Catholic in exit polls, and they helped hand Mr. Fillon a commanding victory. Pollster OpinionWay said 83% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass voted for Mr. Fillon and 68% of nonpracticing Catholics also backed him. Between 55%-60% of the overall French electorate identifies as Catholic, according to Jerome Fourquet, director of polling firm IFOP.

“I’ve never been so consciously influenced by my being Catholic,” said Catherine Mordant, 46 years old, a stay-at-home mother of four children who voted for Mr. Fillon. “Now we have to act, because the problem is really crucial.”

The Catholic vote is shaping up to play an unusually prominent role in the general election in May, when polls predict Mr. Fillon will face-off against Marine Le Pen , leader of the far-right anti-immigrant and anti-euro National Front party.

Many conservative Catholics shifted to the National Front during recent regional elections, feeling more at home with its call for revived nationalism than with the pro-EU principles—free movement of people and goods—espoused by other parties.

A quarter of self-described practicing Catholics voted for the National Front in December 2015 regional elections, up from 16% in local races in March of that year, according to IFOP.

Mr. Fillon’s Catholicism reassures voters who want to show support for French traditions. “The National Front has made a lot of progress with this group,” said Mr. Fourquet. “They could come back to the center-right with Fillon.”

The rise of a Catholic vote in France is a measure of how deeply the continent has been shaken by a series of crises, from the arrival of migrant waves from the Middle East to the surge in political parties questioning the future of the European Union itself. Just over a decade ago, it was France that led a successful campaign to prevent any reference to Europe’s Christian heritage from being added to the European Union’s constitution.

Today the EU is grappling with nationalist movements that point to President Vladimir Putin of Russia as a model of leadership, preferring his authoritarianism to the uncertainty clouding the economic bloc. Mr. Fillon has cultivated ties with Mr. Putin, criticizing sanctions the EU imposed on Russia after its forced annexation of Crimea.

Mr. Fillon has been careful to couch his talk of faith in language respectful to secularism. His support for Church teachings are personal choices, he says, not policy prescriptions. He has said he is personally against abortion but believes pro-choice laws shouldn’t be changed, and that he wouldn’t repeal the gay-marriage law but would revise sections that legalized adoption by gay couples.

Still, the politician has gone further than many of his peers in demanding space for religious voices in the public square. “Whenever the nation faces fundamental questions—life, death, what makes us human beings—it’s important that the point of view of religions not be ignored,” Mr. Fillon wrote in a chapter dedicated to faith in his book “To Do.”

In September, he returned to the question of religion and Republican values with the publication of a follow-up, best-selling volume, “Vanquishing Islamic Totalitarianism.”

“Let’s stop kidding ourselves,” he wrote. “France doesn’t have a problem with religion [in general]. The problem is linked to Islam.”

French secularism grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the 1789 Revolution. It was codified in a 1905 law on the separation of church and state that strictly limited the display of religious symbols in public places and forbade religious instruction in public elementary schools.

Designed to curb the influence of the Catholic Church, the law also helped lay the foundations for political conduct in the post-World War II era. French Catholics followed the cues of statesmen from Charles de Gaulle to François Mitterrand, who mainly kept their religious beliefs to themselves.

Any public references to faith were discreet. Mr. Mitterrand was praised for a 1981 campaign poster that set him against a bucolic background dominated by a church bell tower—a symbol of the central place of Christianity in the secular nation’s heritage. At the same time, the church’s cross had been airbrushed out.

The balance between public service and private faith has come under strain as the children and grandchildren of North African immigrants in the 1960s have come of age. These younger generations of one of Europe’s biggest Muslim minorities tend to practice stricter forms of Islam.

In response, successive French governments have become increasingly strict in their application of secularism. A debate over students wearing Islamic head scarves led to a 2004 ban on wearing religious symbols in general in public schools, including crosses and yarmulkes.

Catholics who once steered clear of politics out of respect for laïcité gradually found reason to speak up. One moment came in 2013 after newly elected president, Socialist François Hollande, signed legislation legalizing gay marriage. To the surprise of many, hundreds of thousands of Catholics took to the streets in what was known as a “manif pour tous,” a protest march for everyone.

“A cornerstone was being touched—defining the identity of the child, the couple—and we were barred from the debate,” said Mr. Billan of Sens Commun.

Seizing on the momentum of the protests, Mr. Billan and others founded the grass-roots movement, called “common sense,” with 9,000 members across the country. Though not officially Catholic, the group aimed to pressure lawmakers on a platform consistent with church teachings. Suddenly, French Catholics had a lobby.

The group found a kindred spirit in Mr. Fillon. He had grown up in Sarthe, a rural area nestled in France’s northwest, where he attended a Jesuit school. He recited morning prayers and mealtime benedictions.

“I grew up in a world where the Catholic faith structured whole sections of your social life,” Mr. Fillon wrote in “To Do.”

As prime minister between 2007 and 2012 to then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr. Fillon’s social conservatism took a back seat to his role as a technocrat carrying out economic policy.

When he returned to the opposition as a lawmaker in 2012, however, Mr. Fillon clashed with Mr. Hollande’s Socialist government. He voted against the gay-marriage bill and criticized the government for not doing more to protect Christian minorities in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, organizing a rally in June 2015 to support them.

“We are all Eastern Christians!” Mr. Fillon told the crowd.

A year later, Mr. Fillon met with Mr. Billan of Sens Commun, seeking the group’s support to better compete with Messrs. Sarkozy and Juppé, who had the support of the machinery of the conservative party, the Républicains.

Sens Commun had built the kind of grass roots organization Mr. Fillon lacked. It had phone banks, a social-media operation and local chapters across the country that would eventually be called upon to canvass for voters and drive them to the polls.

Weeks later France was hit by a pair of terrorist attacks. The first, a truck attack on a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice that killed 86 people, struck at a symbol of national unity.

Less than two weeks later, the brutal slaying of Rev. Jacques Hamel, 85, while he celebrated Mass in a small town church in the country’s north stirred a rare outpouring of support for France’s Catholic roots. Thousands of people, including Mr. Fillon, packed into Notre Dame of Paris to celebrate a Mass in tribute to the priest.

Thibault Fraisse, a 28 year-old doctor from the town of Aurillac in central France, said he worried the priest’s slaying and other attacks were an outgrowth of Muslim communities isolated from the rest of French society. He said wider acknowledgment of France’s Christian past, and a vote for Mr. Fillon, could act as a counterweight.

“We have to recognize that France is first and foremost a country with Catholic roots,” said Mr. Fraisse, who describes himself as a nonpracticing Catholic.

In August, Mr. Fillon held a rally near his hometown, where he warned of a France “ashamed” of its history and reminded the crowd he had recently celebrated the Feast of the Assumption at the nearby Abbey of Solesmes.

“You just heard the bells ringing,” Mr. Fillon said, gesturing toward the Benedictine monastery. “A thousand years of history! How can you not feel the force, the power, the depth of this past that forged us, that giv

 

French Islam: ‘imam formation must be appropriate and independent’

Following the recent attacks on French soil the rector of the mosque in Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, judged that the gathering of Muslims and Catholics constituted “a first in the history of Islamo-Christian relations in France. It’s thanks to the Church’s position regarding its declarations [following the attack], and thanks to the Catholic Church’s open doors in its parishes,” he said.

The religious representative believes that “a complete reworking of the Muslim ideology” is necessary, as it is “still medieval” and contains “a canon law that was formulated in the Middle Ages and should be reworded.” He also stated that “the training of imams should be appropriate and [must benefit] from both a theological and political independence regarding the countries of origin that, unfortunately, still have a dominance over Islam.”

‘He tainted Islam’: Muslim community refuses to bury French priest killer

The Muslim community in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in northern France, where two jihadists slit Father Jacques Hamel’s throat, is refusing to bury one of the attackers, saying that he put a stain on Islam, the French media reported.

Algerian-born 19-year-old Adel Kermiche was one of the two attackers who killed the 85-year-old priest and seriously injured an elderly parishioner. A French citizen, he was living in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and attempted to join Islamic jihadists in Syria back in 2015.

“We’re not going to taint Islam with this person,” Mohammed Karabila, a leader at a local mosque, told Le Parisien, “We won’t participate in preparing the body [for the burial] or the burial.”

A Muslim worshiper, Khalid El Amrani, supported the move, saying that the refusal to bury the terrorist is “normal.”

“What this young man did is sinful,” the 25-year-old engineer said, “He is no longer part of our community.”

Now it is up to the local authorities to decide how to issue the burial permit for Kermiche.

Father Hamel was killed on Tuesday after having his throat slit during a hostage situation at the local church. French police killed the attackers, Kermiche and 19-year-old Abdel Malik Petitjean, as they tried to flee the 17th century Catholic Church.

A Muslim worshiper, Khalid El Amrani, supported the move, saying that the refusal to bury the terrorist is “normal.”

“What this young man did is sinful,” the 25-year-old engineer said, “He is no longer part of our community.” Now it is up to the local authorities to decide how to issue the burial permit for Kermiche.

Father Hamel was killed on Tuesday after having his throat slit during a hostage situation at the local church. French police killed the attackers, Kermiche and 19-year-old Abdel Malik Petitjean, as they tried to flee the 17th century Catholic Church.

The pair had previously pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group, who subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack.

Following the tragedy French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he was considering a temporary ban on the foreign financing of mosques. Valls said France needed to re-think its relationship with Islam. On Sunday Muslims attended Catholic Mass in churches across France and abroad. Up to 200 Muslims gathered at the towering Gothic cathedral in Rouen, only a few kilometers from Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

“We’re very touched,” Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told broadcaster BFMTV.

“It’s an important gesture of fraternity. They’ve told us, and I think they’re sincere, that it’s not Islam which killed Jacques Hamel.”

At Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Paris Mosque, said that Muslims want to live in peace.

“The situation is serious,” he said. “The time has come, to come together, so as not to be divided.” The move to attend the Catholic services was made by the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), which dubbed the attack as a “cowardly assassination.”

The Muslims should “show our Christian brothers the solidarity and compassion of France’s Muslims in the wake of this new tragedy that has struck our country through an attack on a place of worship,” the group said.

France has been on high alert following a deadly attack in Nice on July 14. At least 84 people were killed when a truck plowed through a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations. Weapons and grenades were found in the vehicle following the rampage. Several days later a news agency linked to IS released a statement in which the group claimed responsibility for the attack.

France Must Bring Secularism and Islam Together

The killing of a priest during morning mass at a Catholic church near Rouen on July 26 has sent new shockwaves through France—a country that prides itself on its secularism, but in which religion still plays a large part in many communities.

The rapid succession of attacks on French soil claimed by Islamic State (IS), from the truck rampage in Nice on Bastille Day to the killing of 84-year-old Jacques Hamel 15 days later, is a worrying sign that IS has intensified its strategy known as the “management of savagery” and that France is a primary target in its fight against the “evil forces”.

Named after the 2004 pamphlet that influenced actions of the Iraq branch of Al Qaeda in 2005-7, “management of savagery” advocates restless violence and continuous massacres in order to scare and exhaust the enemy. It means that IS wages a psychological war as much as a military one. It entails attacking everywhere and at any time in order to destabilize populations across countries. It entails “waves operations”—that never end and maintain high levels of fear among the masses.

This view is based on a binary vision of the world where the merciless and relentless “fighters of god” aim to destroy the “forces of evil”. In this binary vision, the West is not simply a military enemy. It is the incarnation of evil because of its moral, political corruption and its promiscuous and decadent lifestyle that threatens the souls of Muslims everywhere: both those in Western democracies and in Muslim-majority countries ruled by westernized and corrupted leaders.

In this sense, the West is no longer a geopolitical concept but a word used to describe cultures, promiscuous lifestyles and atheism but also Christianity and Judaism that threaten to destroy “pure” Islam everywhere.

Defending secularism

France holds a specific status in this worldview because of its stringent version of secularism or laïcité characterized by a very limited tolerance for religious signs in public spaces. As a result, the trend is to push most Islamic practices, and especially dress code, into the private sphere. At the same time, leniency is maintained for the visibility of some catholic signs and nun’s dresses, often associated with French national culture. This is ironic, given that laïcitéwas first and foremost designed at the time of the separation of church and state in 1905 to crush the infamous power of the Catholic Church.

Discrimination against Islamic religious practices occurs everywhere in Europe, but it is somewhat different in France where there is a more systematic use of the law against Islamic practices. Since the 2004 law banning all religious signs in public schools that was intended to exclude the hijab from the classroom, this has extended to the total prohibition of the niqab(face veil) in public spaces in 2010.

In this context, laïcité is presented by politicians from right to left as the major pillar of French national identity, in need of defence against Islam. Their rhetoric suggests that the problem is not just a particular conservative or political Islamic trend, but Islam itself.

This existential war has been present since the late 1980s with the ongoing controversies on the headscarf and the rise of respected intellectuals and celebrities who have urged their followers to defend France’s universal secularist values against Islam. Most of these figures are on the left side of the political spectrum, such as the acclaimed novelist Michel Houellebecq, or feminists, like journalist and writer Caroline Fourest. Interestingly, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in France has not been part of this anti-Islamic battle, siding instead for respect of Islamic practices.

Reconciliation needed

This existential war between the core values of the West and Islam does, of course, happen elsewhere in Europe, but it is at its peak in France. French Muslims have become internal enemies of the state because they seem to endanger the core value of laïcité. French Muslims are also perceived as external enemies because of the war on terror and the rise of radical Islam. Under these conditions, any expression of Islamic identity or practice, from head covering to dietary rules, is seen as “uncivic” and therefore deemed illegitimate. No doubt that the succession of recent attacks from Nice to Rouen will exacerbate this sentiment.

All Muslims are affected, even when they are not particularly religious. As my research has shown, this has exacerbated a sense of estrangement caused by other ongoing factors including a lack of socio-economic integration or of political representation.

So it is not surprising that for some, including converts, IS provides a powerful narrative that reverts the stigma by making Islam good and the West evil. IS’s fight for the so-called caliphate is also about capturing the hearts and minds of youth in the “lands of savagery” by turning their energy and enthusiasm into lethal weapons against the “armies of evil”.

It is particularly attractive to the most fragile segments of the Muslim youth, especially young men from North African backgrounds who struggle with employment, education and gender relations. In this sense, France has become the major battlefield of inverted perceptions of Islam and the West that reinforce each other: the jihadi perception of the West as the quintessential enemy of Islam and the extreme French secular vision of Islam as the enemy of the West.

The reconciliation of Islam with French laïcité will certainly not defeat IS on the ground, but it may diminish the group’s attraction as a global ideology of resistance for young Muslims. French leaders, both political and religious, need to make sure they focus on this need for reconciliation.

Jocelyne Cesari is professor of religion and politics and director of research at the Edward Cadbury Centre at University of Birmingham.

Vatican: “The vote in Ticino is not against Islam”

The President of the Pontifical Council defends the decision of Ticino. “It’s about internal security, I do not see the problem”

 

“It is a decision that the people of Ticino made without regard to religious significance and therefore is not against Islam. This decision was based on an internal security threat.” It is with these words that Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò responded yesterday in the Vatican, to the questions posed by the Corriere del Ticino about the Ticino vote.

 

The President of the Pontifical Council does not consider the burqa a matter of primary importance. “It’s a small thing. But if a Swiss law bans the burqa in public places, what’s the problem? Clearly, if a police officer met a woman in the street veiled from head to toe, he could not recognize a threat and could take off the burqa.”

 

The undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants, Gabriele Bentoglio, wanted to respond to questions from the CDT, including the issue of the burqa in the current trend towards the search for identity in times like these. “As long as you do not attach a negative identity to a community that does not have one strong identity.,” said Bentoglio, emphasizing how the Catholic Church requests the creation of an identity-pro, or open to others, and not an identity-against position.

Milwaukee Syrians divided on U.S. intervention over chemical weapons

Members of Milwaukee’s Syrian community will be watching intently as the U.S. Congress debates this week whether to take military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons on his own people last month.

It is a debate of grave consequence, a life and death decision for this community, many of whose members still have family and friends living in that war-torn country.

“The situation is terrible; they hear the bombs falling around them,” said a Brookfield woman whose parents and siblings live near the Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs.

“They go to work,” she said, “under fear of death.”

Syrian Muslims generally support a limited strike that would weaken Assad’s power, saying that ignoring the August attack would invite Assad and every other despot to use chemical weapons on their own people.

Syrian Christians appear staunchly opposed, insisting that an attack will only inflame hostilities in the region and drag the United States into a long-term conflict.

That same divide is evident in Milwaukee’s Syrian communities, whose members laid out their concerns after religious services last week — Muslims at the Islamic Society of Milwaukee on Friday and Christians at St. George Melkite Catholic Church on Sunday. Most asked not to be identified, fearing reprisals against loved ones in Syria.

Pope Francis Writes to Muslims, I feel like your brother

August 2, 2013

“As you all know, when the Cardinals elected me as the Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor of the Catholic Church, I chose the name of Francis, a very famous saint, deeply loved by God and every human being, to the point of being called the ‘universal brother.’” The Pope wrote in a message “to Muslims around the world” on the occasion of “the conclusion of the month of Ramadan, chiefly devoted to fasting, prayer and almsgiving.” In the text, the Pope follows a tradition that, on this occasion, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sends a goodwill message, accompanied by a theme offered for joint consideration. “This year, the first of my Pontificate, I decided to send this message to you, dear friends, as an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims, especially those who are religious leaders.”

Immigration: A Study in Italy shows there are more Christian Immigrants than Muslim.

In Italy there are 836 different religions and more Christian than Muslim immigrants, shows some of the data from a study of Cesnur (Center for Studies on New Religions) which was presented today in Turin. As for information about immigrants, Cesnur reviewed data from annual reports of the Caritas / Migrantes.

”We counted different things” explained Massimo Introvigne and Pier Luigi Zoccatelli, Director and Deputy Director of the Center, respectively, “Caritas counts immigrants on the basis of religion they had in their country of origin, we looked specifically at those practicing in Italy.” So based on information from Caritas, Muslim immigrants in Italy number approximately 1,651,000 however,  Cesnur found that this was actually closer to 1,360,000 and immigrants Orthodox Christians fell from 1,483,000 to 1,295,000.” While in some collective imagination” explain Introvigne and Zoccatelli “an immigrant is most likely non-Catholic  and almost by definition a Muslim is wrong, most immigrants are now non-Muslims, the majority of them are non-Catholic Christians, Orthodox and Pentecostal Protestants adding that these groups now number more than Muslims.” As a whole, immigrants who are other religions (non-Catholic) number 3,218,000. In other words, those belonging to religious minorities are 2.5% of Italian citizens and 7.6% of non-citizens. Among Italian citizens, according to the same data, the largest  minority is Protestant, with 435,000 faithful. The second religious organization among Italian citizens after the Catholic Church is Jehovah’s Witnesses, with a little more than 400,000 faithful, followed by Buddhists (135,000).  The Italian Jewish are “of great historical and cultural importance, but only constitute 36,000 people.”