September 30, 2010
This short article profiles the Drancy imam, Hassen Chalghoumi, now often considered an icon of “moderate Islam” in France. Chalghoumi has received a great deal of attention for taking a public position against full-face coverings in France and for a law that would ban them. This position has meant that he has been both subject to harassment and praise from different parties. He has recently published a book, Pour l’Islam de France (For Islam of France, Le CHerche Midi, 424 pgs). With reference to the Qur’an, Chalghoumi offers a new interpretation of questions of Islamic law.
Hassen Chalghoumi (born Tunis, 1972) is the imam of the Drancy mosque in Seine-Saint-Denis (near Paris) and one of France’s best known and most outspoken Muslim leaders. He has received many death threats for his statements, the latest being in January 2010, when he was chased out of his Mosque because of a statement he made in relation to the Islamic scarf controversy in France, supporting French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s draft law to ban the burqa. Some eighty people stormed the Drancy mosque, where he was chairing a meeting of the “Conference of Imams”, an organisation that he founded in 2009 to improve interfaith relations in France. He was quoted as saying “with a bit of cloth over their faces, what can these women share with us? If they want to wear the veil, they can go to a country where it’s the tradition, like Saudi Arabia”.
Married with five children, he studied in Syria and Pakistan before coming to France in 1996. He is a naturalised French citizen.
French police detained two people after they tried to break into the home of an Islamic cleric
who is in favour of anti-burqa legislation.Two police officers in charge of VIP protection
thwarted the burglary, said Farid Hannache, the spokesman for Hassan Chalghoumi, an imam in
the Paris suburb of Drancy. Chalghoumi has been under protection since the end of January.
Hannache told AFP two members of the radical pro-Palestinian Sheikh Yassin movement were
involved in the Drancy break-in. The pair were arrested and taken into custody at Bobigny, a
nearby Paris suburb.
The Drancy mosque was the scene of fierce tensions between the Muslim al-Nour association
headed by Chalghoumi and the Sheikh Yassin group early this year after the imam came out in
favour of proposed French legislation banning the full Muslim veil.
The mosque in the town of Drancy, on the outskirts of Paris, is currently the most controversial in France because its imam has come out in support of the government’s decision to ban the burqa. Imam Hassan Chalghoumi is now facing death threats and has been given police protection. Ignoring the advice of his advisors he spoke to the Today program. He says the burqa has nothing to do with religion but the wearing of it was down to tradition.
And the imam added that the burqa debate was diverting attention from the real problems facing the Muslim community, including racism, integration and young people dropping out of school early. Tempers are running high at the mosque and there are some it is hard to tell how many want the imam to leave. And there is also a lot of anger and frustration with the media and the police.
A French mosque, whose imam says he has received death threats over his promotion of dialogue with Jews, reopened for Friday prayers after it was forced to close down due to disruptive protests. The mosque in Drancy, a suburb in the north of Paris, has been the focus of tension for weeks with a small group of protesters keeping up a noisy barrage of criticism against the imam Hassen Chalghoumi. The mosque had been closed for security reasons.
The problems at the Drancy mosque have underlined the volatile mix of prejudice, integration problems and fears over radical Islamist extremism that have often plagued France’s large Muslim community. Chalghoumi gained widespread prominence in France earlier this year when he backed government calls for a ban on full-face veils called burqas or niqabs, provoking stiff opposition from some local Muslims. He has also received death threats in the past over his support for dialogue with Jews.