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 prominent French group of imams is backing a possible ban on the burqa. “We support any law that bans the wearing of a face veil in France,” said Hassan Chalghoumi, Chairman of the Conference of French Imams. The imam group, launched last year, says it fully supports a legal ban, basing their stance on the opinion of the majority of Muslim scholars who agree that a woman is not obliged to cover her entire face. Chalghoumi says face-veils are now being exploited as weapons “to tarnish” Muslim minorities in France and the West in general.
“Amid the silence of most of the Muslim organizations in France, we took such decision to end defaming campaigns against Islam and Muslims,” said the Tunisian-born Drancy imam.
The group’s position, however, drew immediate rebuke from prominent Muslim leaders in the European country. Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the official French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), rejects any legal ban as a violation for Muslims’ religious freedom rights. “Such a call would only help Islamophobia rather than suppress it,” agrees Fouad Alaoui, President of the French Union of Islamic Organizations (l’UOIF). The l’UOIF has voiced strong opposition to a face-veil ban bill and attended three sessions of the parliamentary commission discussing the ban.
French imams have launched a new body to confront problems facing Muslim religious leaders in the European country. “It is high time for France’s imams to take the initiative in playing a genuine and effective role and filling in the gap left by Muslim groups,” said Drancy imam Hassan Chalghoumi, chairman of the “Conference of French Imams”. Launched on Thursday, June 11, the 43-member body aims to solve problems facing imams in France.
The new council has been critical of CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith), established under Sarkozy in 2003. The CFCM has come under fire for its mishandling of key Muslim issues like hijab and Islamophobia. “There is a total absence on the part of CFCM and its leader Mohamed Al-Mosawai,” Mohamed Henich, secretary general of the Union of Muslims Associations in the Seine-Saint-Denis district, said.