Hassen Chalghoumi: controversial imam and Muslim march organizer

Hassen Choulghami is the self-proclaimed former imam of Drancy, a banlieue north of Paris. Born in Tunis, he lived in Lahore for several years where he attended a madrasa. There have been conflicting reports as to how he spent his time in Pakistan; while several sources state that he attended a fundamentalist madrasa and was a member of the Tabligh movement, he has subsequently denied all accusations of religious zealotry.

Chalghoumi arrived in France in 1996 and was naturalized in 2000. In the mid-2000s he reportedly rejoined the Tabligh movement and was monitored by French security services. He once again vehemently denied any association with the movement and worked to transform his public image.

Today, Chalghoumi is known for encouraging inter-religious dialogue, notably between Muslims and Jews, and describes himself as a representative of a “moderate and republican Islam.” He gained attention in 2009 when he organized the “Conference for the Imams of France” with the objective of creating fatwas, notably to encourage peace between Muslims and Jews. Although the conference was largely a failure, the initiative made him a well known public figure and he gained favor with the Sarkozy and Hollande administrations.

He has also become close with France’s Jewish community and has made numerous trips to Israel. His relationship with the Jewish community is viewed as promising to certain Muslims, who see the Jewish community as an example of a successful minority religion. However, many argue that he has yet to be seen as a truly representative figure for French Muslims.

Haïm Korsia: “We all have to protect the Republic”

July 23, 2014

Jewish chaplain and the new Chief Rabbi of France, Haïm Korsia is known for his commitment to interreligious dialogue and to the values of the French republic. He was elected June 22, 2014 and is now faced with a series of attacks against the country’s Jewish community that have occurred during pro-Palestinian demonstrations. In the wake of rioting in Sarcelles Korsia participated in an interfaith prayer session with Drancy’s imam Hassen Chalghoumi in the town’s synagogue. Korsia answered questions in a recent interview with Le Point.

When asked his reaction to the speeches given at the presidential palace and at the prayer session in Sarcelles, he answered that is was a “necessary time for the national community, that needed to express the idea of solidarity between all its peoples, to say that there are things that are unacceptable.”

Korsia affirmed that it was not only up to Muslim leaders to speak out against violent acts. In the words of imam Chalghoumi, those perpetrators “are not in true support of any cause, they are not Muslims, they demonstrate only a rejection of the system and a hate for Jews. It is necessary to recognize this in order to fight: it will not work to be alarmist, but to make a fair observation in order to institute working methods, education, and courage so that there may be a peaceful ‘living together,’ which is France’s true mission.” The rabbi stated, “There is no war of religions, but of Frenchmen who attacked other Frenchmen.”

The rabbi trusts Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve’s statement that there will no future demonstrations. He expressed his surprise at elected officials who attended banned demonstrations, saying, “It is incomprehensible that certain people scoff at the Republic that they are supposed to embody.”

He stressed the importance of interreligious dialogue and of schools to introduce children to classmates with different religions than their own. “Someone else’s religion doesn’t have to be a mystery, a radical otherness, but another form of humanity that is just as deserving of respect,” he said. Korsia believes that this type of dialogue is possible in public schools. “One must go back to basics, at what is at the heart of the republican intention: we are all citizens, and there is a single community that counts: the national community,” he affirmed.

When referring to the “great national cause” he acknowledged the specific fight against anti-Semitism. However he said “it’s necessary to see things as they are: when we engage in methods to fight anti-Semitism, we give the impression that there are two weights, two measures…In reality one must fight against any rejection. The fight against global racism is good, but with a specificity towards anti-Semitism, which must become a great national cause.”

According to the recent findings, 5,000 French Jews have relocated to Israel in 2014 compared with 1,907 in 2012. Korsia stated that this number may be related to the anxiety many Jews feel in France, but is not the only reason for their relocation.

When asked if he believes that the majority of France feels a “softness” towards the anti-Semitic violence that occurred he answered, “not a softness, but an indifference, a resignation.” He stated that it’s necessary to work towards instituting “freedom and brotherhood while at the same time working toward national reconciliation.”

Hassen Chalghoumi interviewed by Le Figaro: ‘We have not built a French Islam’

February 16, 2014

 

Hassen Chalghoumi, the President of the Conference of Imans of France and President of the Muslim Association of Drancy was the guest speaker on the Talk Orange-Le Figaro show on February 11th.  The main themes were the nature of French Islam and French Muslims going to fight in Syria.

Chalghoumi began by saying he doesn’t like the word ‘Islamophobia’ when discussing discrimination in France, but prefers to say there is ‘racism’ and ‘anti-Muslim sentiment.’ When asked about the challenges facing the creation of a ‘French Islam’, Chalghoumi replied that Muslims have an ‘Islam in France’ and not yet an ‘Islam of France.’ Critical of associations like the CFCM (Conseil Francais de Culte Musulman), Chalghoumi claimed Muslims in France have yet to establish a representative body that is neutral, independent and not under foreign management and influence. As for the CFCM, Chalghoumi concluded they haven’t focused on doing anything effective for the youth and lack the tools for doing so.

Some of the immediate problems facing the community include a suitable training program for French Imams. It would be important to educate Imans nationally instead of letting it be done by Qatar. Other topics that haven’t been sufficiently dealt with include properly managing the halal meat system and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Referring to the government’s Integration Report released in December 2013, Chalghoumi declared he was for the push to teach Arabic in schools, since Arabic is not just a sacred language but an important business language. ‘France needs to open up to the world’ and teaching Arabic as a means to work abroad would be a good thing.

According to Chalghoumi, integration policy has been disappointing in France since there is no real mixture or diversity. Instead, separate ghettos are created and even elementary schools feel segregated with some schools having only African and Arab students.

If France did have a French Islam, then society wouldn’t have the problem of extremism. According to Chalghoumi’s estimate, there is a minimum of 700 French citizens fighting in Syria, including minors. Their profile is that they’re lost, desperate, ignorant of their religion and drawn into jihad via internet sites. Chalghoumi deplored the state of radicalization in the suburbs and said this has been a longstanding problem that he has already tried to address. When guiding families with a youth at risk, he tells them Syria is not an Islamic nor holy war, but an internal matter. Chalghoumi warns that these young fighters are today the enemies of Syria, and tomorrow the enemies of France.

 

Source (Video): http://video.lefigaro.fr/figaro/video/hassen-chalghoumi-on-n-a-pas-fait-un-islam-de-france/3215081510001/

 

French Imams assemble at Holocaust Memorial

04.02.2012

Le Figaro

For the first time in France around 50 imams from all over the country have come together with members of Islamic associations , representatives of other religions as well as the French Secretary of State to assemble at the Shoah Memorial in Drancy.

The assembly was organized by Hassen Chalghoumi who is the founder of the Conference of French Imams (Conférence des imams de France), which remains unrecognized by the French Council of the Muslim Faith. Chalghoumi came to be known for opposing the full veil and practicing an Islam compatible with secularism. He has received fierce opposition from groups associated with the salafi mileu and has been provided police protection after being threatened with death. Chalghoumi’s involvement in the initiative has further brought up questions of legitimacy and representativity of the meeting. A point in question is also Chalghoumi’s attempt to render Drancy a fort against fundamentalism and racism.

Hassen Chalghoumi Calls for an “Islam of France”

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.

Hassen Chalghoumi Calls for an “Islam of France”

Le Monde – 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.

Drancy Mosque Reopens Amid Controversy

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.

Imam of Drancy, France, Hassen Chalghoumi, profiled in the New York Times

The New York Times calls Hassen Chalghoumi, 38, “the imam of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s dreams” because he supports the possible ban on full-face veils and has been involved in a great deal of ecumenical work with the French Jewish community. Chalghoumi claims, “A man who knows nothing about religion and sees a woman hidden from head to toe, what is he going to understand from that religion?” he asked. “The burqa is a sign of extremism, and it’s normal that the state is fighting against that.” The article also examines how Chalghoumi has received death threats for his public positions and in particular his support for a ban on facial veils, including the black niqab, which reveals only the eyes. There are voices of dissent among the 2,500 worshipers at his mosque in Drancy, just northeast of Paris. Some suggest that he has gone too far in some of his positions.

Imam in Drancy, France targeted by Islamic radicals

The head of a mosque in Drancy, a northeastern suburb of Paris, was targeted by a gang of so-called Islamic radicals who interrupted the services and threatened to “liquidate him, this imam of the Jews.”

The mob, about 80-strong, burst into the French mosque, halting a meeting of some 200 other imams led by Hassen Chalghoumi, who has consistently spoken out against Islamic extremism.

The extremists called the Muslim spiritual leader an “infidel” (heathen) and a “renegade.” At the time, Chalghoumi was chairing a meeting of the Conference of Imams, an organization established just last year to promote better relations between the various faiths in France, especially Jews and Muslims.

“They started to cry Allahu Akbar’,” Chalghouri told reporters after the incident. “Then they insulted me, my mosque, the Jewish community and the [French] Republic. They left after an hour and a half.”

One of the younger at 36 and most liberal imams in France, the Tunisian-born Chalghoumi, is a naturalized French citizen. He has been repeatedly attacked by Islamic radicals, and has also received death threats in the past in response to his statements against anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the imam told an interviewer on Radio Orient that he would continue to work against extremism and towards improving Muslim-Jewish relations in France. “It is our future that is at stake,” he said.

The imam confirmed that he would file a formal complaint with police against the gang that burst into his mosque on Monday. The imam and his mosque are currently under police protection.