French imams condemn Cameroon hostage taking

20.02.2013

Le Figaro

Members of the Muslim community of Montpellier, central France, have launched an appeal to free the seven French hostages and all other hostages taken by members by Muslim extremists in Cameroon. The appeal was joined by the Imam of the mosque in Montpellier-Mosson, the Association of Mosson and the Mosque Association of Louis Raven.

Mohammed Khai, leader of the Association of Mosson, declared that “it is time to say stop to the ravages in the name of religion”.

France’s enemy from within

French Secretary of State, Manuel Valls, has warned of the dangers of Islamic radicalisation in France. In an interview published by Le Parisien, Valls voices his concern about the state of Islamic radicalism in the country and estimates that there are dozens of more new Merahs in the country who need to be fought against.

According to him, France is fighting an “exterior enemy” in Mali whilst simultaneously fighting on a battlefront against the “enemy from within”, Muslim radicals, in France itself. As a result of France’s battle against fundamentalists, the government has dismantled a number of radical groups in the country and threatened with the deportation of radical preachers.

He calls on “French Islam” to ally itself with French imams educated in the country’s universities “who speak French and preach in French”.  He however also speaks of the financial situations of mosques and raises the question of looking into who is behind the funding of mosques, whether its “friendly states or not”.

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.

U.S. mosques struggle with shortage of imams

SPOKANE, Wash. (RNS) The Spokane Islamic Center wants something mosques all across the country are seeking and can’t seem to find: an educated, bilingual, experienced imam who understands American culture.

The Spokane Islamic Center wants something mosques all across the country are seeking and can’t seem to find: an educated, bilingual, experienced imam who understands American culture. RNS photo by Tracy Simmons/Spokane Faith & Values. *Note: This image is not available to download.

According to the report “The American Mosque 2011” by University of Kentucky professor Ihsan Bagby, half of all mosques in the U.S. have no full-time staff, and only 44 percent of imams work as paid, full-time leaders.

In Spokane, the Muslim community has been seeking a leader for 18 months and counting.

“It’s hard for a small mosque like ours to compete,” said Mamdouh El-Aarag, who serves on the mosque’s board.

According to Bagby’s study, only 36 percent of mosques with attendance between 101 and 200 have a full-time, paid imam. The Spokane mosque draws about 250 people for Friday prayers.

For now, volunteers take turns delivering sermons and leading prayers; that’s been the routine since the Islamic center was built in 2009. El-Aarag said it’s made the community strong, but has its downsides as well. He said the volunteers aren’t experts in Islamic scriptures and worship attendance isn’t as steady as it would be with a full-time imam.

French Imams Visit Israel to Clear Image

On Islam – 11 November 2012

 

A group of French Muslim imams arrived in Israel on Sunday, November 11, on a controversial visit to dispel the perceptions that Muslims are harboring hatred against Jews. “Unfortunately French Muslims are seen as being anti-Semitic,” Hassan Shaljoumi, who heads a mosque in the Paris suburb of Drancy, told Maariv daily. Shaljoumi is a member of a 12-strong delegation of French imams, who arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli officials to show that Muslims are not anti-Semitic.

 

The delegation will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit. The visit, funded by the French foreign ministry, follows accusations to the Muslim community of harboring hatred against Jews.

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.

Turkey to open Imam training centre in Paris

News Agencies – September 7, 2012

 

A dedicated training institute for imams will be opened in Strasbourg as part of an agreement between France and Turkey.
 From January 2013, the “Free Faculty of Islamic Theology” will offer training courses for 30 French students, including women. The project, the first of its kind in France, is being completely financed by Turkey and donations, and will involve spending two million euros to turn a former training centre for postal workers into the imam faculty.

 

Qualifications earned at the institute will be validated by the University of Istanbul. At the moment, imam training is being offered at places such as the Union of Islamic Organisations in France and the Great Mosque of Paris. Since 2008, the Catholic Institute of Paris has also been giving courses for future imams.

Pool of American imams too small to meet the demand

SHARON, Mass. — The Islamic Center of New England has always been led by imams born outside America. The two-campus mosque would like to change that, but it’s proving harder than leaders had thought.

The ICNE’s mosque here on the South Shore of Boston has been without an imam since 2006, when the last imam was arrested for immigration fraud. A rotating cast of lay and trained imams have led congregational Friday prayers and other mosque functions since then.

As this suburban mosque has discovered, American-born imams are nearly impossible to find. Ads from mosques seeking imams who are fluent in English are readily found in Muslim-American magazines and newspapers. The North American Imams Federation, an advocacy group founded in 2002, gets more than 100 requests for help every year from mosques seeking religious leaders.

Hossam AlJabri, a former executive director of the Muslim American Society, estimated that about 80 percent of America’s 2,200 mosques were led by immigrant imams, although the majority have been in America for at least 10 years, many much longer.

According to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of America’s estimated 2.75 million Muslims are immigrants — with as many as 90,000 new Muslim immigrants arriving each year. Experts say it will be years before the pool of American imams becomes large enough to meet demand from mosques.

While a few Islamic chaplaincy programs and educational institutes have been established in the last few years in the United States, there are no similar programs to help newly arrived imams acclimate to America.

American mosques continue to rely on foreign-born imams for their religious knowledge and fluency in Arabic. But they also want Americanized imams who can speak English and serve as competent communicators with an ear for interfaith events, civic engagement and engaging the media.

6 out of 10 mosques gave counsel contrary to the law

May 16-17, 2012

 

Two undercover women with niqab (face veil) approached Sweden’s ten largest mosques equipped with hidden cameras in order to inquire about issues of polygamous marriages, domestic maltreatment, and nonconsensual marital sex. Aired by the Swedish state television’s (SVT) controversial investigative program Uppdrag granskning (Mission Scrutiny) showed that the mosque representatives gave advices which were contrary to the Swedish laws.

 

In six out of the ten visited mosques the woman who posed as maltreated by her husband who had married several wives received advice not to report her husband to the police. The woman was accompanied by another veiled woman, a hidden camera equipped reporter, who posed as her supportive friend. In one mosque the answer was too vague to call either way, in another there was a conflict of opinions and in two mosques the advice was to report the husband’s abuse to the authorities. The overwhelming opinion given in the mosques was that the man had right to marry several wives simultaneously under certain conditions. Only one respondent argued that polygamy is disallowed in Sweden and that the man should obey by it.

 

These opinions and advice were given either by imams at these mosques or by someone who had a role as a family counselor. The host of the SVT program, a well-know reporter, Janne Josefsson, approached the two biggest mosques (in Stockholm and Uppsala) with the recordings from the women’s visit the official stand-point on issues of domestic abuse was that the mosques must abide by the Swedish law in these issues. In Uppsala, the chairman of the association disassociated himself from the person who gave the advice to the woman not to report her husband. It was later reported that the supposed imam in Uppsala was only a occasional lecturer at the mosque and not the regular imam or representative of the mosque. The recording from the program showed the man in Uppsala instructs the woman not to report her husband to the police but instead to seek solution to their problems between themselves. At one point he asked her to approach her husband through an apology, that is if she had done something wrong.

 

In Stockholm, the women had met with an imam who defended the general right of a husband to marry more than one wife and advised the supposedly maltreated woman not to report the incident to the authorities. The recording in this case showed that he had suggested to the woman to increase her efforts in showing affection to her husband, this after she claimed that she loved her husband very much and did not intend on leaving him in any case. He said among other things, “Do not deny him your love so he might change (to be kinder).” After seeing the recording showed to them by the program host, the board of trustees of the organization in charge of the Stockholm’s main mosque chose to start an internal investigation in regard to the reported counsel given by the imam.

 

Mohammad Fazlhashemi, a professor of history of ideas at the University in Umeå argues that the program had showed that several of the imams have given advice which clearly goes against the Swedish law. He himself was featured in the program as commentator of these events by reading written transcripts of the conversations from these various mosques. “What these men (imams) had said to the women clearly violates their human rights”, he adds. He is strongly critical of the imams (in the program) who do not follow the Swedish legislation. He links the alleged violations with some of these mosques receiving government approved financial support. “As the mosques have received state support they have also acknowledged their obligation to follow Swedish law and the basic democratic principles.” He continues, “Now there is a need for self-examination. They need to clean up.” Mohammad Fazlhashemi, himself a Muslim, believes that the outmoded mosque-representatives support the anti-Muslim forces’ ideology, including the Swedish Democrats (extreme-right wing party with 20 seats in the parliament). “This confirms their hateful view of Muslims. This is extremely unfortunate that they (i.e. the six mosque representatives) live up to the Islamophobic prejudices.”

 

In the long run, Fazlhashemi argues, there needs to be a state sponsored university program for imams where religious leaders are educated giving them opportunity to expand their competences in fields of feminism, democracy, legislation etc.

 

Omar Mustafa, the chairman of the board in Islamic Council of Sweden, and Mahmoud Khalfi, the chairman of the board in Swedish Imam Council have been quick to distance themselves from the controversial statements made by the mosque representatives and reported in the program. Omar Mustafa said that “It has been incredibly scary, the things that came up. It is unacceptable to defend violence against women, regardless if we look at the Swedish law or the Islamic values.” He continued, “Force, violence, oppression and fear are inconsistent with the goals of a marriage.” Mahmoud Khalfi, an imam himself, agrees, “Everything (marital relationship) is built on respect and love. Force and violence have no place in the relationship. This is what we lecture and preach about constantly.”

 

Omar Mustafa’s personal view is that the men who appeared in the program need to be investigated without delay. “It needs to be clear up if these men are guilty of any criminal or/and (professional) misconduct and in case of any violations it is necessary to take necessary measures. However, he is also critical of the tone taken in the program. “They (the program editors) paint a picture that Muslims give conflicting messages (i.e. hypocritical stance). It strives to show that Muslims have two agendas, one public and one private. It (the tone and approach in the program) feels awfully conspiratorial.” Mahmoud Khalfi adds, ”Our official version is always that which we believe in and the message that we preach. However, there are individuals who commit mistakes.”

 

Additionally, in the light of these recent controversies the Islamic Council of Sweden writes on its webpage (http://islamiskaforbundet.se/sv/), that believing Muslim have “religious duty to respect and obey the country’s laws”. The Council also writes that one of its primary goals is to “work for the human rights”.

 

Five of the ten mosques (out of about 145 registered mosques in Sweden) featured in the program Uppdrag granskning (Mission Scrutiny) were regular recipients of governmental financial support: Uppsala Mosque, Stockholm Mosque, malmö Salsabil mosque, and the mosque in Järfälla. The Örebro Mosque had received this type of support earlier, however, due to unrelated administrative misconduct; the support was temporarily suspended, this according to Åke Gustavsson, the Secretary General at the Commission for Governmental Support to Religious Communities.

French imams urge Muslims to vote

News Agencies – April 20, 2012

 

More than twenty French imams urged their parishioners to vote in the presidential elections on April 22nd and May 6th to become “actors in their own change.” In one example, the Suburb Independent Front (le Front des banlieues independent) asked the thousands of Muslims gathered at a mosque in La Defense to vote for François Hollande as the most “useful vote.”