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.
Practicing Islam in the United Kingdom has become as easy – if not easier – than in many majority-Muslim states, according to a leading British Muslim cleric. But concerns have been raised over rumors that the British government is preparing anti-terror legislation (known as Contest 2) that would classify British Muslims as extremists if they have refused to condemn the killing of British soldiers in conflict or have described homosexuality as a sin.
Supporting jihad in any form, including in the Palestinian territories, or promoting the institution of Shari’a law or the establishment of a Caliphate (an Islamic state transcending national borders) would also legally fall within the parameters of extremism.
Even so, many British Muslims believe that leading a truly pious Islamic life is facilitated by the benefits of living in a liberal democratic society such as the United Kingdom.
“In some respects, living in the UK can actually make leading a ‘God-centered’ life easier than living in some, or even many Muslim countries,” said Abdur Raheem Green, an imam at the London Central Mosque. “This is partly due to certain freedoms, civil liberties and adherence to a code of human rights that are essential components of liberal democracies.”
A British convert to Islam, Green explained that because of these key features of democratic societies, “one is able to practice all of the essential components of the religion and even many non-essential ones, as well as being able to invite others to accept this truth.”
This video piece by Katrin Bennhold of the International Herald Tribune reports on the possible closing of La Reussite Islamic School in Aubervilliers because of its difficulty in self-financing. Yvonne Fazilleau, the school’s principal, claims that without any state subsidies the school may close in February 2009. The school’s yearly tuition is approximately €5000; the school is no longer able to pay its teachers due to declining enrollment. Fazilleau explains that La Reussite teaches the required national curriculum and that all religious-related events and classes are optional (both requirements for state subsidies to private religious schools), but that the school’s physical education classes are sex-segregated. All other classes are mixed.
Video available here.(5:10)