French Council of the Muslim Faith creates ‘theological council’ to counter radical discourse

May 8, 2016

The CFCM, the organization that governs the 2,500 mosques in France but is often criticized by French Muslims for its lack of concrete action, has taken steps to increase its religious presence.

The 2015 attacks and the success of Daesh in recruiting hundreds of youths shed light on the need for a theological council. “This new body provides our organization with a new dimension, which is no longer solely focused on administrative tasks and management,” CFCM president Anouar Kbibech stated, referring to its creation as an “historic day.”

The first meeting was held Sunday in Paris, where “all interpretations” of Islam were represented–except Salafists–including the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood), and the Tablighi Jamaat.

The Council is made up of 22 members, including the Imam of Bordeaux Tareq Oubrou, liberal member of the UOIF. It will meet twice yearly, ‘exceptional’ circumstances notwithstanding, and will give “advice,” as Kbibech prohibits using the word ‘fatwa,’ which has a ‘reductionist connotation.’

The committee “will be able to provide counter-discourse based on accepted theological arguments, in response to discourse circulated on social media, notably among young people,” according to the CFCM statement.

“On subjects such as jihad or hijra we need advice issued by competent and credible leaders,” said Kbibech. According to Kbibech, establishing a theological council was a “prerequisite” for the project of imam certification in order to ensure that preachers in mosques respected Republican values.

The new council can “recommend” imams after interviewing or a written exam, Kbibech explained. According to the leader, the council will “complement” the committees of religious expertise already established by certain federations, notably the theological council created one year ago by imams in the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

If you see nothing suspicious at a mosque, maybe that’s normal

On my way to Masjid Muhammad DC, which calls itself the “nation’s mosque,” a slogan coined by the Department of Homeland Security came to mind: “If you see something, say something.” And in the blink of an eye, I was on the lookout for odd and out-of-the-ordinary goings-on.

I had driven past the mosque many times but hadn’t noticed that the street where it was located, the 1500 block of Fourth Street NW, had been renamed Islamic Way. In 1992, as it turned out. And — here’s the odd part — no one had ever tried to change it back. Or even taken down the Islamic Way signs.

The incredibly gracious way Muslims welcomed a man who had drunkenly shot their mosque

Ted Hakey, a former Marine, knelt in prayer, his forehead on the floor, beside his Muslim neighbors inside their Connecticut mosque last Saturday. The enormity of that gesture was lost on no one.

It was only several months earlier, on the night of the terror attacks in Paris, when Hakey, 48, went to a local bar and downed 10 drinks. In the early morning, he went home, drank some more and loaded his 9mm handgun and an M14 rifle. He went into his yard and fired rounds at the side of the mosque next door.

But rather than hate him back, Dr. Mohammed Qureshi, president of the Baitul Aman “House of Peace” Mosque, wished he had been a better neighbor by making an effort to get to know Hakey and his wife. Perhaps then, he reasoned, Hakey would not have harbored so much anger.

Dutch minister declines extra security after attacks on mosques

1 March 2016

Ard van der Steur, the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice, is not planning to take extra security measures after a sequence of severe threats and attacks on mosques. “If measures should be taken this is the responsibility of municipalities”, he said during a debate in the Dutch parliament on the matter.

Ahmed Marcouch, a parliamentary member of the Dutch Labour Party, observes that the amount of violent incidents against mosques and visitors of mosques is increasing. “In the past five years there have been two hundred incidents: raining from heads of pigs to fire bombs and molotov cocktails. […] These incidents can no longer be called occasional.”

He is furthermore concerned about the organizational character of the “resistance” against Muslims and mosques, exemplified by a pamphlet with Nazi-symbols and discriminatory language that was send to various mosques recently.

Ministers Lodewijk Asscher (integration) and Van der Steur will soon get in touch with representatives of the Dutch Muslim community to convey to them the position of the Dutch government.

Selçuk Öztürk, parliamentary member of the new Muslim political movement called DENK, reacted by saying that the Muslim community is not waiting for talking sessions. “Synagogues are rightly being provided with extra security. The cabinet has reserved extra finances for this. Why does this not happen for mosques?”, he demanded. He believes the Dutch government is using double standards and fears that there should first be casualties before the minister takes action.

Gay imam helps young Muslims balance religion, sexuality

March 11, 2016

Growing up in Algeria, Shaira had almost everything a young man could wish for. But he also had a big secret.

In a land where homosexuality is still a crime and a sin, he was forced to live a secret life, hiding that he was gay from everyone — even his closest family.

Shaira, 26, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his safety, hasn’t been back to Algeria since he went to study in France four years ago. His family still has no idea of his sexuality. Sahira has sought help from a gay imam from Algeria who is working with a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) association in Marseille. The Le Refuge group says it has helped 26 gays find shelter and start a new life in the ancient port city in the past year. Some eventually go back to their families.

Homosexuality is a criminal offense in much of the Middle East — punishable by imprisonment or, in countries like Saudi Arabia, by death.

In Algeria, homosexual acts are punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine. Islam considers homosexuality a sin. Men having sex with each other should be punished, the Quran says, but it doesn’t say how — and it adds that they should be left alone if they repent. The death penalty verdict instead comes from the Hadith, or accounts of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The accounts differ on the method of killing, and some accounts give lesser penalties in some circumstances.

The Islamic State group (IS) has taken this to an extreme. Videos the group has released show masked militants dangling allegedly gay men over the sides of buildings by their legs and dropping them head-first or tossing them over the edge. It is believed that at least three dozen men in Syria and Iraq have been killed by IS over accusations of sodomy.

Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed is an Algerian-born imam who now works in Marseille and runs an association of French Muslims and gays. He has known the discrimination faced by the young people who come to Le Refuge for help.

“Personally I have received quite a lot of threats, but I saw more people come to encourage me … saying you are an embodiment of real Islam,” Zahed said.

The local head of Le Refuge in Marseille, Christophe Chausse, says the group tries to counsel young gays about how to cope with the constant conflict between their sexuality and their religion.

“For them, there is a real dilemma between — ‘I am or I feel homosexual’, and ‘I have my religion, my faith which prohibits it, so I cannot live this homosexuality,’” Chausse said. Shaira cries as he talks about this conflict that he battles every day.

“Everybody is telling me — ‘you are gay, you are Muslim and this is not normal,’” Shaira said. “But I feel that I have the same right to have a religion as everybody else. Even if I’m gay.”

UAMO organizes third annual meeting

March 12, 2016

On Saturday the Muslim community of Orléans gathered at the Parc des expositions for a day dedicated to “faith and responsibility.” Tariq Ramadan took part in the annual event, which included round table discussions.

The Union of Muslim Associations of Orléans (UAMO) described the day as a “cultural” event, which scholars and exhibitors attended. “Faith and Responsibility: a requirement,” was the theme of the conferences and round table discussions.

For speakers, the UAMO invited several noted intellectuals: sheikh Fatih Aksay (youth and radicalization) and Michèle Sibony, vice-president of the French Jewish Union for Peace (in Palestine) and the (very controversial) professor of Islamic studies Tariq Ramadan.

The initiative aimed to encourage “active participations of the Muslim community of Orléans.” The UAMO, created in 2013, is comprised of nine associations present at the conference for “a platform offered to those living in the Central-Val de Loire region, so that they can express themselves, share and bring about a new future.”

Dead pig placed in front of Leipzig mosque

25 February 2016

Unknown assailants have placed a dead pig in front of a mosque under construction in the East German city of Leipzig. The cadaver, which was discovered by passers-by in the morning, bore an inscription in red paint that read ‘Mutti Merkel’ (Mummy Merkel), a popular nickname for the German Chancellor. While previously associated with Merkel’s down-to-earth pragmatism and what many Germans perceived as her ‘motherly’ type of leadership, the nickname has also taken on a derogatory dimension, especially when uttered by those on the political right criticising her allegedly emotion-driven decision to let (Muslim) immigrants into the country.

The building of the mosque, which is affiliated with the local Aymadiyya community, had already witnessed unrest in the past: in November 2013, five bloody pig’s heads had been displayed on spikes on the construction site. Leipzig itself has witnessed a series of violent clashes in recent months, pitting various far-right demonstrators (Pegida’s more radical Leipzig branch ‘Legida’, as well as neo-Nazi groups) against the city’s large left-wing and far-left scene.

German Muslims demand greater protections for mosques

05 March 2015

Following the recent rise in hate crime against Muslim buildings and institutions, leading figures from Muslim organisations in Germany have demanded greater protection for mosques and other sites. The Secretary General of the Turkish-Islamic Union (DITIB) demanded “a partnership-based security concept for the protection of Muslim prayer rooms. And that as quickly as possible.” Similarly, the chairman of the (Arab-dominated) Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) asserted that “mosques are not protected enough in Germany. We need more police protection in order to build up an effective deterrent.” He compared this to the need to protect Jewish institutions.

Yet Michael Szentei-Heise, executive director of the Jewish congregation in Düsseldorf, with 7000 members Germany’s third-largest, was critical of this demand. He observed that whilst Jewish communities fear right-wing radicalism, they were “far more [concerned with] Islamic terrorism.” He asserted that “Muslims have lived very safely in Germany for years”, pointing to the fact that terrorists had been smuggled into Germany amongst the recently arrived refugees. Generally, Arab asylum-seekers “have been indoctrinated their whole lives, Israel is the enemy”, or so Szentei-Heise argued.

The potential of rise of anti-Semitism due to the arrival of immigrants from an Arab-Muslim background has been a prominent issue in recent German public debates. Judith Porath, coordinator of the Union of Counselling Centres for Victims of Right-wing, Racist and Anti-Semitic Violence (VBRG) observed that there was no compelling argument that Muslim immigrants were to be held primarily responsible for recent anti-Semitic crimes. According to her, racist agitation hits Muslims and Jews alike. The deputy head of the Union of Federal Police, Jörg Radek, was equally supportive of Muslim groups’ call for greater protection. This would only be possible, however, if funding and personnel of the police forces were strengthened, or so he argued.

Larbi Kechat, ousted by Adda’wa mosque

February 24, 2016

Larbi Kechat, a central figure in France’s Muslim community for more than 40 years, lost his status as “honorary president” of the Adda’wa mosque, which he had held since 2004, as well as any associated power in the mosque and cultural central, following internal infighting.

The arguments began in 2013. The ACI, the Islamic Cultural Association, which manages worship, is presided over by Ahmed Ouali and the social-cultural center, in charge of the cultural section, by Aissa Amar, who became members in the mid-2000s.

Kechat, in his capacity as honorary president, gathered the Board of Directors on June 7, 2013 and June 22, and held a General Assembly with the purpose of electing new leaders. During the meetings tempers flared regarding doubts as to electing the two presidents. “I found myself in front of a jury, accused of taking gas money for my car even when it was used to go to the mosque,” claimed Ahmed Ouali.

A new board was elected for each association. But as the High Court of Paris would later remark, Kechat did not put things in order: the General Assembly should have, according to the laws, first elected an Administrative Council, which would be charged with constructing a new board.

Kechat’s entourage clarified that in the past this had never been an issue. The two sides refused to pass the power and in September 2013 filed a complaint for “violation of the association agreement.”

In the following two years each side claimed to represent the place of worship and took extensive measures to oust the others. In June 2015 the court annulled all decisions made by the two parties and appointed a temporary administrator, Mr. Lebossé, before organizing the election.

On December 9 the position of “honorary president” was eliminated, stripping Kechat of his powers.

“He has lost all of his powers and is only recognized as a worshipper,” confirmed Yacine Caouat, deputy to the 19th’s mayor.