February 3, 2016
A national conference of Muslims of France will be held next March in Lyon, according to the Great Mosque of Paris.
The decision to hold the conference was made during a working meeting in Paris chaired by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubaker and President of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) Amar Lasfar.
“In continuation of their coordination on major issues of Islam in France, the two sides agreed to organize a national congress of Muslims of France in Lyon in March,” the source said.
The two sides called on all Muslim organizations and associations to join this initiative which “became urgent against the current vacuum in the expression of Muslims of France in the context of anxiety experienced by France.”
The objective of this conference, highlight the two parties, is to “confirm citizen expression, peaceful and responsible for the Muslim community, to protect young people from all extremist or radical temptation and deliver a message of peace and hope to all of our citizens.”
They also agreed to continue work “already underway” on the agreement of the prayer calendar, fixing the dates of the month of Ramadan and religious holidays, with the forthcoming establishment of a joint theological commission between the two respective institutes for training imams.
A national conference of imams will be held at the end of the year, says the same source.
Following the attacks in Paris that killed seventeen people in three days, Le Monde published an article responding to the “distrust that has spread in public opinion for several weeks.” Using information gathered during an Ipsos study, Le Monde found that the French tended to overestimate the number of Muslims they believed to be living in France, believing the percentage to be 23% when it’s actually 8%.
While France forbids collecting data about religious affiliation, there are differing estimations about the number of Muslims in France. Certain polls say there are around 3 million, not including minors and the elderly. France’s Minister of the Interior recently stated that there are between 4 and 5 million Muslims living in France. In comparison, there are believed to be 11.5 million Catholics. He also stated that there are around 4,500 converts to Islam each year.
According to Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve and the Observatory Against Islamophobia, anti-Muslim acts have multiplied, with over 50 occurring since the January 7 Charlie Hebdo attacks.
The French and British greatly overestimated the number of Muslims in their countries, according to a study by the Ipsos Mori Institute, which found similar results in many European countries. The Institute published its “Index of Ignorance,” a survey conducted in 14 countries about the public’s perception concerning sensitive issues.
The survey’s results were first published in The Guardian, and shows that citizens in 14 countries overestimated the size of their countries’ Muslim population.
In France, those interviewed believed that 31% of the population was Muslim, while the actual figure is only 8%. In Britain, the actual percentage is 5% but those interviewed believed 21% of the country was Muslim. The overvaluation is “23 points in Belgium, 16 points in Italy, 13 points in Germany and 4 points in Poland.”
Switzerland is not included in the survey. The study also demonstrated erroneous beliefs about “immigration in general,” and adolescent pregnancy.
[DOWNLOAD:Ipsos Mori Infographic (English)]
January 3, 2014
A three-part series on Muslims in France on Al Jazeera.
Although keeping the fast during Ramadan is one Islam’s five pillars, around one third of French Muslims do not observe the sacred tradition. Many young people choose to not fast due to practical reasons, such as the inability to perform well in their profession while keeping the fast. Others are traditionally exempted from fasting such as children, the sick, the elder, travellers and pregnant women. For those who freely choose to not fast it is often a difficult to justify their decision in front of their families and communities, especially since there has been a great rise in piousness amongst young Muslims in France. In 2011, 71% of Muslims in France declared to fast during Ramadan, 11% more than in 1989.
The ‘non-fasters’ often feel ashamed in front of their peers and find it increasingly difficult to be different amongst France’s Muslim communities. Some parents, however, support their children’s decision such as those of a 20-year-old student of Tunisian origin who chose to not fast to keep his vacation job. His parents, for instance, consider his career more important than fasting.
Haoues Senigeur, a political scientist and expert on Islam, says that “this choice of
non-fasters is often resented by Muslims who carry the weight of tradition”. He considers the tradition of Ramadan to correspond with a strong social conservatism and cites the example of pregnant women, who are traditionally exempted from fasting yet sometimes feel obliged to hide to eat. According to Senigeur, Islam has intensified over the years, especially amongst young Muslims born in France aged 18-24 who practice Ramadan more strictly than before.
During Ramadan, he continues, piousness increases and social ties are reinforced.
A group of former Muslims who have rejected Islam have come together in Paris to found the Council of French Ex-Muslims. The group aims to claim the right to publicly announce their disbelief and atheism as well as the right to critique their religion of origin freely. The group has currently members from over 32 nationalities, including 28-year-old Palestinian blogger Waleed Al-Husseini who was jailed in the Westbank in 2010 for blasphemy and later fled to France.
The group state on their Facebook page that ‘they are a group of atheists and unbelievers who have due to their conviction faced threats and restrictions in their personal lives while many of us have also been arrested for blasphemy’. They say to ‘want to represent the voices of ex-Muslims in France who denounce the lies that every Muslim is confronted with’.
Similar groups have been founded in Britain and Germany.
A year after Mohamed Merah’s killing spree in Toulouse and its surroundings, the domestic anti-terrorist initiatives of the French intelligence services comes under criticism for the failures in the case. With problems in information sharing, lack of coordination and rivalries, French attempts to combat terrorism are criticised in front of the Committee of Inquiry which assesses the state’s intelligence operation a year after the Merah incident.
The tension between a variety of intelligence organs such as the police and military intelligence, who are all in charge with the monitoring of radicalization amongst Muslims in France, have according to the Committee of Inquiry contributed to failed discovery of Merah’s radicalisation and assassination plans.
As a result, the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI) assured last month in front of the Defence Committee of the French National Assembly to have reformed its services and widened its scope. In order to ease the coordination between intelligence cells, the position of a cross coordinator was created. Internal investigations have simultaneously led to the dismissal of several members of the intelligence service.
The case of a broader reform of the intelligence apparatus is expected to come to a conclusion by the end of March. Whilst reforms were introduced after the Merah incident, the judicial apparatus operated in full swing: accordingly, in 2012, 78 people were arrested in connection with the combat against jihadism in comparison to 47 in 2011. Thirty of them were referred to the public prosecutor in comparison to 21 a year before.
With transnational networks of jihadists rising, the fear of the intelligence apparatus to miss out on another case leads to increased scrutiny and harsher as well as quicker sentences being made.
Amongst the many contemporary reformist movements of Islam, one is concerned with the promotion of progressive and inclusive ideals such as gender equality and deals with questions on sexuality, homosexuality and transgender identities. What is called Islamic feminism is a tradition which emerged in Iran as an intellectual movement based on the critical exegesis of the Quran. The movement of Islamic feminists consists of religious women and religious feminists who refuse to be discriminated by their religion. They claim the right to reject bias and unjust interpretations of Islam and are open towards the inclusion and integration of LGBT Muslims.
The recent debate on same sex marriage in France and the institutionalisation of a “French Islam” renders greater importance towards progressive and inclusive interpretations of Islam. As such, reformist movements like that of Islamic feminism might help to eliminate gender bias and sexual discrimination amongst Muslims in France. As the imam of Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, recently declared, homosexuality is not condemned by the Quran or the sunna.
Some reformist movements in France have embraced Islamic feminism and the opening of the first inclusive mosque in France which conducts same sex marriages indicates that there are sections amongst the Muslim population that are receptive towards these progressive ideas.
The recent discovery of horse meat being falsely sold as beef throughout Europe has uncovered another meat scandal which particularly concerns the Muslim communities in Europe. The French Council of the Muslim faith is worried that a Dutch intermediary who was involved in the horse meat scandal has also sold false halal meat to Muslims in France.
The weekly magazine Paris Match reports that the meat salesman was convicted last year for the sale of falsely as halal classified meat between the years of 2007 and 2009, which has also been sold in France. The French Council of Muslim Faith reacted outraged and in shock about the lack of information on such a scandal amongst meat consumers and demands the authorities to publish the names of the companies which have been implicated by the scandal.
In a recently published article by Zaman France, John Bowen, an anthropologist at the University of Washington St. Louis and author of the book “L’Islam à la francaise” (Islam in French), shares his thoughts on communitarianism amongst Muslims in France. He has previously conducted field research in the mosque community of Clichy-sous-Bois, the Tawahid Centre of St-Denis, the Lyon mosque as well as Centre of Islamic Studies and Research (CERSI). According to him, Muslims in France are far from being communitarists but are instead attempting to adapt to Republican values by making use of universal Quranic concepts.
On the question whether Islam is a problem in France, Bowen explains that “islamic mosque projects, the construction of mosques to meet Muslim needs (…) can all be seen as proofs for the existance of a communitarian spirit amongst Muslims (…) but if this is to believed one has to come to exactely the same conclusion about Jews, Catholics and other groups who create schools and associations”.
He relativises the focus given to France’s Muslim communites by saying that it’s “precisely the same processes that Jews and Catholics who are now integrated into France have undergone”. Bowen emphasises upon the fact that after 1905 Catholics, secularists and non-Catholics have had to go through a long process before coming to understand one another to be foremist citizens of the French Republic. In light of that, the construction of community buildings and mosques might appear as attempts to remain amongst their own community but are in fact “part of the history of France itself and the history of integration in France”. According to him “Muslims can’t be blamed for doing exactely the same as Catholics and Jews have done before them!”.
He further asserts that there is a certain convergence of Islamic reasoning around a number of Islamic concepts amongst Muslims of North African descent and Muslim public persons in France. In contrast to public opinion, Bowen considers Muslims of France to have shown proof to voluntary adapt to the French state and society. This can be traced in “for instance the call to the purpose of islam (maqâsid ash-sharî‘a), a universalists concept that permits to de-communitarianise Muslims to some degree”. He cites the Islamic marriage tradition as an example: Muslims in France are encouraged to marry in the registry office and to consider such marriage to be equal to being married in front of an Imam.
Bowen further underlines that we are ought to distinguish between the “question of islam and the question of Muslims”. He concludes that “if we speak about suburbs or social issues we alays speak of Muslims as if religion is causing these issues: we need to make a dinstiction between the two”.