Muslim organizations celebrate Macron victory


Following the announcement of Emmanuel Macron’s victory, the Grand Mosque of Paris released the following statement:

“The Grand Mosque of Paris sees signs of a France that has reconciled its spiritual and religious differences in order to respond in unity to the threats of division that weigh on our Nation. It’s a sign for France’s Muslims of a clear endorsement of the vivre-ensemble that is grounded in republican, humanist, patriotic, democratic, and secular values.”

The Grand Mosque of Lyon thanked those who were “conscious of the danger a discourse of hate and rejection of the other has caused France.” The French Council of the Muslims Faith congratulated Macron “for his victory, which opens our country to a future of fraternity and solidarity.”


Young Muslims do not try to isolate themselves from society

In contrast to what we often read in the media, young Muslims feel part of society. They listen secular pop music, watch the same television programs as non-Muslims and find study and career of utmost importance. This is concluded by anthropologist Daan Beekers – who says that his research shows that it is possible to be Muslim ánd Dutch.

His research thus differs from the one conducted by Elsbeth Visser, who stated that (strict) religious Muslims try to isolate them from the wider society. According to Beekers the researches do not contradict each other. There is possibly a group that indeed wants to isolate themselves, but this excludes the majority of Muslims.

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Ten Years On: The Ban on the Muslim Veil in France Raises Continuing Questions

March 23, 2014


The report published by the newspaper le Monde on the 10th anniversary of France’s ban on the Muslim veil in public educational institutions in France deserves to be read and meditated to draw the main conclusion on the French model of secularism in facilitating discrimination against Muslims.


The editors of the report confirm that there has been wide compliance with the French law banning the wearing of the hijab by Muslim girls in public schools.  However, that result does not mean that the law has addressed or resolved the problems it was intended to address, and in fact it may have created more problems.  Indeed, the choices for girls are limited: girls either choose to adhere to their faith and permanently abandon their studies as has happened in some rare cases, or they move to private institutions with all of the related financial burdens, or they study by correspondence, or, finally, they comply with the law by removing the veil, and put it on again at the end of the academic term.


The effects of this law have not been limited to public educational institutions, but have expanded into the whole public space.  This broadening of the ban occurred in 2010 with new laws adopted in secular Europe, banning the Muslim veil in public places. It didn’t stop there, however.  As a result of actions of both the right and the left in 2013, the request was made to ban the veil in public halls and theaters, and also in private companies. And then things got even more extensive, reaching mothers accompanying their children to school:  should or shouldn’t they be allowed to wear their veils?


In 2003, the sociologist Jean Baubérot (the only one to have abstained from voting on the ban on veils in the Stasi Commission that is charged with implementing the secularism system in France) had a long-term vision because he believed that over time, the veil ban would lead to the demonization of this religious symbol and the despising submission of Muslim women… and if the veil were banned in public educational institutions, later inevitably the ban would be adopted elsewhere with further laws enacted. And this is what actually happened. Things began with banning the veil/headscarf in schools, then in public spaces, and now the regulation is becoming widespread everywhere.  And who knows, perhaps tomorrow there will be new justifications for imposing the French secular model into the private sphere!

But the truth is that this narrow view of the interpretation of the secularism notion in France, in opposition to the wider and more informed conception “in vogue” in several European nations, has found its starting point in the idea of protecting secularism. But such an approach will inevitably lead to a pernicious form of racism against Muslims, and it will extend to their private space, in violation of the principle of freedom of belief. More serious again, the veil will give rise to a dangerous phobia of Muslims in France, for no other reason than the active presence of people who prefer the safe approach to the application of secularism, without worrying about finding intermediate solutions and/or gateways between respect for individual freedom and the neutrality of the State towards religions.

So what would France have lost if it had bypassed the problem by considering the veil as a sign of cultural belonging and not a religious symbol, such as in the United Kingdom, where the government adopted a more intelligent attitude which harmonized the two great secular principles (public neutrality towards religions and protection of individual freedoms), but did not infringe upon the freedoms of Muslim women?

Great Britain and other European countries have succeeded in using this approach to avoid dangerous endeavors that inevitably lead to the demonization of the Muslim veil and then to the demonization of Muslims in general and, even more generally, the demonization of Islam as a religion. The failure of the French policy is that it arrives at exactly the opposite of secularism, namely racism and incitement to hatred.

Therefore, we believe that 10 years after the implementation of the law on the veil, and the events that have followed after that in France, it is necessary that French secularism not only revises its founding principles, but also its security approaches that have redefined somehow these same principles. The goal now in France should be to pursue a course that takes greater account of the more moderate and open European secular models.



Religious leaders removed from the board of the National Advisory Council on Ethics

January 27, 2014


In nominating the new board of the Comité Consultatif National d’Ethique (CCNE) or National Advisory Council on Ethics in September 2013, President Francois Hollande chose not to include any religious leaders, and replaced them with secular figures.

This Council, created in 1983, is in charge of providing advisory guidelines on bioethical questions raised by medical, scientific and health research. The CCNE may have an advisory purpose but remains nonetheless influential.  Under its influence, the abortion limit went from 10 to 12 weeks in 2000. The Council opposed medically assisted reproduction in 2005, surrogate motherhood in 2010, and assisted suicide by euthanasia in 2013.

The 1983 founding decree states that the interdisciplinary board must be composed of forty members including ‘five belonging to the main philosophical and spiritual families’. Until 2013, two clerics had been chairing: Pastor Louis Schweitzer and Rabbi Michael Azoulay. Islam wasn’t represented by an Imam but by a Muslim thinker, Ali Benmakhlouf. Likewise, Catholicism wasn’t represented by an ecclesial figure but by a professor of theology, Xavier Lacroix. All four have now been replaced with more secular figures.

In theory, Francois Hollande respected the founding decree, which implied that the five religious board members could be secular but not necessarily clerics. However, the President changed a tradition. ‘We want to return to the founding principals of the Council in 1983, and to call on secular figures to represent the religious communities’, said the Elysée.

According to a former president of the CCNE, ‘nominating civilian figures over clerics is a good thing, because they always end up deploying religion in the debates.’ Mohammed Moussaoui, former president of the CFCM (Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman) deplores the eviction of Rabbi Azoulay and the other religious members. To him, it reflects Hollande’s changing vision of state secularism.



MoE launches its “Charter of Secularism”

Le Monde


Just a year ago, Vincent Peillon, Minister of Education, has launched the idea of teaching “secular morals” beginning in French kindergartens up to high school level. The project was in the meanwhile enthusiastically received by the French public and  has been renamed “teaching moral and civic duties”. It’s due to be launched in 2005.

With the beginning of the French school and university terms, the Ministry of Education has presented its “Charter of Secularism”, which is aimed to be exhibited in every educational institution of the country with the exception of private schools. The details of the Charter are so far unclear, but scepticism has arisen amongst religious communities, including France’s Muslim community as to what influence such a charter will have on the right to freely express faith. During the presentation, Peillon made sure to calm his critics by reassuring that “the battle for secularism is not to oppose one another, but a fight against those who want to oppose one another”. In an interview to a regional newspaper days prior to the launch, Peillon stated that “the issue of secularism should not turn into an obsession of Islam” (…) The vast majority of our fellow Muslims are convinced of the benefits of secularism. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to challenge education or miss a class . The charter recalls these principles.”


Former Islamist Maajid Nawaz to fight marginal parliamentary seat for Lib Dems in 2015 election

A former activist in the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir has been chosen to fight a marginal parliamentary seat for the Liberal Democrats. Maajid Nawaz renounced his past and called for a “secular Islam” six years ago, helping to set up the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think-tank. He was selected to contest the north London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, a three-way marginal currently held by Labour’s Glenda Jackson with a majority of just 42. Mr Nawaz, who is 35, said: I am looking forward to running for public office. Quilliam will remain a priority for me because its values shape my beliefs and outlook.”

France’s Peculiar Same-Sex Marriage Debate

May 28, 2013
On May 18, French president Francois Hollande signed the Marriage for All bill, legalizing same-sex marriage in France. Why should it be surprising? From the American point of view, French are known for their strong secular culture, their praise of sexual freedom, and their commitment to abortion. So no surprise there. But the conditions surrounding the vote were very surprising and unusual in the French secular context. It brought to the streets a strong opposition led by Catholics like Frigid Barjot, the self-proclaimed “press secretary for Jesus.” Opposition was both religious and secular, creating strange alliances of secular leftist and religious conservative figures. Most notably, the main argument against the law drew on natural and social sciences, not on religion.The same-sex marriage debate has divided French society in a way not seen for nearly three decades. The split was reflected in the vote for the law itself that passed by a slim margin (331 to 225). And the vote was the outcome of several months of heated and passionate debate, including demonstrations in major French cities that rallied more than three hundred thousand people at a time. Columnist and right-wing political activist Virginie Merle, better known as Frigide Barjot (a pun on Brigitte Bardot), has emerged as the spokesperson of the opposition. Outspoken and witty, she became a born-again Catholic in 2004 after making a pilgrimage to Lourdes. As early as last fall, she took the lead in coordinating protesters under the umbrella movement La Manif Pour Tous, (Demonstration for All). Since January the group has organized several demonstrations and continues to protest despite passage of the law. In the last stages of the parliamentary debate, the protests even took a radical turn with clashes between the demonstrators and the police. Barjot called “for blood” while Beatrice Bourges, co-leader of La Manif Pour Tous, threatened civil disobedience if the law passed, and called for a French Spring. Other protests continue as well. On May 21, seventy-eight-year-old historian and writer Dominique Venner, known for his extreme-right-wing positions, shot himself on the altar of Notre Dame in front of fifteen hundred visitors after professing his support for ongoing demonstrations on his blog.Even if the majority of protesters come from groups close to the conservative branch of the Catholic Church, what is striking from an American perspective is the ideological and religious diversity of the movement. It includes various political groups and personalities from the entire ideological spectrum, as well as representatives of religions other than Catholicism, and even gay groups in favor of the status quo. The contrast with the United States, where the opponents belong mostly to evangelical or Catholic groups in alliance with the Republican Party, is stark. Even if we limit the comparison between the two countries to religious groups, the difference is striking. The 2012 U.S. presidential elections showed a shift among young Republican voters toward support for same-sex marriage, while the protests against the same-sex marriage in France reveal the emergence of “les catholiques intransigeants” (uncompromising Catholics). They are urban, well educated and lean toward the extreme right. For example, 27 percent of 18-35 years olds who belong to this group voted for the National Front of Marine Le Pen (daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen) in the last presidential election. This is a significant change from the previous generation of Catholic activists who were enthusiast supporters of Vatican II and tended to vote for left-wing parties.

Most interestingly, the protests have mobilized a vast array of political and religious personalities. For this reason, the debate was rarely coined in religious terms (except by a few clerics like Cardinal Vingt-Trois). It was grounded instead on anthropological and sociological arguments about family, social stability and the survival of the human species. In stark opposition with the United States, where scientists and scholars have usually spoken in favor of same-sex marriage using scientific arguments, the same groups in France have used science against same-sex marriage. On March 16, 170 law professors sent an open letter to the French Senate stating their opinion that children adopted by same-sex couples will be deprived of knowing their biological origin. The letter also argued that same-sex marriage legitimizes the commodification of procreation by producing a “market where children can be fabricated and sold like goods”. Psychoanalysts Pierre Levy-Soussan, Jean Pierre Winter, and Christian Flavigny weighed in warning of the negative effects of same-sex families in the psychological development of children, calling such couples a biological experiment. Philosophers and sociologists also joined in, the most prominent being Sylviane Agacenski, the wife of former socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin. She raised concerns about the survival of the marriage as a fundamental institution for the transmission of social identities based on gender and generations. Philosopher Pierre-Yves Zarka argued that same-sex marriage legitimizes extreme individualism that puts the social cohesion of democratic communities at risk by undermining social cohesion in favor of personal desires and lifestyles.

These biological and sociological arguments against the law reveal an anxiety about the meaning of social identities and the nature of social cohesion that is very specific to French society and goes far beyond the religious condemnation of homosexuality. At the same time, it highlights that French collective values remain unconsciously connected to a traditional vision of society, and that the religious conception of the family has not been completely eroded by centuries of French secularization.

Jocelyne Cesari is senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and director of Harvard University’s program on Islam in the West.

German Islam Conference and reactions

May 14


This year´s German Islam conference has been criticized by politicians of the opposition and Islamic associations. Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) has been criticized for focusing the topic of the conference on extremism. Kenan Kolat who represents the Turkish community in Germany criticized the emphasis on the topic “security” at the conference. Bekir Alboga, general-secretary of the Turkish Islamic Union for the Institute of Religion (DITIB) criticized that the topic of security would overlap partnership.


Islamic associations have criticized the conference for inviting participants with a critical attitude towards Islam. Erol Pürlü, dialogue appointee of the association for Islamic culture centres, expressed the concern of Islamic organizations: “Dialogue is only reasonable with Islamic religious communities and only with them”. One of the invited participants who is critical towards Islam is Hamed Abdel-Samad. In 1995, Abdel-Samad who is a son of an Egyptian Sunni cleric, moved to Germany. Having studied Political Science and Islamic Studies, he has been engaged in several initiatives such as writing books or creating documentaries with a critical stand towards Islam.


Participants of the German Islam Conference


Hamed Abdel-Samad is a Political Scientist and “secular Muslim” who has written about the Islam and its challenges in Modern times. He criticized the violent reactions and threats against the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard as a sign of backwardness, which Muslims would need to admit. He has been chosen as an”independent Muslim”.

Bernd Ridwan Bauknecht is a teacher of Islamic Studies at public schools. He can be categorized as a “liberal Muslim” whose goals are to accompany young Muslim pupils and youngsters to facilitate their integration in society.

Sineb el Masrar is Chief Editor of the Women and Migrant magazine “Gazelle”. She is “liberal Muslim” with secular views and stand for the recognition of Muslims and their contribution to German society. Her attempt is to strengthen the role of Muslim women in society as they would try to bridge modernity with tradition.

Gönül Halat-Mec is lawyer, works on family law with special focus on migrants. She perceives herself as a “secular Muslim”, whose religion should be a personal and private matter only. As religious and transitional doctrines would repress and discriminate women, they contradict with the plural democratic societal order and would complex any joint cooperation.

Abdelmalik Hibaoui is an Imam and preacher. He can be categorized as a “conservative Muslim”, who expects from the Islam Conference to provide the fundament for the construction of Centers for Islamic theology at Universities and Islam as a subject at public schools.


Hamideh Mohagheghi has studied theology and writes on interreligious dialogue. She expects a mutual dialogue between Muslims and their “State”. Islam and Muslims should be perceived as a norm. She might be categorized as a “conservative Muslim” though as an expert, she has taken a scientific stand in her interviews.


Ahmed Mansour is a Berlin based Palestinian Israeli. He is a free lance author working for the “society of democratic culture”. He is manager of the HEROES project in Berlin and is Policy Advisor for European Foundation for Democracy.


Bülent Ucar is Professor for Islamic Religious Education. He is “liberal Muslim” declaring mutual participation and recognition as a fundamental part of integration. The State should recognize Muslim associations and organizations to facilitate area wide religious education for Muslim children and institutionalize the education of Imams in Germany.


Turgut Yüksel is a sociologist and “secular Muslim”. As a consultant, he works on projects related to migration and intercultural dialogue. Religious practices should be a private matter only without any form of discrimination. The State should not risk losing it neutrality toward all religions. A clear borderline between Islam and Islamism would be necessary. A founder of the (initiative for secular Muslims in Hessen), he tries to represent the voices of Muslims without a representative organization or association.



Tuba Isik-Yigit is Doctorate at the Center for Theology and Cultural Sciences at the Institute of Catholic Theology at the University of Paderborn. She can be categorized as a “conservative Muslim” conceptualizing the establishment of centers for the education of theology students. Also, she is engaged in strengthening equality of women, especially those with headscarf.


No Make-up in Muslim Skies


Giacomo Galeazzi

Since Ergodan’s rise to power, reports AsiaNews, Turkey has slowly returned Islam and religion, after 10 years of Kamalist secularism. There has been an increase in Turkish society of women who choose to wear the veil, women are also still banned from public office, and there has been an increase in the places where alcohol is banned. The decision to proscribe forms of make-up is part of a new aesthetic code of the national airline of Turkey. For months, as reported by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), flight attendants must wear the veil or a traditional fez. Parties believe Prime Minister Ergodan is trying to “islamize” secular society.

This has all influenced Turkish Airlines decision to prohibit its female flight attendants from wearing flashy make-up. The decision has sparked controversy within the country.

Debate on the implementation of Islamic law in Britain

8 November 2012


Implementations of Islamic law in the UK and their effect on the integration of the Muslim community have been debated in the public. Many argue that such a move would disturb the secular nature of the society and lead to problems in creating a coherent society. On the other hand, some argue that whether or not it is allowed, it is being implemented by the Muslim community and allowing it would help the further integration of Muslims in the Britain.


The article touches upon these issues while giving examples how the Islamic law that is combined with the British law is implemented to solve the problems of British Muslims.