Tareq Oubrou’s argument for why Islam belongs in France

Tareq Oubrou is the leader of the Muslim community in a city famous for the earthy red wines that have made this region a household name — and that his followers are forbidden from sampling.

But after three major terrorist attacks in two years and recent controversy over the “burkini” swimsuit, Oubrou has become France’s leading advocate for an Islam that is progressive, inclusive and, most of all, French.

In a series of articles, television interviews and now a popular book, Oubrou has publicly criticized the headscarf, argued for welcoming homosexual Muslims into the faith and equated the essence of Islam with the basic French idea of human emancipation.

For this imam, the two are one and the same — and entirely unrelated to the frequent public debate over what Muslim women wear, either on the street or on the beach.

“I don’t care what people put on their heads,” he said during an interview in his office in Bordeaux’s grand mosque. The room was piled with books from floor to ceiling. “I find that a shameful debate.”

In his recent book, “What You Don’t Know About Islam,” published in February, Oubrou calls for an “Islam of France,” which he defines as “the reconciliation of a spiritual Islam that expresses itself in the language of the Republican values already in place.” Namely, France’s holy triumvirate of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Largely for ideas like these, Oubrou has become a darling of the French political elite. In 2013, he was named a chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest award for civil and military merit; in January 2015, he was chosen by the Interior Ministry as a special adviser to the government after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. There are even rumors that he could become a government minister if Bordeaux’s mayor, the popular Alain Juppé, wins the country’s presidential election next year.

But his ideas have also earned Oubrou many detractors, including a number of ordinary French Muslims, who feel that his views often parrot those of the government. After all, the same people who decorated Oubrou with the Legion of Honor ultimately condoned the burkini ban, on the grounds that it was an affront to republican equality.

“It’s coming from a good intention, I think,” Marwan Muhammad, director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, said in an interview. “But many see his vision of Islam — that Muslims should be discreet, should be less visible than they are today — as basically validating Islamophobic stereotypes, that basically Muslims should prove their loyalty to the state by assimilating.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic State has issued several fatwas against Oubrou, whom its leaders regularly call the “imam of debauchery.” “He should be killed without hesitation,” insisted Dar al-Islam, its French-language magazine, in its spring issue. Oubrou says he has not lost any sleep over this latest threat — and still refuses the government’s offer of police protection. “If I were afraid, it would be a defeat,” he said.

To Oubrou, France has been since the French Revolution less of a country and more of a concept, committed to human rights and universal equality. And these, he argues, are the same lofty aspirations as those of Islam and any true religion.

“The Muslim faith is in the service of all humanity in general — as is the nation,” he said. “That’s what religion is: how to serve man, how to transform him, to make man as perfect as possible in thought, in sensibility, in spirituality, in relation to the mysteries of God.”

Born in Morocco to Francophone parents in 1959, Oubrou was naturalized as a French citizen in the late 1980s. It was a watershed moment in his life and his development as a thinker. As he put it: “I adopted French nationality, and so I should be loyal, quite simply. I should respect the law, contribute to the economy of this country and its prosperity as much as any other citizen.”

In France, as elsewhere in Europe, there is a long tradition of religions perceived as “foreign” working tirelessly to demonstrate that their teachings are more than compatible with society at large.

Throughout the 19th century, for instance, France’s Jewish leaders, facing constant anti-Semitism, argued that the Hebrew Bible stressed the same values as the nation. They proudly sent their sons and brothers to serve in the French military in World War I.

In the face of rising Islamophobia, Oubrou’s sermons and teachings show a similar patriotic impulse. For instance, he has insisted that the Bordeaux mosque use the French language in addition to Arabic. Children in the mosque’s school learn about Islam in French, as do those enrolled in its seminary.

“Our third and fourth generations dream in French,” Oubrou said. “They should speak to God in French.”

Besides, he says, French citizenship is an identity distinct from other national affiliations: It is a “moral contract,” a commitment to lofty, abstract ideals that make more sense when individuals can connect them with their private faiths.

These days, what primarily interests Oubrou are those who feel excluded from that moral contract, especially the young French and Francophone Muslims who, for a variety of reasons, have been pushed toward radicalization in recent years. In each of France’s recent terrorist attacks, the perpetrators came from this loose demographic, a fact that Oubrou has begun confronting on a local level.

Along with Bordeaux’s City Hall, he has helped create a pilot program for “deradicalizing” young people suspected of showing violent tendencies at an early age. Called the Center of Action and Prevention Against the Radicalization of Individuals (CAPRI), it was formally launched announced in January.

According to Marik Fetouh, the Bordeaux municipal officer for equality and citizenship who oversees the program, CAPRI receives referrals from local authorities about individuals they suspect may be susceptible to radicalization: typically young men in relative social isolation whose social-media profiles suggest an affinity with the Islamic State or the rhetoric of other extremist groups.

Fetouh added that since the announcement of the program, local families — entirely independent of the authorities — have also begun approaching the organization about their children. They feel comfortable doing so, he said, because CAPRI is not meant as incarceration: It is primarily designed as a mental-health initiative, staffed with trained professionals who help troubled youths identify and confront the sources of their anger.

Since it began, Fetouh said, CAPRI has worked with roughly 30 individuals. While a success rate will be difficult to ascertain, the hope is that the program will serve as a humane template for what other communities across France might do as the country confronts the issue collectively. This year, for instance, France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, announced the establishment of other deradicalization centers, although those will focus on individuals at a later stage.

For Oubrou, a key factor in the fight against radicalization lies in acknowledging the shortcomings of the same nation he has devoted his life to upholding.

“To be honest, radicalization is a symptom of the malaise of the republic. Our notion of equality is never applied on the level of schools or on the level of work. Equality is important between women and men, and everyone must dress the same,” he said, referring to the rationale of those who opposed the burkini. “But not on the level of salary.”

This, in his mind, is the eternal riddle of the French Republic, at times as elusive and equivocal as the religions its staunch secularism nominally opposes. “France is perhaps the most utopian country in the world,” Oubrou said. “But it’s a utopia that’s not achievable.”

French Islam: ‘imam formation must be appropriate and independent’

Following the recent attacks on French soil the rector of the mosque in Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, judged that the gathering of Muslims and Catholics constituted “a first in the history of Islamo-Christian relations in France. It’s thanks to the Church’s position regarding its declarations [following the attack], and thanks to the Catholic Church’s open doors in its parishes,” he said.

The religious representative believes that “a complete reworking of the Muslim ideology” is necessary, as it is “still medieval” and contains “a canon law that was formulated in the Middle Ages and should be reworded.” He also stated that “the training of imams should be appropriate and [must benefit] from both a theological and political independence regarding the countries of origin that, unfortunately, still have a dominance over Islam.”

Muslims attend Sunday Mass after priest’s murder

Muslims attended Catholic mass in churches around France in solidarity and sorrow following the brutal murder of a priest in an ISIL-linked attack.

More than 100 Muslims were among the 2,000 who gathered at the cathedral of Rouen near the Normandy town where two teenagers killed 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel.

“I thank you in the name of all Christians,” Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told them. “In this way you are affirming that you reject death and violence in the name of God.”

Nice’s top imam Otaman Aissaoui led a delegation to a Catholic mass in the southern city where Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel carried out a rampage in a truck on Bastille Day, claiming 84 lives and injuring 435, including many Muslims.

“Being united is a response to the act of horror and barbarism,” he said. The Notre Dame church in southwestern Bordeaux also welcomed a Muslim delegation, led by the city’s top imam Tareq Oubrou.

“It’s an occasion to show [Muslims] that we do not confuse Islam with Islamism, Muslim with jihadist,” said Reverend Jean Rouet.

The Muslims were responding to a call by the French Muslim council CFCM to show their “solidarity and compassion” over the priest’s murder on Tuesday.

“I’m a practising Muslim and I came to share my sorrow and tell you that we are brothers and sisters,” said a woman wearing a beige headscarf who sat in a back pew at a church in central Paris:

Giving her name only as Sadia, she added softly: “What happened is beyond comprehension.”

 Prime Minister Manuel Valls called on Sunday for a new “pact” with the Muslim community in France, Europe’s largest with around five million members.

“Islam has found its place in France … contrary to the repeated attacks of populists on the right and far-right,” he said, condemning “this intolerable rejection of Islam and Muslims”.

Also on Sunday, dozens of prominent Muslims published a joint letter warning that “the risk of fracturing among the French is growing every day.”

The signatories, who included academics as well as medical professionals, artists and business leaders, pledged: “We, French and Muslim, are ready to assume our responsibilities.”

Both of the 19-year-old attackers – Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean – had been on intelligence services’ radar and had tried to go to Syria.

 Meanwhile, a Syrian refugee who was taken in for questioning after a photocopy of his passport was found at Kermiche’s house has been released, a source close to the investigation said. “Nothing suggests he had any involvement” in the attack, the source said.

However, Petitjean’s 30-year-old cousin was to appear before an anti-terrorist judge later on Sunday.

Prosecutors said they have asked that the suspect, named as Farid K, be charged with “criminal association in connection with terrorism”. The suspect “was fully aware of his cousin’s imminent violent action, even if he did not know the precise place or day”, the Paris prosecutor said in a statement.

Media reports, meanwhile, said investigators had established that Petitjean and Kermiche met through the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

Kermiche described the modus operandi of the attack on the priest in an audio posted on Telegram just a few days beforehand.

Jewish and Muslim friends, remain foremost Frenchmen

July 13, 2014

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of any discussion at the moment” begins Tareq Oubrou in a recent op-ed. “I call on my fellow citizens, no matter their religious beliefs, to calm. I know well that certain, quick to vilify any attempt to move in this direction, will interpret this message as treason, even if it is a call to live together and to learn to decipher the subtleties of our society.”

Oubrou called on French Muslims to distinguish between “what is political and what is religious” and said that French Jews must also do this. He stated that the current conflict is political rather than religious. Oubrou stressed that each community must adopt this viewpoint in order to work towards peace and that “Jews must recognize the state of Israel’s part in the conflict, just as Muslims must also recognize the responsibility of organizations that ‘sow disorder.’”

“We are Frenchmen, citizens of the same country, we have the task of living together in harmony. So, we need to know how to discuss, to accept an opposite side’s dialogue and most of all, most of all to never move from political position to violence,” he said.

He recognized France’s importance as one of the most important Western countries to house large Muslim and Jewish communities. “We need courageous men and women to speak to their communities and make them see reason when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict creeps too far into our lives.” Oubrou stated that the “colonization of Palestinian territories needs to end, international law must be applied. It seems to me that it is the only way to appease Muslims in the world. And Muslims must say loud and clear that the multiple aggressions by Hamas are condemnable.”

Oubrou stated “while adopting different political positions in regard to this deadly conflict, a dividing line between French citizens remains necessary to live together in France.”

Imam Tareq Oubrou: “The Hijab has become an obsession”

October 25, 2013

The imam and theologian Tareq Oubrou is interviewed by the magazine Zaman about the hijab. Known for his theological work on the jurisprudence of minorities (in the 1990s), he is now engaged in a theology of acculturation. He is discussing the status of the hijab seen by a lot of Muslims as an obligation and explores ways to change this perception.

Zaman: http://www.zamanfrance.fr/article/tareq-oubrou-personne-frustree-ne-peut-penser-religion-5752.html

A new wave of Muslim feminists

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.

“Gay Muslims are Muslims too”

11/10/2010

Rue 89

Tareq Oubrou, the imam of Bordeaux, opposes homophobia and the state sanctioned persecution of homosexuals in Muslim majority states. The imam wants to disassociate Islam with homophobia and anti-semetism by calling for more tolerance towards homosexuals in general, as well as homosexual Muslims.

Oubrou states that the practice of homosexuality isn’t approved by the Quran but gay Muslims are still Muslims in their own right. He argues that the seven Muslim majority states the practice of homosexuality with the death penalty base their jurisdiction upon unverified hadiths.

Fault lines of the French model on integration and immigration

04.01.2013

Liberation

During a debate on the crisis of integration in France at this year’s Forum de Grenoble, Tareq Oubrou, imam from Bordeaux and Jean-Claude Sommaire, former Secretary General of the Council on Integration, came together to identify some issues that have created today’s social tension amongst immigrant youth.

Sommaire considers the French model of integration to have never really existed. In his eyes, members of earlier waves of immigration have integrated in distinct ways. Whilst their children have most commonly left behind their ancestral roots by integrating and assimilating into French society, the descendants of more recent immigrants from the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa have in contrast not.

In a survey conducted by Liberation, 25% of youth state to live in rupture with society. With increasing discrimination and being exposed to the growth of Islam in economically and socially difficult environments, these youth often have no choice but to replicate communitarianism. Sommaire says that “in some quarters it is not the number of Muslims that is rising but the visibility of them”.

Oubrou identifies the failure of schools and the exclusion of Muslims as the main reason for communitarianism amongst Muslims. According to him, Muslim youth consider religion as a shield of protection where they can find refuge and answers to the wrongs done to them. He however also strongly argues that the notion of secularism in France is what puts the relation between Muslim youth and French society in strain. Oubrou comments that “historically secularism has never been anti-religious. Secularism permitted the public expression of faith but today there is a virtual schizophrenia between lived realities and what the law says. It has become normal to see the Muslim faith as a threat. Hence, there’s an increasing demand to adapt the faith to Western civilization and culture”.

DEBATE: “European Muslims: Model Citizens or Forever Foreign?” on Wednesday, November 10th at the British Council and European Policy Centre, Brussels

A debate organised by the British Council in collaboration with the European Policy Centre and the European Muslim Network.

10 November 2010, European Parliament, Brussels, Room A5E2, 10:00 to 12:30 (Registration and Coffee from 09:15)

Are western societies becoming too individualistic? Are we more concerned with ourselves than our communities? If good citizenship is defined by giving something back to society, are we all becoming bad citizens?

We hear no end of criticism against European Muslims for having divided loyalties; for failing to integrate and for living in closed communities with traditional values, out of tune with ‘our’ Western values.

But perhaps Muslims in Europe are actually the model of good citizenship, with stronger family ties, increasing political participation, more respect for their community and more engagement in voluntary organisations..…

In this open and frank debate, we discuss what it takes to be a good ‘European citizen’. We ask whether strong communities are a hindrance to proper integration; whether citizenship is more than just nationality; and whether hyphenated citizenship should be embraced or challenged.

Participants include

Sajjad Karim, Conservative Member of the European Parliament, Host of the Debate
Belinda Pyke, Director for Equality between Men/Women, Action against discrimination, European Commission
Saad Amrani, Police Commissioner in charge of foreign community and international issues, Brussels city
Tareq Oubrou, Imam, Mosque of Bordeaux
Sophie Heine, Research Fellow, Université Libre de Bruxelles

This debate will be moderated by Shada Islam, from the European Policy Centre.

If you would like to register, please contact us at osedebate@britishcouncil.be.

If you require a pass for the European Parliament, please RSVP before 29th October, including your full name, date of birth and place of residence.

http://www.oursharedeurope.org/model-citizens-nov-10

Muslims not interested in shari’a law in France, says author Bernard Godard

Bernard Godard, co-author with Sylvie Taussig of “Les Musulmans en France” (Muslims in France, Hachette 2009), is interviewed here on his perspectives on Islam in France. Godard comments that there has been an institutionalization of Islam in France in the last ten years. Before mayors rarely supported mosque construction, for instance, and this attitude has changed. Imams are now invited to public ceremonies, and local representatives are often present for the breaking of the fast during Ramadan. He believes that the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) did not directly cause these changes, but that its presence contributed to the acceptance of Islam more generally. He goes on to describe Islamic identities among young people in France, how he views Salafism and Tabligh as the two more dangerous radical groups, and describes the ongoing influence of Tariq Ramadan and Tareq Oubrou.