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France: Interior Ministry’s newly-formed Muslim forum faces credibility questions

25th Feb 2022

Elham Asaad Buaras

French Muslims have voiced their concern over the credibility, objectives and state vetting process of the Interior Ministry’s newly launched Forum de l’islam de France (FORIF).

Despite reservations about state intervention, the French government launched its FORIF on February 5 in a move dissolving the long-standing French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), which has been under scrutiny since French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled his “French Islam” reform initiative.

Following the German model of the Deutschen Islam Konferenz, FORIF will meet annually and be divided into four working groups who will focus on the training of imams, clerics employed in prisons, hospitals and the military, as well as mosque security, and discrimination against Muslims.

Though Muslim clerics and representatives of the county’s Islamic associations will be included in the forum’s working groups, they will be selected by the Interior Ministry and governors, raising questions concerning the forum’s underlying objectives by many French Muslims.

On the FORIF’s key concept, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin claimed they sought to “liberate Islam in France,” alleging that the CFCM had been under the influence of various countries, including Morocco, Algeria, and Turkey.

“Islam is not a religion of foreigners in France, but a French religion that should not depend on money or foreign authorities,” said Darmanin.

FORIF will have neither president nor office, unlike the CFCM. The names of its members were initially suggested by the regional prefects, before being approved by the Ministry of the Interior, resulting in CFCM members being sidelined.

However, critics see the efforts as a political ploy to lure right-wing voters to President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party ahead of April’s presidential election.

Macron, who has yet to announce he will run for a second term, faces stiff competition in the first round, not only from far-right leader Marine Le Pen but also two other conservative candidates.
Others say the initiative is another example of institutionalised Islamophobia that holds the entire community responsible for the violent attacks of a few.

Some Muslims are worried that The government is going too far in trying to control their faith. A prominent member of the country’s Muslim community told Anadolu Agency that there were no clear selection criteria for those who will be in the FORIF’s working groups.

Kamel Kabtane, the rector of the great mosque of Lyon, regrets that the members of FORIF are “appointed” and not “elected in their departments”. “Since we are in a democracy, Islam must also be established on democratic foundations,” he told Franceinfo.

A Marseille-based imam said the issue is of the “state intervention cannot be overlooked and raises a series of unanswered questions” including, “What happens when an approved member is critical of the government? And how can France’s Muslims expect a genuine dialogue from FORIF with The government if the ministry plays a role in its selection process… But the biggest question is what other religious groups must secure state approval for an umbrella leadership?”

Research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and specialist in the governance of Islam in France Franck Frégosi said the State is appearing too interventionist.

“We are in an election period, so I think that in this device, there is also a part which is to highlight the action of the current government”, political scientist, adding that “the reform of Islam cannot be decreed from the top down.”

Writing in Le Monde, Frégosi said Macron wanted, “like so many others before him, to leave his mark” on the organisation of the Muslim faith, seeing in this new governance “a media operation”.

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