France's president challenges country's Muslims
arrive at a dinner to break the Ramadan fast on the evening of June 20 (CFCM president, Anouar Kbibech on his left). / Benjamin Cremel/AFP
Emmanuel Macron says he wants to work together with French Muslims to “to fight the spreading fanaticism” of the Islamic State group’s ideology, and to counter those who want to turn mosques into “places that preach hatred and violence".
The president was speaking on Tuesday evening to members of the French Council of the Muslim Faith CFCM) who had invited him to break the Ramadan fast with him.
He spoke about how “awful attacks” had been an ordeal for the people of France and of the “immense” role Muslims had to play in the required “security, cultural and moral” response to them.
The first battle is against extremism. “On theological and religious terrain it is up to you to fight the appropriation of your religion’s history, the negation of 15 centuries of interpretation work done by your scholars,” Macron insisted.
“The battle of thought and faith must be fought on the ground, especially among the youth who are reluctant to enter your mosques.”
Another target, the president said, was those within Islam who foment “segregation” and isolationism, and those who want “to withdraw from the laws of the Republic".
“Nobody should say your faith is not compatible with the Republic,” Macron said, implying it was up to Muslim leaders to prove this.
He went on to repeat a point he made when he was a presidential candidate: that it was essential that imams be trained in France and in a way that corresponds to the values of the Republic.
“Universities are ready to work in this direction and already have the support of the state,” he pledged.
In all of these battles “for France” and the “serenity of the Muslim faithful”, the state will stand side-by-side with the CFCM, said Macron.
He added that he expected the Council to become more “representative” and lamented its leadership elections which were marked by the refusal of some federations and mosques to take part. He also expressed regret that some mosques had trouble recruiting a more diverse and young range of leaders.
“That’s the challenge for 2019,” he said, referring to the year the CFCM will vote for its next chairman.
The CFCM is in full transition mode. On July 1, in line with an agreement federations signed in 2013, Anouar Kbibech, who chairs the Rassemblement des Musulmans de France – which is close to Morocco – is due to hand over to Ahmet Ogras.
Ogras is chairman of the Comité de Coordination des Musulmans Turcs de France which is close to Turkey.
While the Council was pleased to hear Macron underline its firm condemnation of jihadist violence during his speech, its leaders realise the magnitude of the task ahead.
“Over the past two years we have made progress in all areas, especially opening up to young people and women,” said Kbibbech.
“We have created a religious council, for theological discussion. Yes, it’s still not very visible but it has begun real work. Yet we agree with the president that we must go further.”
Macron’s presence at the CFCM iftar was highly symbolic. Many Muslims worry about the increasing number of incidents of hostility. But it was also an indication of how high expectations are.
“Nothing is more necessary or urgent for the Republic,” the president concluded.
“We are living at a time when there is much to divide us, when everything could collapse: geopolitical risks, fractures that are opening…
"My presence is here is a way of thanking you for what you have already done and to tell you that given the immense responsibilities expected of you, I will be by your side.”