France - Islam

French Muslim leader slams refusals to sign charter on republican principles

France's Muslim Council is divided over the charter
France's Muslim Council is divided over the charter THOMAS COEX AFP
5 min

The head of France’s umbrella Muslim association, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), has criticised three Islamic groups for their refusal to sign a charter intended to demonstrate that Islam is in line with the principles and laws of France.

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The Committee for Coordination of Turkish Muslims in France (CCMTF), the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation – both of which cater for Muslims of Turkish origin – as well as the Faith and Practice Movement, announced on Wednesday that they would not sign the republican charter.

CFCM president Mohammed Moussoui lamented their refusal, saying it was “not likely to provide reassurance...on the state of the representative bodies of the Muslim religion”.

The three groups criticised the charter in a communiqué, insisting that “some statements are prejudicial to the honour of Muslims, with an accusatory and marginalising tone”.

Of the nine groups which make up the CFCM, five have already signed the charter.

The refusal of some members to sign highlights the lack of agreement within the CFCM about the position of the faith and its followers in France.

What is the charter for?

The document was agreed on Sunday after weeks of sometimes acrimonious debate between Muslim leaders. 

It was drawn up at the urging of President Macron, amid a climate of fear and anger in France at the involvement of a mosque in the campaign which led to the beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty.

The intention was for Muslim leaders to agree a text which would dispel confusion over what Islam permits or prohibits, and assert that the faith is in line with the principles of the French Republic.

The charter is intended to pave the way for the creation by the CFCM of a National Council of Imams to certify which imams are allowed to practise in France.

On Thursday, a government source suggested the refusal to sign exposed the resistance of some groups to French republican values, commenting that “their true faces are being revealed” and that an “important clarification is being made”.

Marine Le Pen of the far right RN party has called for a ban on any groups which refuse to sign.

What does the charter say?

The charter contains ten articles confirming the compatibility of Islam with French law. It rejects “extremist currents” within Islam.

The preamble states that the religious principles of Islam cannot supplant the principles behind France’s constitution and laws.

Apostasy, discrimination, political Islam

In a key development, the text acknowledges the right of a Muslim to change religion or to reject all religion – reportedly a subject of considerable disagreement during attempts to thrash out the document, according to what Le Figaro newspaper describes as unnamed sources.

In a reference to the October murder of Samuel Paty, who used cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson about free speech, the charter also acknowledges the “essential role of the teacher in our society” and states that any disagreements with teaching staff should be resolved through dialogue or, as a last resort, in a court of law.

The charter affirms that the equality of women and men is a fundamental principle “also attested in the Coranic text” and asserts that “certain so-called Muslim practices have no basis in Islam".

The document rejects “all discrimination based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, ethnic background, state of health or handicap."

On the question of so-called political Islam or Islamism, the charter commits to the aim of “combating the harnessing of Islam for political ends, to create confrontation and divisions within society”.

The three groups refusing to sign are reported to be particularly concerned about the definition of political Islam.

The declaration states that religious buildings such as mosques will not be used for polemical addresses or for speeches about political conflicts taking place elsewhere in the world.

Foreign financial influence

Many of the federations within the CFCM are linked to the different Muslim communities in France, including Moroccan, Algerian and Turkish traditions. There is concern about the influence of foreign countries which fund mosques in France. The charter states that such buildings should not be used to promote “nationalist narratives” in support of countries hostile to “our country, France”.

Alluding to anti-Muslim acts, the charter asserts that they are “the work of an extremist minority which should be conflated neither with the French state nor the French people”.

“Denunciations of a so-called ‘state racism’, amount to defamation and exacerbate both anti-Muslim hatred and hatred of France,” the text declares.

“We appeal to our members not to distribute books, videos, blogs etc. promoting violence, hatred, terrorism or racism,” the charter adds.

The document is a historic first step towards the creation of a so-called Islam de France – an idea which has already been attempted by numerous French governments.

Such declarations describing the relationship between a religion and French law are not new in French history.

Historians regularly cite Napoleon’s decision to address the relationship between Judaism and France in 1806. The process included a questionnaire put to Jewish faith leaders which became the basis of declarations establishing the compatibility of Judaism with French law.

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