Call in France for 'enlightened Islam' to win battle of ideas

French Imam Rachid Ahmed Jaballah delivers a sermon on Nov 20, 2015, in La Courneuve.
French Imam Rachid Ahmed Jaballah delivers a sermon on Nov 20, 2015, in La Courneuve. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS • Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has urged French Muslim leaders to develop an "enlightened Islam" to confront what he called the obscurantist views of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that lead young Muslims into violence.

At their first meeting since the Nov 13 killings of 130 people, he told about 400 Muslim leaders, imams and activists that France would do everything it could to track criminals, but only they could win the battle of ideas within Islam.

The unusual meeting of 10 Muslim federations and five grand mosques was arranged to "cry loud and clear our condemnation of these acts", Mr Anouar Kbibech, head of France's Muslim Council, said of the Paris attacks.

It swore allegiance to France and ended with the French national anthem. France's five-million-strong Muslim minority, Europe's largest, makes up about 8 per cent of the population. Two-thirds of them are French citizens.

Mr Cazeneuve, whose portfolio includes religious affairs, recalled Islam's "Golden Age" of prominent philosophers and cooperation among religions - a far cry from what he called the perverted Islam of today's militants.

"You are the most legitimate and qualified to fight these deadly ideas... we must protect our youth from the spread of this stupidity," he told the meeting. "Just think what effect this progressive Islam would have on the rest of Islam in the world."

Since the late 1980s, French governments have tried, but failed, to nurture a liberal "Islam of France" that would help integrate the faith into this mostly secular society.

The French Muslim community, torn apart by ethnic divisions and power politics, has failed to unite to oppose radical Salafist groups that have established their presence in some mosques and neighbourhoods, as well as on the Internet.

But Mr Kbibech has brought together rival federations and mosques to pledge to do more to train imams and educate young Muslims about Islam.

"After the time for emotion, for condemnation and compassion, now is the time for action," he said. "French Muslims are ready to play their part... to understand and prevent the drift of some of our youths into violence."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Call in France for 'enlightened Islam' to win battle of ideas'. Print Edition | Subscribe