French Muslims wary over proposed ‘Islamic foundation’

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SHAFAQNA – As France gets closer to its 2017 presidential election, Muslims in the country are concerned about upcoming reforms which some fear could include interventions in Islamic lifestyles.

A new state-controlled ‘Foundation for Islamic Works’ is on the agenda as part of the reforms. It would oversee some aspects of mosques’ operations – including financing and training of foreign-born imams – as well as working on the promotion of the cultural representation of Islam.

President Francois Hollande announced recently that former Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement would chair the foundation.

Chevenement is not a Muslim and has previously described himself as a “secular republican”.

In an interview published in Le Parisien on Monday, the 77-year-old former minister said: “The advice I give in these difficult times … is that of discretion.”

“Muslims, like all French citizens, should be able to worship freely but they must also understand that in the public space where there is public interest, all citizens should make an effort to use ‘natural reason’,” he added.

However, the foundation’s being led by a non-Muslim would create a sense of “mistrust”, French Council of Muslim Faith Vice-President Ahmet Ogras told Anadolu Agency.

“It shows that there is still that old colonialist mindset”, he added.

“This new Islam Foundation should work in the way that other religious foundations operate,” Ogras said, adding they demanded it be chaired by somebody belonging to the same faith.

Referring to a ban on the foreign funding of mosques in France, he said it was “meaningless”.

“France is a state of law. Such a ban in this country is not realistic. State-based Islamic reform attempts are political steps to comfort the French people,” he added.

The proposal for such a ban followed last month’s church attack in a northern French town where two knifemen killed an elderly priest. Daesh involvement was suspected in the murder.

Muslims in France, which has seen major terrorist attacks in the past year, deny that such attacks are associated with Islam.

Ogras also opposes the idea of discussing “Islam reform” when the presidential election is so close.

“Discussing Islamic reforms in a pre-election period trivializes the matter,” he claimed.

The French presidential election is scheduled to be held in April and May 2017. President Hollande is eligible to run for a second term.

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