Macron’s Demand For a Charter Affirming That Islam is Not Political Draws Sharp Criticism

By Fayçal Benhassain | November 23, 2020 | 5:26pm EST
French President Emmanuel Macron. (Photo by Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron. (Photo by Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Paris ( – French President Emmanuel Macron’s demand that Muslim leaders present him – in two weeks – with a “charter” declaring that Islam is not political is making waves in France, but also further afield, including in the United States, where the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has weighed in.

Macron has also asked the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) to outline the creation of a national council of imams, to be responsible for issuing permits for Muslim preachers in France. The idea is to establish a professional body for the task, equivalent to a national bar association for lawyers.

These form a part of a broader law against “separatism” which Macron wants to present to parliament next month.

The charter must state that all Muslims recognize the values of the French Republic, accept that Islam in France is a religion, not a political movement; and renounce foreign interference or affiliations with foreign states. Currently, some imams in France are trained, deployed and funded by foreign countries, including Morocco, Algeria, and Turkey.

Macron says once lawmakers have approved the charter, then the CFCM and its nine constituent federation will be expected to commit to it.

According to a report from the Elysee palace, Macron told the CFCM that he is aware three of its nine federations hold ambiguous positions on these matters. One of them is the Turkish Islamist group Milli Görüs (“National Vision”), supported by the Turkish government and operating mosques for the Turkish diaspora across Europe.

“If some [of the federations] do not sign this charter, we will draw the consequences,” the daily newspaper Le Figaro quoted Macron as saying.

Macron’s approach to the problem of radical Islamism has drawn criticism abroad, especially in Muslim-majority countries where some view him as an enemy of their religion. French goods have attracted boycotts, and protest demonstrations have been held in Afghanistan, Mali, Yemen, and Lebanon. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been outspoken in his criticism, even questioning Macron’s mental state – remarks that prompted Paris to withdraw its ambassador from Turkey last month.

In the U.S., CAIR – which calls itself the nation’s biggest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group – has questioned the right of the French government to tell the adherents of Islam or any other religious minority “how to interpret their own faith.”

“President Macron must reverse course before his nation returns to the colonial racism and religious bigotry that haunted so many European nations for centuries,” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

“Although France claims to uphold religious freedom, the truth is that French Muslims do not have the First Amendment protections enjoyed by people of faith in America,” he said. “It is therefore our duty to speak out in defense of their religious rights and freedoms.”

French philosopher Razika Adnani, a member of the Orientation Council of the Fondation de l'islam de France – a secular association founded in 2016 – told local media it was important for Macron and Muslim leaders to discuss secularism and the training of imams.

“It’s a good thing that extremists also see that you cannot do what you want, such as endangering the Republic and the security of society by speeches and acts,” she said.

Adnani said Macron’s objective was to confront “political Islam,” not religious practice, and as such, “he doesn’t interfere in Islam.”

But Tarek Oubrou, head of a mosque in Bordeaux mosque, rejected the need for a charter.

“The values of the Republic are binding all religions and citizens, without distinction,” he told France Info television. “We don’t need to affirm what is obvious.”

Oubrou argued that the problem of radicalization did not arise from the foreign element per se, but on doctrines being taught to imams.

He rejected the notion of secular people being involved in the appointment of imams, or the idea that imams should be labeled “halal” as though they were products.

The proposed law designed to combat radical Islamism and encourage Muslims to accept secularism is being discussed alongside another one dealing with global security. Both have raised considerable controversy.

Thirty-three prominent personalities who supported Macron in the 2017 presidential election have signed a petition criticizing the proposed law against “separatism,” arguing that it will jeopardize freedom of belief, education, and association.

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