Paris (CNSNews.com) – French President Emmanuel Macron says he is consulting experts on ways to “reorganize” Islam in France, with an emphasis on training imams, stopping foreign funding, and reducing the influence of Islamic states on the religion in this country.
In a Sunday interview with a weekly newspaper, Macron said he aims to finalize plans by the end of June.
Macron also said he wants to reform the main Muslim organization in France, the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM).
At the same time, however, he insisted he respects strict separation of religion and the state.
“I wish to lay the groundwork for the organization of all the Islam of France,” he said, explaining that he has been discussing the issue with intellectuals and experts on Islam for several months.
Macron insisted on the need to stop foreign financing of Islam in France, much of it coming from Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.
Those countries in particular contribute to the financing of Islamic associations, mosques and prayer rooms. They also send imams to France, while many French imams are trained in Morocco.
Private individuals in Islamic states also finance mosques and groups in France.
Figures are hard to come by, but a document published by the French Senate in mid-2016 said that over the previous year Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia had respectively accounted for $7.4 million, $2.4 million and $4.6 million in funding, used to maintain mosques, pay imams and finance associations.
There are an estimated 8.4 million Muslims in France. A 2011 Institute of Demographic Studies report said 80 percent are originally from former French colonies in North Africa, 9.3 percent from sub-Saharan Africa and 8.6 percent from Turkey.
The CFCM was established in 2003 by then-interior minister – later president – Nicolas Sarkozy, as an association falling under the interior ministry, tasked to represent Muslims and regulate their religious activities in the country.
CFCM president Ahmet Ogras told French media he has met with Macron on various occasions and said the impetus for reform was coming from Muslims, not Macron.
“The reform is not requested by the head of state. It is requested by ourselves,” he said.
Ogras, a dual French-Turkish citizen who took the helm last July, added that CFCM needs to modernize and change, to truly represent French Muslims. He did not elaborate, beyond saying it was too bureaucratic and needed to be more flexible in its operations.
Bernard Godard, who served in the Jacques Chirac government’s interior ministry and was responsible for relations with French Muslims, said in an interview that Macron in his comments “did not say anything concrete.”
Godard said that, compared to his predecessors, Macron was in fact lagging in the area of dealing with Islam.
He said he favored the view of a former prime minister, Manuel Valls, who as interior minister in 2012 said that “it is not up to us – the state – to take care of Islam. It’s up to the Muslims themselves to do it.”
Godard said that if the state wanted to work with an Islamic body it should do so with the Foundation of Islam of France, a group whose aim is to make Islam in France better known through culture, research and training programs.
The foundation, he said, could help Islamic bodies get better organized, and tackle problems such as the training of imams.
Former CFCM president Anouar Kbibech said that Macron wants a strong, direct dialogue with Muslim representatives, on topics such as financing Islam in France and the training of imams.
He also added that both Macron and Ogras want the council’s reforms to be in place in time for its next elections for CFCM president, to be held next year. Usually, nearly 4,000 voters representing 995 places of worship cast their ballots in 25 regions, although changes to voting procedures are also being examined.