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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 December, 2004, 11:14 GMT
Study planned for France's imams
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Paris

Paris mosque
Preventing intolerance on all sides is a big issue
France has proposed practical measures to ensure the country's Muslim prayer leaders speak French and understand France's way of life.

In a newspaper interview, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said that from September, future imams must study law, civics and history.

Three-quarters of France's 1,200 imams are not French, and a third do not speak French, he told Le Parisien.

France has expelled several imams for preaching contrary to French law.

Mr de Villepin said it was unacceptable that so many Muslim prayer leaders in France do not speak the language of the country in which they live and preach.

He said imams must learn French - and receive further education in other subjects at French universities.

So the future imam, the ones we are putting forward and training right now, will be imams who are open to secularism and modernity
Dalil Boubakeur,
President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith
The interior minister said that would help ensure that they could integrate and further that process among the country's five million Muslims.

France has expelled several imams this year, for preaching contrary to French law or for posing a security threat by supporting fundamentalist forms of Islam.

Mr de Villepin was keen to stress that he remained committed to helping Islam find its place in French society, saying that most French Muslims practised a tolerant and peaceful form of their religion.

Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith and head of Paris' main mosque, said he was confident that a new generation of imams being trained in France would be open to modernity and secularism.

"All our staff and students are now graduates from French universities. They have acquired knowledge that has to be refined and deepened in the areas that will affect their work," he said.

"So the future imams, the ones we are putting forward and training right now, will be imams who are open to secularism and modernity."


He said this was the best way to block "not only those ignorant imams, but also those who have ulterior motives and who would like to introduce into this country fundamentalism, archaism, or Islamic schools which are completely out-of-date, completely stuck in the past and totally alien to France".

Preventing intolerance on all sides has become one of the biggest challenges faced by the current French government.

Some in France fear that young Muslims - especially those in deprived suburbs - are becoming radicalised by the preaching of foreign imams.

And many Muslims say they are seeing an increase in Islamophobia among the French.

Mr de Villepin's predecessor in the job, Nicolas Sarkozy, provoked controversy when he suggested that mosques should receive state funding, but France is now having to contemplate new solutions to a such challenges.

Imams on Dutch culture course
28 Nov 02 |  Europe

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