Quest for 'French Islam' goes to the classroom

Wed Mar 18, 2015 11:16am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Chine Labbé and Gilbert Reilhac

PARIS/STRASBOURG (Reuters) - In a classroom of the Catholic University of Paris, overlooking the dome of a 17th century church, three Muslim women from Algeria are poring over the origins of the word "secularism".

It is through weekly meetings in this unlikely setting and others that France - a strictly secular state with a Christian majority - hopes to train the nearly 2,000 imams and would-be Muslim chaplains, like these women, spreading the word to some 5 million Muslims, its largest minority.

Encouraging them towards a more moderate "French" Islam is an old idea that has again surfaced in the wake of the Paris attacks by Islamist militants that killed 17 people in January.

To combat decimalization, the Socialist government of Francois Hollande hopes to try to guide the way Islam is taught - a tricky proposal in a country in which secularism is a cherished tradition and one in which Muslim issues, from the head scarf to halal food, are often controversial.

"It's an effort towards moderate Islam," said Kamel Kabtane, rector of Lyon's Grand Mosque, which hosts such a program. "You can't deliver the same message here as in Kabul or Mali."

But complicating the task is the undefined nature of what a "French" Islam could be, given the myriad interpretations of Islam and cultures making up the fabric of Muslims in France.

Under the plan, courses on "Multiculturalism, Secularism and Religion" such as that taught at the Catholic University of Paris (ICP) and the University of Strasbourg will double from six to 12 throughout France.

They will eventually become compulsory for the country's 200-odd Muslim chaplains, who work in hospitals, prisons and the army, with the state partly paying for it.   Continued...

Students pursuing a diploma in "Multiculturalism, Secularism and Religion" listen to Professor Philippe Gaudin in a classroom at the Catholic University of Paris (ICP) March 13, 2015. In the wake of extremist attacks, France announced it would increase academic training on secularism for imams who are spreading the word of Islam throughout the nominally Catholic country. The first such course was created in a Paris Catholic university in 2008. Picture taken March 13, 2015.  REUTERS/Christian Hartmann (FRANCE - Tags: RELIGION EDUCATION SOCIETY)