France dumps Muslim advisory council that is 'under foreign influence'

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In what’s being described as a decisive period for Islam in France, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (Cfcm) – an official interlocutor between the government and religious leaders – is to be dissolved and replaced with a grassroots-style “forum”.

The Forum of the Islam of France (Forif), to be launched by President Emmanuel Macron on 5 February, is a complex process that will take place in the same venue where a Citizens Climate Assembly was set up to advise the government on its strategy to mitigate global warming.

“We want to launch a revolution, trying to put an end to consular Islam, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told daily newspaper Le Parisien.

“Islam is not a religion of foreigners in France, but a French religion that should not depend on money or foreign authorities."

'Consular influence'

Authorities had been working with the Cfcm, an elected body, since former president Nicolas Sarkozy was in power, but Darmanin said the council was no longer fulfilling its role because it had come under the influence of too much consular interference.

Media reports say the Council has been in its death throes for years, undermined by internal dissent, the growing influence of countries such as Turkey, and radical elements.

The signing of a charter of secularism at the beginning of 2021 did not meet with consensus within the body, with three federations refusing to adopt it.

Analysts say that burying the long-standing Cfcm and betting on a new style of organisation closer to ordinary Muslims is a bold move for Macron.

Citizens’ convention

Organisers have described the Forif as a kind of citizens’ convention with active Muslims who want to exchange ideas with the government.

Some 100 people have been invited to discuss chaplaincies, anti-Muslim acts and discrimination among other things. The aim is to agree on a plan of action for implementation, as well as an institutional structure, statutes and representatives.

“It’s a question of working with partners without Islamist tendencies and who do not serve as tools of foreign interference,” an unnamed organiser told Le Parisien.

The forum is to include imams, influential figures from civil society and NGOs, thinkers, business leaders and others. Women will make up a quarter of members.

Leaked names include Yacine Hilmi, who trains imams; the former national chaplain of French hospitals, Abdelhaq Nabaoui; and the rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, Kamel Kabtane.

Macron says its composition, chosen by French authorities, is much more representative of France’s Muslim community than the five or six people who used to manage the Cfcm.

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