French Muslim Coordinating Body Splinters After Hardline Groups Refuse to Sign Macron’s Anti-‘Separatism’ Charter

By Fayçal Benhassain | March 24, 2021 | 6:28pm EDT
Head of the Great Mosque of Paris Chems-Eddine Hafiz is among those leaving the CFCM. (Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)
Head of the Great Mosque of Paris Chems-Eddine Hafiz. (Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)

Paris (CNSNews.com) – Almost two decades after French authorities prodded the largest Muslim community in Europe to establish a body to coordinate with the government, the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) is splintering, as four of its nine member federations look to set up a rival organization, unhappy that other CFCM members are refusing to sign a government charter designed to combat “separatism” in France.

The four federations said in a joint statement this week they plan to establish a new body to better serve the interests of French Muslims.

“The new representative body will embody the essential values of authentic and open Islam, in dignity and fairness, in perfect harmony with the values and principles of the Republic,” it said.

The four are the Federation of the Great Mosque of Paris, the Gathering of Muslims of France, the Muslims of France, and the French Federation of Islamic Associations in Africa, the Comoros and the West Indies.

The government has since 2003 been relying on the CFCM as the main interface with the state and regulator of religious activities. If the four federations succeed in launching their own association, the government could find itself faced with competing Muslim interlocutors.

In a related controversy, the city council of Strasbourg voted this week to grant $2.9 million in subsidies for the construction of what would become Europe’s largest mosque. The Eyyub Sultan mosque is to be built by the Turkish Islamist group Milli Görüs (“National Vision”), a CFCM member federation that is supported by the Turkish government and operates mosques for the Turkish diaspora across Europe.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government last year launched a charter of principles of Islam, aiming at regulating French Islam and ensuring that all Muslims follow the republic’s principles of secularism.

Among other things, the Charter called for the creation of a National Council of Imams (CNI), to oversee the training of Muslim religious officials and their placement at mosques in France.

All CFCM federations were expected to sign the charter, but three of them – including Milli Görüs – have refused to do so.

The head of the Great Mosque of Paris, Chems-Eddine Hafiz, claims that Islamists – “linked to foreign regimes hostile to France” – are trying to influence the formation of the CNI, and so he is distancing himself from the initiative.

Franck Frégosi, an expert in Islam and research director at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, said the split in the CFCM was not really surprising, following the refusal of three federations to sign the charter.

He said there were also likely rivalries between two key personalities – Hafiz, who is associated with Algeria, and CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui, who is from Morocco.

(Tensions between the two North African countries have risen of late. Algeria supports a government-in-exile of rebels fighting for an independent Western Sahara, three-quarters of which Morocco controls. Former President Trump last December recognized Morocco’s claims in Western Sahara, as part of an agreement by Morocco to normalize ties with Israel.)

In a statement this week, Moussaoui accused the four breakaway federations of trying to stop the council’s work. He said the CFCM would begin consultations with various Muslim associations soon, “to find a way to create a new governance body to replace the current one.”

Meanwhile in Strasbourg, an uproar ensued after the council voted 42-7 in favor of subsidies to help build the huge mosque, which will include a library and research center – a project estimated to cost some $37 million.

Criticism has come from the right and left of the political spectrum, with many concerned that the federation involved, Milli Görüs, has refused to sign the government’s charter.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the project was too closely associated with the Turkish government and insufficiently independent.

The French and Turkish governments have been at odds in recent months. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led criticism of Macron after the French president last fall defended the right to display cartoons of Mohammed in officially secular France.

The vote in Strasbourg was held shortly before Macron in a television interview spoke about tensions between France and Turkey, and warned against any interference by Ankara in next year’s French presidential election. Macron did not close the door to an improvement in relations with Turkey, however.

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