French Muslim council nears accord on ‘principles’ sought by President Macron

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Muslim leaders in France have proposed a new “charter of principles” requested by President Emmanuel Macron in his bid to eradicate sectarianism and extremism, with an agreement from the country’s Muslim federations possible as soon as Sunday.

Macron urged the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) to devise the charter in November, after the extremist killing of a schoolteacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed to students.

The push is part of Macron’s hopes to “liberate” Islam from radicalized influences that encroach on France’s strict secularism and which are blamed for a wave of extremist killings in recent years.

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His government has embarked on a crackdown against extremist mosques and associations, and plans to remove the roughly 300 imams in France sent to teach from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria.

But several member federations of the CFCM have criticized the idea of a charter declaring Islam compatible with French law and values – the first step toward creating a national certification council for imams (CNI).

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On Saturday, however, CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui and his two vice presidents hammered out an accord in a meeting with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, which was submitted to the council’s federations for signatures on Sunday.

“There was an awareness that these disagreements were preventing the Muslim community from asserting itself,” Moussaoui told AFP. “This awareness allowed us to overcome our differences.”

“I commend the work undertaken by the French Muslim community which clearly condemns political Islam,” Darmanin said on Twitter.

The charter rejects “instrumentalizing” Islam for political ends and affirms equality between men and women, while denouncing practices such as female circumcisions, forced marriages or “virginity certificates” for brides.

It also explicitly rejects racism and anti-Semitism, and warns that mosques “are not created for the spreading of nationalist speech defending foreign regimes.”

Macron’s government is also pushing through legislation to combat “pernicious” Islamist radicalism, which would tighten rules on issues ranging from religious-based education to polygamy.

The move, along with the president’s defense of controversial Mohamed cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo, has stoked anger among many in the Muslim world who believe Macron is unfairly targeting an entire religion.

Macron has rejected the claims, saying the law aims to protect the country’s estimated four to five million Muslims, the largest number in Europe.