Towards a “common course” to train imams in France?



The working meeting, long planned and already postponed to spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was suddenly overtaken by the news. Two days after the murderous attack on the Notre-Dame basilica in Nice, and two weeks after the beheading of a history professor in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Yvelines), the French Council for Muslim Worship (CFCM) held by videoconference two working meetings on Saturday 31 October and Sunday 1 November: the first was devoted to the training of religious executives, and the second to the prevention against radicalization.

Train imams in France. The idea seems simple, but the file has been trampling for years. While President Macron, in his speech on October 2 in Mureaux (Yvelines) on separatism, insisted that the CFCM “label” training on French soil within six months, the body seems to have taken a first step in this sense, highlighting at the end of this working meeting its desire to “Find an agreement on a common training course”. The religious executives thus trained would be in charge of “Promote, with a single voice, an Islam in France fully anchored in the Republic and the religious landscape of our country”.

What would it be concretely? The “training of religious executives” commission which met on Saturday 31 October is considering, among other things, the establishment of “Gateways” between the various institutes of Muslim theology existing in France, to allow students to switch from one to another as part of a degree course. “A clear course, with possibilities for mobility, would also have the advantage of making these courses more attractive”, we also told the CFCM, while most current French imams were trained – at least in part – abroad.

A heterogeneous universe

Some parliamentarians who have looked into the issue, such as Nathalie Goulet, have supported this project for several years. The institutes forming, in France, to the imamate “Could propose a common corpus, generally Malikite, with options”, already proposed the senator (UDI) of Orne in 2018. “They would be labeled, under the aegis of the CFCM. ” This would finally pave the way for a Muslim religious formation recognized in France, “Like the seminary or rabbinical institutes”.

The problem is that the existing training courses, still largely remote-controlled from abroad, today constitute a heterogeneous set to say the least. In addition to the Al Ghazali institute of the Great Mosque of Paris (near Algeria) and the institutes of Château-Chinon and Saint-Denis managed by the ex-UOIF (Union of Islamic organizations of France), near of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Moroccan project is underway in Évry and yet another, Turkish, in Strasbourg … “Each institute has its specificity, but overall, the core teaching remains the same”, we assure the side of the CFCM.

Deconstructing extremist discourses on the Internet

The need to train imams in France seems in any case all the more urgent given that President Macron already announced, in February, in Mulhouse, the abolition of “Detached imams” – these 300 imams sent each year to France by Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.

The issue of accreditation and certification of imams was also discussed on Saturday October 31, on the eve of a second working meeting on radicalization. Six concrete proposals emerged, “Starting from the observation that radicalized people, often at odds with religious institutions, mainly become radicalized through the Internet and social networks”.

Thus, “Units” associating imams, chaplains and educators could be created to produce educational materials to deconstruct, on the Internet, extremist discourse. Another proposal: a “Theological work” on the misguided concepts of the Muslim religion to better denounce their instrumentalization by extremist currents, or a “Collegial work” on the Friday sermon.

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