France Launches New Body to Reshape Islam

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The new body, called the Forum of Islam in France, will have members nominated by the government and at least a quarter of female members, who will be mandated to check all the activities breeding extremism in France.

The French government, led by President Emmanuel Macron, launched a body the Forum of Islam, in France to reshape Islam. The government will nominate all the members of the body, and women will form at least a quarter of strength. It will be mandated to guide the Muslim community away from extremism.

In 2003, then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who later became President of France, had constituted a similar body, the French Council of Muslim Faith, with a similar mandate. It was disbanded, as it could not achieve its objective.

France, whose hundreds of Muslim citizens have joined terrorist organisations, including ISIS, has been grappling with a severe Islamic extremism problem.

In February last year, France had passed a bill in its National Assembly to check the religious fundamentalism in the country. The bill, called “Reinforcing Republican Principles”, didn’t name any particular group or religion.

The demand for such a law was growing in the country in the wake of the murder of Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded in October 2020 by his student for displaying a picture of Prophet Muhammad. Paty was discussing the principle of free speech and expression when he displayed the picture.

In a speech a week after Paty’s murder, French President Emmanuel Macron emphasised the need to check the growing Islamic fundamentalism in the country. He also talked about the crisis in global Islam and the need to check the foreign influence in France.

The bill, which bans polygamy, has many provisions to check the religious activities in the country. It bars doctors from issuing ‘virginity certificates’ used by the conservatives for “to-be-the-brides”. It also mandates bringing gender equality in sports by banning all gender-discriminatory practices.

There can be no homeschooling, popular amongst Muslims, without prior approval from authorities. All homeschooled children will be issued a unique identification number like regular school going kids.

There is also a provision for checking the preachings in religious institutions, and if any speech is found to promote conflict and disharmony amongst communities, action would be initiated. It has been made mandatory for religious institutions to disclose the funds received from foreign sources. France has also decided not to bring in imams from Morocco, Turkey and Algeria.

Recently, technology and social media have been used by extremists to spread propaganda. The bill has a provision for strict penalty if someone discloses a person’s identity or personal information on social media, which puts his/her life in danger.

France has witnessed several Islamic terror attacks in the recent past. In 2015, a series of planned terror attacks killed over 130 people. At the beginning of 2015, the office of Charlie Hebdo, a French magazine, was attacked, resulting in the death of 12 people.

France has been very generous in granting asylum to Muslim refugees fleeing unrest in the Muslim world. It has been granting asylum to a lakh people on average, which has recently gone up to two.

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