French President Emmanuel Macron has asked the country's Muslim leaders to accept a charter of "republican values." which states explicitly that Islam is not a political movement and prohibits "foreign interference" in Muslim groups.
This past Wednesday, the French president met eight leaders of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and asked them to accept the charter within 15 days, following which the latter agreed to form a national council of Imams – which can issue and withdraw official accreditation to Imams, local media reported.
"Two principles will be inscribed in black and white [in the charter]: the rejection of political Islam and any foreign interference," reported Le Parisien newspaper.
Last month, 47-year-old French schoolteacher Samuel Paty was killed by Abdoulakh A, 18, after Paty showed his students the controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad which were published in the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015, making its Paris office the target of a terrorist attack that year that killed 12 people.
The magazine, now working out of a secret location, republished the offending images in September to coincide with the proceedings in a court case over the original attack. That seemed to trigger a reaction, as two people were wounded shortly afterwards in a knife attack near Charlie Hebdo's old headquarters in Paris's 11th arrondissement.
Even before the Paty incident, Macron had put himself in the crosshairs of Muslims around the world by suggesting on October 2 that their faith was mired in crisis globally, and even announced his plan "to reform Islam" in order to make it more compatible with his country's republican values.
He has continued to speak out forcefully against radical Islam and defended French secularism, saying that he will uphold the right to publishing caricatures no matter how offensive they are deemed.
In an interview with Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, Macron said he could understand why Muslims were shocked by controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. At the same time he reiterated that he could never accept the issue justified violence. That interview came after another deadly knife attack on a church in Nice that killed 3 people- the third such attack in the country in little more than a month.
The tense reckoning France faces with its Muslim population - held to be the largest in Europe - has been supplemented by a backlash from many Muslim-majority nations. French goods have been boycotted in parts of the Arab world, and Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked whether Macron needed to have his 'mental health checked'.
Effigies of Macron have been burnt across the Muslim world, and Bangladesh has in fact witnessed the largest and longest-running protests, with crowds estimated upto 50,000 and above. They demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador, an end to bilateral ties, and boycott of French products. None of them were likely to be even considered, much less met. Starlet Nusrat Faria did though chime in by parting with her Cartier wristwatch.
Playing his hand
With the "Charter of Republic Values," revealed on Wednesday, Macron would seem to have played his hand with regards to what he may have meant with his comments on Oct 2.
The head of the French Council of the Islamic Faith, Mohamed Mousavi and the dean of the Paris Mosque, Shams El Din Hafez, attended the meeting, in addition to representatives of the nine federations that make up the CFCM. The CFCM is a nationally elected body which serves as an official interlocutor with the French state in the regulation of Muslim religious activities.
President Macron told the meeting attendees that it is necessary to "get out of this confusion", according to Al Araby, saying he believes a number of them have ambiguous positions on certain issues.
The newly-created Council of Imams will not only be able to issue permits to Muslim religious leaders, but also have the power to withdraw them if perceived to violate the "Charter of Republic Values" Macron has asked them to agree to.
Depending on the role of the imams, they will possess a certain fluency in the French language and possess university-level academic qualifications.
Macron hopes, with the formation of the National Council of Imams, to remove the presence of 300 foreign imams from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria within four years.
In an immediate reaction, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned Macron's perceived ultimatum.