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French govt new agency to Reshape Islam, What is it?

What is Reshape Islam; The French government led by President Emmanuel Macron introduced a new body to reshape Islam in France

By Fozia Baba
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Ground Report | New Delhi: What is Reshape Islam; The French government led by President Emmanuel Macron introduced a new body to reshape Islam in France and rid it of extremism. The body was made up of clergy and laymen — and women — to help lead the largest Muslim community in Western Europe.

The new body includes imams, influential figures from civil society, prominent intellectuals and business leaders. All of its members are hand-picked by the government, and women will make up at least a quarter of its members, according to French media reports.

The new body, called the Forum of Islam in France, was initiated by the French Interior Ministry. Proponents say it will keep the country - and its 5 million Muslims - safe and free of foreign influence, and ensure that Muslim practices in France adhere to the country's cherished value of secularism in public life.

In the past France was bloodied by Islamic extremist attacks and having hundreds of citizens who went to fight with militants in Syria in past years, few disagree that radicalisation is a danger. But critics also see the efforts as a political persuasion to attract right-wing voters to President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party ahead of April's presidential election.

Its critics, including many Muslims who deem the religion a part of their French identity, say the government’s latest initiative is another step in an institutionalized discrimination process that holds the whole community responsible for violent attacks of a few and serves as another barrier in their public lives.

Macron's project includes measures like training imams in France instead of bringing them in from Turkey, Morocco or Algeria — a plan many in the Muslim community approve of. It also breaks the centralized leadership of clerics.

We must turn the page," Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said at the forum's inaugural meeting in Paris. “We are restarting relations between the state and the faith (based on) a new form of dialogue that will be more open, more inclusive and more representative of Islam's diversity in France.

 In a recent interview with Le Parisien daily Darmanin said, “ We want to launch a revolution by putting an end to (foreign influence) on Islam,”. Islam is not a religion of foreigners in France, but a French religion that should not depend on foreign money and any authorities abroad.”

Islam is the second religion in France, with no single leader and multiple strains represented, from moderate to Salafist with a thorough interpretation of the religion to outright radical upstarts.

Muslims are divided over the project. Some believers welcomed the idea, while others worry it's going too far in trying to control their faith, or say that the government has singled out Islamic institutions but would not dare suggest such changes to Christian ones.

According to AP, Hamoud ben Bouzid, a 51-year-old Parisian, was optimistic about Macron’s plan and his effort to include different voices from the Muslim community to show to the wider society its diversity. Members of the clergy “don’t speak for every Muslim citizen” of France, he said.

“We live in a secular country, so why not expand the forum and give voice to many more Muslims in France?” ben Bouzid said. “I would like Muslims to be heard as citizens in this country, not as Muslims. As full citizens”.

Muslims in France have prolonged complaints of discrimination in daily life. Whenever extremist violence hits, by foreign-born attackers or by French-born youth, France’s own Muslims come under suspicion and pressure to condemn violence.  Police check for their ID cards and face discrimination in job searches.

Last year, the French parliament passed a law to strengthen the supervision of mosques, schools and sports clubs. The government says it was necessary to safeguard France from radical Islamists and promote respect for secularism and women's rights. The law, which raised concern in parts of the Muslim world, has been used to shut down multiple mosques and community groups.

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