chapter  5
14 Pages

Religious Authorities or Political Actors? The Muslim Leaders of the French Representative Body of Islam

Throughout the Muslim world, the postcolonial state has become a major producer of Islamic knowledge, attempting to counter transnational versions of Islam by producing vernacular religious authorities, institutions and doxas. In an interesting parallel, following the waves of post Second World War Muslim immigration, many European countries have also started to engage in the promotion of national forms of Islam. This is a move epitomised by the famous call for an 'Islam de France', rather than 'en France', as Nicolas Sarkozy, France's Interior Minister (2002-2004) so often emphasised. If it is not immediately clear what 'French Islam' will look like, its broad contours have started to emerge, enunciated here and there by some established, and often non-Muslim, intellectual or politician: French Islam is a cultural, linguistic, financial, political and theological enterprise. French Muslims will adopt French 'norms', i.e., they will integrate or assimilate; Arabic will be stripped away to the bare minimum, perhaps even eliminated like the Latin of Sunday mass, and Muslim actors and institutions in France will be conversant with Voltaire's language. French Islam will be financed by French Muslims and structured around a single organization, following the hierarchical pattern of the Catholic Church which has modelled French religious (and nonreligious) institutions in the modem age. 2 Finally, French Islam will be distinctively 'liberal', its Way or shari'a 'bien temperee a la franyaise' (seasoned the French way),3 and perhaps, like other things French, turn out to be an example to the world.