France’s “Charter of Principles” and its Impact on Political Islam and Turkish Organizations

Ahmed Nadhif | 07 Feb 2021

On 18 January 2021, Macron received at the Élysée Palace the leaders of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), and received from them the final text of the "Charter of the Principles of Islam in France", which clearly condemns "political Islam" and the "foreign links of some Islamic organisations". However, the document was not signed by all eight federations of the CFCM, as three federations failed to sign.

This paper sheds light on the content of the Charter of the Principles of Islam in France, and attempts to dissect the composition of the CFCM and analyse the effects of applying the contents of the Charter on the work of political Islam groups and groups associated with the Turkish influence inside France.

CFCM: a complex composition

The CFCM was established in 2003 as an independent body that aims to represent Muslims in France before the state authorities in matters related to religious practice, given that the CFCM intervenes in building mosques, organising the halal (permissible from the Islamic perspective) food market, training imams (worship leaders), developing Islamic representations in prisons and the French army, and building yards allocated to Muslims in cemeteries. It is responsible for determining the dates of the religious holidays for Muslims, especially the month of Ramadan.

The establishment of the CFCM came after several failed attempts since the beginning of the 1990s between the French authorities and Islamic organisations and mosques to find a final formula for a body that would represent Muslims before the state. Those attempts, which began in 1990 with Interior Minister Pierre Joxe and continued with his successor Jean-Pierre Chevènement, clashed first with a French desire to deal with the issue of Muslims in France as a security issue, and secondly, with the sectarian and political divisions of the Islamic organisations and associations active on French soil. However, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded in 2002 in gathering eight large Islamic organisations on a common ground to establish a representative body for the Islamic religion, in a context marked by many pressures on Muslims around the world in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001, so that the CFCM emerged in 2003, being composed of organisations of different political and ideological orientations, each with external loyalty and support, although all belong to the Sunni sect.[1] The CFCM consists of the following federations:

  • The Assembly (or Rally) of French Muslims (RMF): founded in 2006 as a result of a split in the National Federation of Muslims of France (FNMF), which was established in 1985. It brings together a wide range of Moroccan organisations, associations and mosques, and is headed by Moroccan Anouar Kbibech, the former President of the CFCM between 2015 and 2017. The RMF is extremely influential in the election conferences of the CFCM in terms of its wide representation of Islamic associations and mosques. It also owes a clear loyalty to the Moroccan state which pumps nearly 6 million euros annually to finance the religious activities of Moroccans in France from the Hassan II Foundation, since its inception in 1990, in close coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccan Expatriates and the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs.[2]
  • Federation of the Grand Mosque of Paris (GMP): the historical representative of Muslims in France since its foundation  in the 1920s until the establishment of the CFCM in 2002. The GMP enjoys great historical legitimacy, as well as a network of associations and mosques affiliated to it throughout France estimated at nearly 250 civil and religious institutions. It employs nearly 150 imams, or nearly 10 percent of imams in France, the majority of whom receive their salaries from Algeria. It runs an institute for training imams under the name of the Imam Ghazali Institute (IGI). Despite its Moroccan origin, the GMP’s political allegiance has shifted decades ago to Algeria. It is headed by the Algerian lawyer Chems-eddine Hafiz, Vice President of the CFCM.[3]
  • Committee for Coordination of Turkish Muslims in France (CCMTF): a Turkish organisation that includes hundreds of associations and mosques (nearly 250 institutions). It is the French arm of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB). The CCMTF is administratively and financially affiliated with the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (PRA),[4] employs hundreds of imams and teachers, and supervises the Turkish Muslim diaspora in France. Its president Ahmet Oğraş, succeeded in becoming the President of the CFCM in 2017 after a long Moroccan control of the CFCM leadership.
  • Milli Görüş (National Vision) Islamic Confederation (CMIG): a Turkish Islamic organisation that advocates ideas close to the Muslim Brotherhood trend. It was founded in the early 1970s by Necmettin Erbakan, as a European extension of the banned Milli Nizam (National Order) Party in Turkey. The group, which is headquartered in Germany, is active in most European countries, including France, where it runs nearly 300 societies and mosques. It has close relations with the CCMTF and with the ruling political regime in Ankara.[5]
  • Federation of French Mosques (UMF): an organisation that bring together hundreds of mosques. It was founded in 2013 after Mohammed Moussaoui, the current President of the CFCM, left the RMF. However, the UMF maintained its proximity to Morocco, as it hosts a majority of the Moroccan community or of French citizens of Moroccan origin. It has a great influence on places of worship because it does not get involved in political affairs like other federations that make up the CFCM.
  • Organisation for Faith and Practice (Tablighi Jamaat, Society of Preachers (or of Spreading Faith): it is considered the French branch of the Indo-Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat Group. It was officially founded in 1972 in the Abu Bakr Mosque in the Belleville neighbourhood of the 20th administrative district of Paris. It then established the Omar Mosque in the same neighborhood, leading to the establishment of dozens of mosques in France, where today it runs 50 mosques throughout the country, and is very popular in the Islamic social circles because of its preaching networks in the working-class suburbs, although its popularity declined after the emergence of rival Islamist political currents.[6]
  • Union of French Muslims (MF, Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF)): the French branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the group’s largest branch outside the Arab region, now including more than 250 Islamic societies all over France, working in various educational, charitable and economic fields, and nearly 100 mosques and places of worship, along with dozens of training centres, and a university institution for religious education. The Brotherhood branch in France has been the epicentre of Brotherhood activity in Europe since the 1980s, given that it contributed to the establishment of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), the European arm of the international organisation of the Brotherhood since 1989.[7]
  • French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, the Comoros and the Antilles (FFAIACA): it is a federation that brings together a number of associations and mosques belonging to the united Muslim communities from Africa and the Antilles, which are exclusively active in the religious and cultural sphere, without declaring political positions locally or internationally.[8]

The content of the Charter and the controversy thereon

On 18 November 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron met with the leaders of the CFCM and asked them to draw up within 15 days a "Charter of Republican Values" that would bind the CFCM and the eight federations comprising it, provided that it includes an affirmation of recognition of the values ​​of the Republic, specifies that Islam in France is a religion and not a political movement, and stipulates an end to intervention by or affiliation with foreign countries. At that time, France was experiencing a wide controversy about Islam and Muslims in the Republic in the wake of the terrorist events that struck Paris and Nice, in which a number of citizens were killed, including history teacher Samuel Patty after he re-published the offensive cartoons to the Prophet Muhammad during a class to educate on freedom of expression.

However, the deadline of fifteen days requested by the French President was extended to two months. On 18 January 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron received the President of the CFCM, accompanied by five representatives of five federations that agreed on a final version of what they called the "Charter of the Principles of Islam in France". The delegation handed President Macron a copy of the Charter, which was made up of ten articles and a short preamble. The contents of the Charter ranged from an emphasis on the principle of equality between the sexes, an emphasis on the compatibility of Islamic law with the principles of the Republic, and the rejection of some customary practices that were claimed to be Islamic.

Yet the article that sparked widespread controversy within the CFCM and prompted three federations within the CFCM to refuse to sign the Charter was Article 6 that rejects all forms of political Islam and foreign intervention. In that article, the authors of the Charter state the following:

“The purpose of the ‘Charter of Principles’ is to combat any form of the use of Islam for political or ideological purposes. Therefore, the signatories undertake to refuse to participate in any approach that promotes what is known as ‘political Islam’. We persistently fight against any movement or ideology whose project diverts our religion from its true goal, and tries to create relationships of power and fractures in our society. Thus, we undertake not to use or permit the use of Islam or the concept of the ummah (community of believers) from a local or national political perspective, or for the purposes of a political agenda dictated by a foreign power that denies pluralism in Islam. We refuse to allow places of worship to be used to disseminate political discourse or to import conflicts occurring elsewhere in the world. Our mosques and places of worship are reserved to prayer and the transmission of values. They are not erected for the dissemination of nationalist speeches defending foreign regimes and supporting foreign policies hostile to France, our country, and to our French compatriots. Therefore, deviation from the religion represented in the use of Islam for political purposes must be rejected with full force and without reservation”.

In the footnote of the document, the authors of the Charter clarify the concept of "political Islam" as referring to "the political or ideological currents known as Salafism (Wahhabism), tabligh (preaching), and those related to the thought of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the nationalist currents associated with it".

In reference to the rejection of foreign intervention by some countries to employ Muslims in France and to influence them religiously and politically, the following is mentioned in Article 6 of the Charter:

“We are committed to financing our places of worship through national funding. Any funding from abroad from a foreign country, a non-governmental organisation, or a legal or natural person must fully comply with the laws in force, and not give any donor the right to interfere, directly or indirectly, in the practice of Muslim worship in France. The signatories must clearly reject any intervention from outside in the management of their mosques and the mission of their imams.”[9]

The CCMTF, the Turkish CMIG, and the Organisation for Faith and Practice (Tabligh) all refused to sign the Charter in its current form, in objection to Article 6, given that the CCMTF considers rejecting foreign intervention in financing and managing Islamic institutions in France as a direct targeting of the CCMTF, being an organisation that administratively and financially reports to the Turkish state. For its part, the CMIG believes that this article targets the CMIG from two perspectives: first, as a group that belongs to the political Islam movement and relies on its associations and mosques to promote this approach. At the same time, it has external loyalties to the ruling regime in Ankara. Turkish organisations considered that "certain paragraphs and the language of the presented text are likely to weaken the bonds of trust between the Muslims of France and the nation".[10] On the other hand, Tablighi Jamaat objects to the definition of political Islam contained in the footnote of the Charter, which considers the tabligh (preaching) and Salafism as part of the political Islam stream.

This rejection was expected at least by the French administration. During his first meeting with the leaders of the CFCM in November 2020, President Macron indicated that there are federations that refuse to abide by the principles of the French Republic. Disagreements within the CFCM over the wording of the Charter, which would result in the formation of the National Council of Imams (NCI), the body exclusively authorised to grant work permits to mosque imams and preachers, almost ruined it. In late December 2020, the Dean of the GMP Chems-eddine Hafiz announced his withdrawal from the project to form the NCI, and said in a statement: “Unfortunately, the Islamic component within the CFCM, especially the one associated with foreign regimes hostile to France, has maliciously obstructed negotiations through its almost systematic challenge of some important paragraphs in the Charter".[11]

However, what is interesting in the birth path of the of the Charter and the controversy that it raised is the Brotherhood's silence, given that the MF (UOIF), the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood Group, did not object to the text of the Charter despite the latter’s rejection of political Islam and foreign loyalties. This reveals radical transformations in the approach by the Muslim Brotherhood to the new French policies towards Islamic currents.

Effects of adopting the Charter on Islamic groups and Turkish organisations

The adoption of the Charter by consensus between the Macron administration and the CFCM comes in the light of a confrontation, which appears radical and unprecedented, by the French authorities against political Islam and Islamic action organisations with external loyalty. Through pressure on the CFCM, Macron has succeeded in obtaining an explicit condemnation of those currents and has thus succeeded in the process of separating the actors that could contribute in the future to formulating a French Islam that takes into account the political and social peculiarities of Muslims in France from the actors that seek to use Muslims in France as part of their political programmes or as a tool of their foreign policy, such as Turkey. The effects of adherence to this Charter can be listed in the following points:

  • The success of the French state in isolating Islamic actors that refuse integration, and subsequently determining its future goals during the confrontation with the Islamic currents. Therefore, the period ahead may witness a wave of dissolution of associations and organisations and the closure of mosques belonging to the federations that refused to sign the Charter. The authorities could also turn towards cutting off the external funding channels for those federations.
  •  It would be difficult for the Turkish organisations that refused to sign the Charter to enjoy in the future the support they used to receive from the Turkish state. That support used to take many forms, including financial support, training imams, sending imams from Turkey, paying their salaries, and other services that were provided by Ankara for Turkish diaspora institutions in France.
  • The rejection by this Charter of political and ideological propaganda inside mosques and places of worship would have a significant impact on the propaganda pattern of political Islam organisations active in France, given that mosques have for decades been a favourite place for propaganda, recruitment and fundraising. This could lead to structural transformations in the activities of those groups, as they would search for other places to carry out their political activities and secure funding from individuals. Cultural and political societies and even parties, civil society organisations and charities, could provide an alternative.
  • The Charter’s rejection of political Islam would reinforce the Muslim Brotherhood’s withdrawal from the circles of religious work among Muslim communities in France, given that the Brotherhood organisation did not find it embarrassing to sign the Charter, considering that it had started some time ago a process of redeployment in institutions of public affairs through the withdrawal from religious work in mosques and heading instead towards other domains, including human rights societies, non-profit organisations, charities and commercial establishments, especially in the field of education through which the Brotherhood succeeded in building a wide network of institutions and individuals in order to escape from the supervision imposed on religious activity after the escalation of terrorist operations, and also due to the expansion of the Salafi movement in the religious sphere.
  • Finally, the approval of the Charter without consensus among all the federations that make up the CFCM could lead to the beginning of the disintegration of the CFCM, which for years has been suffering from internal problems due to the conflict between power centres within it and the dispersion of loyalties and tendencies. Therefore, organisations linked to Turkey may well exit the CFCM.

Conclusion

  • On 18 January 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron received the President of the CFCM, and representatives of five federations that agreed to a final version of what they called the "Charter of the Principles of Islam in France". The delegation handed President Macron a copy of the Charter, whose content emphasised the principle of equality between the sexes, the compatibility of Islamic law with the principles of the Republic, and the rejection of some customary practices that are alleged to be Islamic.
  • Article 6 of the Charter, which rejects all forms of political Islam and foreign intervention, sparked widespread controversy within the CFCM and drove three federations within it, including two Turkish organisations, namely the CCMTF and the CMIG group, to refuse to sign it, as they considered that this article specifically targets them. On the other hand, the text of the Charter was accepted by the UOIF, the French branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which reveals radical changes in the Brotherhood’s dealings with the new French policies towards Islamic currents.
  • It would be difficult for Turkish organisations that refused to sign the Charter to enjoy in the future the support they used to receive from the Turkish state, and the rejection by the Charter of the political and ideological propaganda in mosques and places of worship would have a significant impact on the propaganda pattern of political Islam organisations active in France. Indeed, this may lead to structural changes in the activities of those groups, including searching for other places to carry out their political activities and secure funding from individuals.
  • The Charter’s rejection of political Islam is expected to reinforce the Muslim Brotherhood’s withdrawal from religious work circles among Muslim communities in France, and heading instead towards other spheres, including human rights associations, non-profit organisations,  charities and commercial establishments. The approval of the Charter without consensus among all the federations that make up the CFCM could lead to the beginning of the dissolution of the CFCM and the exit of organisations linked to Turkey therefrom.

References

[1] For more on the history of the foundation of the CFCM and the historical and political contexts of its foundation, see: Nathalie Dollé, Qui représentera les musulmans de France?, Le Monde diplomatique, Janvier 2002, page 6.

[2] Rapport Institut Montaigne, "Un islam français est possible", Sep. 2016, p 67. https://www.institutmontaigne.org/ressources/pdfs/publications/rapport-un-islam-francais-est_-possible.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] Established in 1924, the Turkish PRA has a large budget and employs nearly 85,000 religious officials. It organises annually the Hajj (Pilgrimage) rituals for tens of thousands of Turks. The PRA supports a strong cultural institution (Turkiye Diyanet Foundation) that publishes theological or historical and popular research and works. It also publishes the Turkish version of Islam. The PRA also deals with the organisation of official Islamic worship in Turkish diasporas in Europe for several years, and carries out cooperation activities in the Turkish-speaking republics and the republics of the former Soviet Union.

[5] For more information on the CMIG Group and its European networks, see: Valérie Amiraux, ACTEURS DE L'ISLAM ENTRE ALLEMAGNE ET TURQUIE: Parcours militants et expériences religieuses, Paris, L'Harmattan 2001.

[6] Samir Amghar, Le Tabligh, une multinationale du religieux - La grande histoire de l'Islam - Grands Dossiers Hors-série N° 4, nov/déc 2015, jan 2016, Sciences Humaines. https://www.scienceshumaines.com/le-tabligh-une-multinationale-du-religieux_fr_35326.html

[7] Ahmed Nadhif, “The ‘French Awakening’ Against Political Islam: Motivations and Future Repercussions”, Emirates Policy Center (EPC), 21 December 2020. Available at: https://epc.ae/topic/the-french-awakening-against-political-islam-motivations-and-future-repercussions

[8] Cesari Jocelyne, Principaux courants et associations de l'islam français. In: CEMOTI, n°33, 2002. Musulmans d'Europe. pp. 39-42. https://doi.org/10.3406/cemot.2002.1626

[9] The full text of the Charter as published by the CFCM on its website is available at the link: https://www.cfcm-officiel.fr/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Charte-des-principes-17.01.2021.pdf

[10] Les trois fédérations du CFCM non signataires de la «Charte» s’expliquent – MEDYATURK, 21 janvier 2021. https://www.medyaturk.info/france/2021/01/21/les-trois-federations-du-

[11] “France: Paris Mosque withdraws ‘permanently’ from the project to form a national council of imams”, France 24, 29 December 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2M577t7

 

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