PARIS – A leading French Muslim council has announced the creation of a “theological panel” that will represent different Islamic organizations and imams to fight radical propaganda online.
“It gives a new dimension to our organization, which now no longer positions itself exclusively at the administrative or management level,” Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman, or CFCM), told FRANCE 24, hailing what he described as “a historic day”.
The CFCM, which represents many of France’s estimated 4.7 million Muslims, said the panel would seek to come up with effective counter-messaging to the radical propaganda that has seduced young people, especially online.
Kbibech said that the inclusive 25-member body will represent different sects of Islam.
Other bodies in the panel include the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (L’Union des organisations islamiques de France) and Tablighi Jamaat, a revivalist movement that proselytizes a return to orthodox Sunni Islam.
The panel will “develop counter-messaging based on solid theological arguments in response to the rhetoric that is circulating on social media, particularly among young people”, the CFCM said in a statement.
“When it comes to questions about jihad or hijra (emigration to Muslim countries), it’s important to have a clear stance that has been established by competent and trusted individuals,” Kbibech explained.
According to Kbibech, the new body will hold at least two meetings a year at which they will tackle the fight against radicalization, as well as discuss other important issues such as the practice of Islam in France.
He said that the CFCM will choose which issues the panel discusses by drawing from questions submitted by members of the Muslim community.
The panel will then issue an “opinion” on each matter, Kbibech said, avoiding the use of the word fatwa, which he said was often “misused and employed out of context”.
He went on to specify that a fatwa was a stance rooted in Islamic law that is taken on a particular issue, whereas the “theological panel will give its opinion on general issues that concern French Muslims”.
Joining the panel, some members doubted how people would respect the panel’s “opinions”.
“I accepted because I’m generally in favor of this sort of initiative,” Tareq Oubrou, an imam in the southern city of Bordeaux known for his progressive views, told FRANCE 24.
“We shouldn’t disillusion ourselves. The panel is not a magic wand that will resolve all of Islam’s problems over the past 10 years,” said Oubrou.
Oubrou said, however, that he still didn’t know very much about how the panel will work. “It’s pretty unclear,” he acknowledged.
The imam added that he doubted very many people would respect the panel’s “opinions”.
“There is already a lot of hesitation regarding the CFCM; it’s not very credible in the eyes of many young Muslims,” Oubrou said.
“They think it’s at the beck and call of the government, and too dominated by first-generation immigrants.”
Tariq Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic issues at Oxford University, echoed Oubrou’s comments.
“Seeing how the CFCM has little credibility, the panel [will have to rely] on its diverse and varied voices to establish its legitimacy,” he said.