Other Islamist groups in the Muslim Brotherhood ideology:
The Etudiants Musulmans de France (EMF), founded in 1989 and close to UOIF, caused quite a surprise in 2002 when 11 of its members were elected to the students representative bodies (CROUS) which are under supervision of the Ministry of Education, a big gain from its former 3 seats. The candidates were on the slate of the Fédération des Associations Générales Etudiantes (FAGE) a secular, non-moslem students union, which is politically non-committed. The chairman of EMF, Fethi Balabdelli, claims he supports the values of ?diversity and tolerance? and that of FAGE, Jean-Baptiste Mougel, thinks that EMF follows ? a way of promoting diversity and the secular state, which means taking into account everybody? .
Yamine Makri, who owns the Al Tawhid bookshop and is a relative of the Algerian Islamist leader Mahfouz Nahnah, founded the Union des Jeunes Musulmans near Lyon in 1987. The movement fights for ?the rights of Moslems as French citizens in a secular Republic.? Close to EMF, the Union represents the ideology of those young Moslems who are conservative on religious issues and want the secular state to adapt to the existence of an orthodox Moslem population. No wonder then that the reference author for UJM is Tariq Ramadan, whose books are published by al Tawhid. Although it is not a group, one should also mention the wide influence of the Oumma.com website (www.oumma.com), which is devoted to providing daily news and discussions about Islam in France, in the vein of UOIF/Muslim Brothers. It is the most moderate of the Muslim portals on the French web, ad the contributor?s views on the Israel/Palestine situation range from moderate to radical . This website was launched by Moussa Allem and Said Branine, but lately, the influence of more anti-Zionist writers have grown, such as the Algerian journalist Rabah Attaf from Marseille, ?Doctor Abdallah,? or Ginette Skandrani, a non- Moslem member of the Green Party with a long record of anti-Jewish writings, including articles in far-right publications.
The pietistic Islamist movement: Tabligh and Foi et Pratique
While the UOIF and Tariq Ramadan try to think the way Islam can adapt to the modern Western world and secular institutions, with a rather philosophical and political approach, others keep a strictly religious profile. Such is the Tabligh movement, which was founded by Muhammad Ilyas, in India in 1927 under the name Jama?a at-Tabligh. It is basically a proselyte and pietistic movement, which has been nicknamed ?Islam?s Jehovah?s? Witnesses? because its members engage into recruiting activity among those who do not know their faith, mostly in underprivileged neighbourhoods.
The French headquarter is the Ar-Rahma mosque in Saint-Denis, near Paris and the chairman is Wissam Tabbara. As a missionary movement, it has played a key role in bringing back many young people of Arab (mostly Moroccan) and African origin to religion. It is also active in Lille, Marseille, Mulhouse and Dreux. It is active in France since 1968 and acquired legal recognition as ?Association Foi et Pratique? in 1972. In 1979, a Tunisian working-class immigrant, Mohammed Hammami, opened the Omar Ibn Khattab mosque in the Belleville area of Paris, which until the late 80s served as the movement?s main center.
As time went on, Hammami became less influential and in 1978, the association Tabligh wa Da?wa was established, with a more conservative perspective, while Foi et Pratique, whose main center remains the Omar Mosque and has a large Tunisian following, adopted a more open approach. It is back into Hammani?s hands again, after he came back to France in April 2002, following 8 years in administrative detention in Tunisia, under surveillance by the Ben Ali regime. Although still an islamist, he has a more modern approach than Tabligh wa Da?wa, which is quite a mysterious group, as there is no real leader, but a ?consultative council? of four life-members, which reports only to the European headquarters based in Dewsbury, UK.
Tabligh is first and foremost a religious movement: it offers the potential recruit short ?training periods? during which he is taught the fundamentals of Islam, and is asked to say the ?dikhr?, an incantatory sentence from the Koran which he has to repeat one hundred times every morning and evening. Then, recruits are asked to go out in cells of three to five people and reach out to their fellow Moslems wherever they may find them including hospitals, prisons and in the streets. After one year or more in this capacity, the confirmed member may be selected for a four-months stay in one of the movement?s centers in Pakistan (notably in Lahore).
Although it is widely believed that a few of them later went to training camps in Afghanistan to fight the jihad, and although it is true that two of the people involved into the 1986 bombings committed in Paris by the Fuad Ali Saleh group came from the Omar mosque, Tabligh?s shortcoming is that it shuns political activity: after some months of a harsh life devoted to preaching, some adepts may want to shift to more activist, jihad-committed groups, but this happens because of the Tabligh?s strictly religious approach, not because it promotes violence. With regard to the newly established representative body of French Islam, Tabligh at first sided with the Coordination des Musulmans, which, under the leadership of Abderahmane Dahmane, united those who refuse to seat on a council they see as non-democratic, but in some regions (Auvergne; Nord; Centre) had candidates.
The Ahbachi: an expanding sect in disguise
Because it consistently denounces the salafi and the Muslim Brothers as terror-****e fundamentalists, the Ahbachi are thought by some to be moderates. This, however, is complete nonsense. They appeared in France in 1991, under the guidance of Abdel Nasser Tamim, but the movement originates first in Ethiopia, the birthplace of its founder, Abdallah al Harari, then in Lebanon in the 80s and it is allegedly financed by Syria. They operate under the name Association des Projets de Bienfaisance Islamique en France (APBIF), under the guidance of Lebanese Shaykh Khaled El Zant, based in Montpellier, who became famous during the Gulf War in 1990 by his inflammatory speeches calling for the extinction of the state of Israel. They are active in the 18th district of Paris, in Nice, Saint-Etienne, Saint-Dizier, Narbonne, Lyon, Nîmes, Rennes and Toulouse. The elder brother of Zakarias Moussaoui, accused in the US of involvement in the September 11 attacks, is an Ahbach. The Ahbach is a proselyte group, even among non-Moslems . Although the textbooks used in the two schools it runs in Paris do not show any sign of extremism and anti-Semitism, the yellow flag of APBIF was present in the anti-war demo in Paris on February 15th, 2003, and the group shouted aggressive slogans against Prime Minister Sharon and Israel. Numerous anti-ahbachi websites, run by the Salafi, exist, which describe the movement as a sect.
The fundamentalist Salafi groups
The Salafi school rapidly expends in France. Literally, the word ?Salafi? refers to the?pious predecessors? (salafi salih) that is, those who were the Prophet?s early followers. The Salafi school of thought, which emerged at the end of the 19th century with the writings of Jamaluddin al Afghani, is in fact an arch-conservative stream within Wahabism, which insists on purging Islam from any idea or habit coming from the West. The Salafi pays great attention to following the literal text of the Kuran, the Sunna and the Sharia. As said before, the Salafi are divided between a ?jihadist? branch, which supports the use of violence against the enemies of Islam (both the enemy from within and that from the non-Muslim world), and a non-jihadist one, which is the only one openly active in France.
The non-jihadist Salafi follow the teachings of the Saudi ulemas from Mecca and Medina Universities, notably the late saudi Great Mufti, Abdulaziz Ibn Baz and the late sheikh Mohamed Nasiruddin al Albani, and also sheikh Abubakr al Jezairi, whose book, ?La Voie du Musulman? (The Moslem Way) has been translated into French and is commom reading among the adepts. In 2003, it is believed that around 20 mosques in the country are run by the Salafi, most of them in Paris and suburbs, one in Roubaix (the Dawa mosque) and one in Venissieux, near Lyon.
The area around Lille and Roubaix, in northern France, has been a fertile recruiting ground for those who wanted to fight the jihad abroad: in January, 1996,the so-called ?Roubaix gang? was dismantled by the police, and it is now certain that this group of former Bosnia fighters, which financed its activities from robberies, was an Al Qaida cell. As for the Lyon area,it is also a hotbed of terrorist-related activity: among the sons of the imam of the Abu Bakr mosque in Venissieux, Chellali Benchellali, an Algerian, one, Mourad, is detained in Guantanamo and fought alongside the Taleban, and the other, Menad, was arrested in December 2002 when a cell thought to be linked to the Abu Doha network was dismantled near Paris. Furthermore, several relatives of Nizar Nawar, the Tunisian born perpetrator of the attack on the Djerba synagogue (April 2002) were also arrested in the vicinity of Lyon.
The growth of the Salafi movement is undoubtedly the most preoccupying development in French Islam, because of the possibility that followers of a non-jihadist sheikh may later switch to radical, armed groups. The method of the Salafi in order to take control of a mosque is always the same: it begins with a small cell of adepts praying with the others and trying to rally them to their point of view, until they either become the majority, or until the majority, tired of their relentless arguing, verbal abuse and sometimes physical threats, go to another place.
On December 21st, 2002, one case of physical abuse was reported at the Omar mosque in Paris, when a group of salafi extorted money from the ?zakat? (the equivalent of tsedaka) and threatened imam Hammami until the police arrested two of them, Karim Bourti, a member of the algerian Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC), and his accomplice, a convert named Rudy Terranova. Therefore, police surveillance of those mosques with a salafi orientation has become a priority. The few openly Salafi mosques often invite Moslem scholars from Saudi Arabia to give lectures and hold tests in order to select students who will be given a grant to study in Mecca or Medina Universities.
Among the leading prayer rooms associated with the movement are: the Centre Socio-Culturel Islamique in Longjumeau, who received sheikh Abdoul Malik Ramadani al-Jazairi and the Ulema Falih Ibn Nafi al Harbi from Saudi Arabia in February-March 2002; the Asslam mosque in Argenteuil and at the Al Ihsen mosque in the same city, where in May 2001,the radical sheikh from Jordan, Salim Hilali, and another one from Egypt, Abdellatif Mahmud Ali Osama, preached the Jihad both in and outside of Europe to an overall audience of 2000,including members of the GSPC. According to Ali Laidi, following those preaches, several young Muslims from the nearby city of Sartrouville left for Yemen. In the same area, west of Paris, the salafi convened another week of predication in June 2001, at the Sartrouville mosque, under the aegis of the Saudi al Haramein Foundation. East of Paris, the salafi control one mosque in Stains, one in rue Broussais in Vitry sur Seine, and the Association culturelle de la Rose des Vents in Aulnay sous Bois, which on 10-26 july 2001, hosted a course with an overall attendence of 500, during which Medina University recruiters were present, as well as two teachers from there, Abdallah al Boukhari and Salih Az Zouaydi, and one from Oumm oul-Qoura (Mecca) University, Muhammad Bazmoul.
As said before, the salafi put emphasis on the strict adherence to the Sunnah and sharia, thus regulating every aspect of the adept?s everyday life. Many of them being ?born-again Moslems? or even converts, they have a great need of what resembles the ?sheelot ve teshouvot? system of learning. This is where the Internet becomes an important tool in propagating the salafi way, especially among those who do not have a salafi mosque nearby. French language sites linked to the salafi have blossomed. In order to spread their teachings and expose the numerous controversies which arise in their midst over doctrinal or personal issues, the non-jihadist Salafi have designed? fatwa banks? which enable the newcomer to religion to read translations or Arabic originals of fatwa from the major wahabite sheikhs. For example, the www.sounnah.free.fr website, which follows the teachings of sheikh Rabi ibn Hadi Oumayr al Madkhali and sheikh al Jazairi, contains a fatwa which condemns Bin Laden?s activities, and another one from sheikh Muhammad al Otheymin, who says that ?The perpetrator of a suicide bombing is not a martyr and he is in the fire (of hell).? It should be reminded, however, that this condemnation only applies to the bombings against Western interests, either in the Muslim world or elsewhere, whereas all the salafi sheikhs support such actions when they are aimed at Israeli people.
Furthermore, the Internet is also the only open mean of expression of the jihadist salafi in France. Some of the most radical websites are based abroad, such as the Website Coran et Sunnah (www.angelfire.com), based in Tripoli, Lebanon, which puts Bin Laden?s declarations online, offers strongly anti-Semitic material and also publishes a fatwa by sheikh Hammoud Bin al Uqlaa ash Shuaybi, which asks every Moslem to help the Taleban ?with money and body.? But others are the work of French Moslems.
The main such portal, openly calling to jihad, is ?st.com.net?, which links to other sites by the same company, such as ?la Voix des Opprimés?; ?quibla.lvo.info?; qoqaz.com (news of the Chechenya jihad) and lately ?morojihad.com?, devoted to terrorist muslim groups from the Philippines. The man behind st.com is Smain Bedrouni, who since 2001 supports Bin Laden and the Taleban on his website and has for this reason been indicted in september 2001 by French justice. One intriguing aspect of his activities is that he is a vice-president of FLIP (Front de Lutte contre la Pedoclastie), a group based in Montpellier which is theoretically an anti-paedophilia movement, but whose website reports only the ?martyrdom? of Palestinian children. Moreover, Bedrouni was a board member of a sectarian group named ?Politique de Vie?, led by Christian Cotten, a non-muslim who wants President Bush to stand trial before an international court because of his responsability ?for the Sept.11th bombings.?
Other jihadist sites are www.sahih.net, which offers writings of the Palestinian leader of the Beit al Ansar, sheikh Abdullah Yussuf Azzam, and of Sayed Qutb, the Egyptian intellectual of the Muslim Brothers who inspired the ideology of Takfir. Finally, the alfutuhat.edaama.org website offers texts from the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar, and a very singular exemple of Jewish(?) self-hatred,namely the article by Israel Shamir:? The Elders of Zion or the masters of speech.?
Another noteworthy Islamist groups include the very secretive Takfir wal Hijra, a Sunni extremist sect with connections to the Algerian terrorist movements. As Takfir members usually consider the whole Moslem community to be ?kuffar? (heretic), they live in isolation and do not attend the existing mosques, which makes it difficult to find them. A Takfir cell was believed to operate in the Yvelines département, west of Paris. At all major pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Paris, a group of about 150-200 followers of the Lebanese Hizballah have appeared, as did some individuals waving posters of Hamas leader Shaykh Ahmed Yassin and shouting slogans such as ?Jews to the ovens? or ?Jews are the enemies of humanity.?
These groups are well organized and structured: the use of cellular phones is common for contact between cells, and senior members protect their identities behind aliases when speaking to each other. Most followers are aged between 16 and 30 and are French-born citizens, originating from the eastern or northern suburbs or eastern boroughs of Paris. While their knowledge of Islam is limited (a majority are ?born-again Moslems?), most seem to have mastered the Arabic language. Many are young educated women who are often more vociferously anti-Semitic than men. For the first time these groups have declared their ideology openly (waving the yellow Hizballah flag; calling Muslims to prayer after the demonstrations; wearing T-shirts with the slogan?in French? ?Hamas: the sword of the faithful?). It is now documented that in 2002, a member of the Lebanese leadership of Hizballah was in Paris and took part in the demonstrations.
Finally, it is important to watch out for the Antwerp-based (Belgium Flanders) Arab-European League, a Hizballah-oriented militia-like group led by Lebanese-born Dyab Abu Jahjah, which has announced it would launch a French branch.
Islamic charities: how Saudi and Gulf States? money support French Islamists
Over the last 20 years, a number of Muslim charities with headquarters in Saudi Arabia have set up branches in France. Some of them, such as the World Moslem League, help financially with the building of mosques and religious education, while others do fund raising in order to finance humanitarian projects in war-torn countries and in the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority. The World Muslim League opened its Paris office in 1979 and has financed two major mosques, in Evry (total cost: 4.5 million euros) and Mantes la Jolie. When its secretary general, Abdallah Turki, visited France in October 2002, he was received by the Minister of the Interior but was strongly warned by the authorities that the Government did not want the League to interfere with the setting up of the CFCM, and that it did not want the Saudi-inspired fundamentalist movement to expand. Among the charities which collect money for Palestine, one, Secours Islamique, is close to Saudi Arabia and the other, Comité de Bienfaisance et de Soutien aux Palestiniens (CBSP), is close to the Muslim Brothers and is supported by Shaykh Raid Salah, the former mayor of Umm al-Fahm.
The Secours Islamique is an UK-based charity, founded in 1984, and which is not considered to be linked to terrorist activities. With headquarters near Paris since 1992, it supports educational, construction and health projects around the Muslim world and has 5 offices in Gaza and the West Bank. In December 2002, the worldwide president, Dr.Hany El Banna, visited the Paris office with Adel Kadoum, the head of the Palestine field office. The CBSP, founded in 1990 in Nancy, is totally aimed at supporting the Palestinian, especially through educational and welfare projects. In 2002, it raised money to rebuild 14 homes in Gaza, which it says were destroyed by the IDF. The cost of the project was Euro 300 000.
One of the new means to raise funds was via the Internet, in cooperation with the radical French website, www.islamiya.net. The results, however, were below expectations, with a mere Euro 17,184 raised during the month of Ramadan 2002, which enabled the committee to send 860 packages of food to Palestine. The Muwafaq Foundation and the Al Haramein Foundation, both Saudi-funded, are said to be active in France and the latter, although it is included in the United States ?black list? of terrorist-related organizations, acknowledges some French activity on its website.
The Parti des Musulmans de France: from militant Islam to political action?
The existence of Muslim political parties is something new in the West. Those, which exist, such as the Islamic Party of Britain, the Noor Party and the Mouvement Jeunes Musulmans in French-speaking Belgium, remain fringe groups with a very small membership. One such attempt has been made by the Parti des Musulmans de France (PMF), founded in 1997 by Mohammed Ennacer Latrèche and based in Strasbourg. It strives to participate in all elections, but has never polled more than 0.67 percent (Strasbourg, 1997) and only runs in local elections. What makes it famous is its extremely anti-Semitic and Holocaust denying ideology.
On 7 October 2000 it led a 3,000-strong demonstration against Israel in Strasbourg, during which the slogan ?Death to the Jews? was heard. The PMF used to be in contact with the German branch of Milli Görus, which is active in the Alsace province, where the Muslim community is predominantly Turkish. In 2002, it held a public meeting in Paris featuring the notorious left-wing negationist, Serge Thion. On February 15th, 2003, a party delegation left Paris for Iraq with the aim of showing its support for Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party. What made the event special is that this was a joint trip with the radical-right, national-revolutionary Réseau Géopolitique Européen, an offshoot of the French group Unité Radicale (banned in August 2002) and the Italian group Rinascita Nazionale. The neo-Nazi from Belgium, Hervé Van Laethem, leader of the Mouvement pour la Nation, also participated. The fact that the group was granted a free visa by the Syrian Embassy in France, and that participants were proposed a 2-days extension of the trip to either Damascus or Lebanon, could confirm the widely accepted idea that Latrèche is closely linked to the Syrian regime. But is the party an Islamic one? None of its demands refer to the implementation of sharia, and it should be noted that its name is the French Muslim?s Party (thus referring to Islam as a culture), not the Islamic Party of France.
The Shiite Moslems: the invisible minority
Shiite Moslems are a tiny minority in France. The support and presence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was strong in the 80s in the Lyon and Paris areas (through one ?Cultural Center of the Imam?, in the Belleville district of Paris) stopped after the 1986 bombings, which took place in Paris and were masterminded in Tehran. Thus, the following of Iranian-type Shiism is marginal, although it seems that small cells of young Moslems who were secretly Shiites existed in the suburbs of Paris, notably in Nanterre, in the late 80s.
There are three Shiite Jamat in France: two in the Paris suburbs and another in the Réunion Island (Indian Ocean). They are affiliated with the UK-based World Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities, which also has a representative in Marseille. In the Paris suburbs, the two jamat of Bagneux (ACCIJ-Centre culturel de Bagneux) and La Courneuve (Mehfil e-Zaynat center) were founded around 1980 and, at a time, the members prayed in the basement of a Catholic Church in Paris, until Al Haj Nazirali Goulamhoussen formally registered the group in September 1982. Most members in continental France seem to be Indians originating from the Indian Ocean, as it seems from the fact that sheikh Moiseraza Momin, one of the spiritual leaders, is Gujarati-speaking.
For the Moharram and Ashoura high celebrations in 2002, they invited a preacher from Pakistan, Maulana Ali Raza Mehdavi Momin. In the Réunion Island, the Shiite community is more organized and since 2002 even convenes a public celebration of Ashoura in the streets. It also publishes a magazine: ?Noor.? The most fascinating aspect of the Réunion jamat is its close relationship with Shiite communities in Madagascar and Africa. The jamat participates in the activities of the Africa Federation, the umbrella organization of Shiites on this continent. Thus, there are constant joint activities with the neighboring communities in Tanzania (incl. Zanzibar) and Kenya.
Politically, the French jamat follow the teachings of the Iraqi Ayatollah Al Ouzama as Sayyid Ali al Housseini al Sistani, supreme authority of the London-based Imam Ali Foundation. His proclamation, dated April 13th, 2002, on ?supporting the Palestinian people against Zionist aggression?, which makes it a duty for every Moslem to help the Palestinian ?recover their spoliated rights and save Islamic land from the aggressors?, was translated into French and distributed by the Réunion jamat.
The same day, the Jamat convened its AGM in the city of Sainte-Clotilde and adopted resolutions, which called for a joint action with the other Moslem associations (Association Musulmane de la Réunion; Présence Musulmane) as well as with other religious groups, in order to organize a march in support of Palestine. Lobbying local politicians asking them to condemn the ?genocide of the Palestinian people? was decided (it has to be remembered that the Parti Communiste Réunionnais is still the major leftist party on the island). Boycotting Israeli and US products, but also avoiding trade with ?those who openly support Sharon?s government?(an obvious reference to the island?s 50-families strong Jewish community) was also adopted. In 1999, the Jamat gave the Islamic Relief organization the sum of 3000 USD for helping the Kosovo Moslems.
A case study in ethnic/ religious identity: the Comorian community
Moslems from the Comoro Islands (official name: Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros) first came to Marseille in the 40s and today number between 40 and 50,000 in this city, and perhaps more than twice that number in France (other big communities are in Paris and Dunkerque). 95% of the immigrants come from Ngazidja, the Great Comoro Island. It is thought that the overall money transfer from France to the Comoros amounts the annual budget of the State there.
First and second generation immigrants gather in numerous associations which are run on a political or strictly communal basis (members come from the same village, and raise money to help sustainable development projects there), while third generation young people are totally integrated into French society and reject the traditional organization of the community. Thus, in the 90s, the leadership of the powerful FECOM (Fédération des Associations Comoriennes de Marseille) has been challenged by younger leaders, who launched the Comores Mag magazine. Moslems from the Comoros gather in the Fédération Française des Associations Islamiques d?Afrique, des Comores et des Antilles (FFAIACA).
However, there is one peculiarity of this community which is worth mentioning: apart from members of the Qadiriya, most Moslems in the Comoros belong to the Shadhuliya Yashrutiya, a Sufi tariqa founded by the Tunisian-born Nuruddin al-Yashruti al-Hasaniya, who died in 1899 in Akko (Palestine). Thus, until 1948, the ?world center?of this tariqa was located there, before moving to Beirut in 1948 and after 1975, to Amman. Despite the fact that the Yashrutiya has followers among the Palestinian (including expatriates in the Arabic Gulf), there are no signs of overt and particular concern about the Palestinian cause among followers in France. In 1995, more conservative French adepts have founded the Rassemblement des Mourides Chadhouliyyi Yashrouti (RMC) which aims at strengthening the relationship with the Amman center.
The Pakistani and Indian Moslems: a new hotbed of radical Islamist activity
There are different groups of Moslems from the Indian subcontinent living in France . The first one is that of the Gujarati Indians who left Madagascar in the 70s (organized within the NAGIN association), or come from the Réunion island and Mauritius. Most of them are businessmen and professionals, and follow the Shiite way. Immigrants from Pakistan number around 50000, many of them undocumented, and living either in Paris or its northern suburbs (Garges; Sarcelles). The majority comes from Punjab or are Mohajirs from Karachi, that is, people whose families left India after the partition of 1947, eventually settling in the Sind province. Those mostly live near the clothing industry district of le Sentier in Paris, and are often employed by Jewish-owned firms. In lower numbers, there are also Gujaratis from India, fleeing the local fighting between Islamist groups and Hindutva radicals, and Bengali from Bangladesh (who run their own prayer room in the XIth district of Paris, the left-of-center Awami League seemingly being the most important of the political groups in this Diaspora).
As a result of history and the colonization of the Pondichery area on the Indian western coast, there also exist a small group of Moslem Tamils known as the Marecar, a caste of merchants whose members, like most Pondicherians, are French-born and very well integrated into French society. The Marecar played an important role in the first attempts at organizing Islam in the country in the 70s,and were instrumental in the building of the Mantes la Jolie mosque at that time.
Radical Islam within the Pakistani community openly appeared for the first time in 1989,when a demonstration was staged in Paris against author Salman Rushdie: the rallying point for demonstrators was then a Pakistani bookshop in rue de Jarry, in the? Little India? quarter. Some radical bookshops are to be found in this area, and the rallying point for Pakistani Islamists seems to be the Ali Mosque, run by Association Foi et Pratique, at 83, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, one of whose two imams have been arrested in autumn 2002,in relation with the ?shoe-bomber? (Richard Reid) case.
This case showed that radicals within the Pakistani community offered him assistance and in June 2002,Ghulam Mustapha Rama, head of the Association Chemin Droit, was arrested, because he is thought to be the local contact for the terrorist group Lashkar e-Toiba. In an interview with the weekly Journal du Dimanche (February 16th, 2003),the head of the Renseignements Généraux (the Ministry of the Interior-run intelligence service), Yves Bertrand, acknowledged that radical Islam from the Indian Subcontinent was both a new concern, and more worrying than radical Islam from Algeria. The Union Nationale des Pakistanais en France, the main organization of expatriates, appears to be moderate. However, this word has a very different meaning, depending on whether you apply it to Pakistani or Western politics. This is exemplified by the case of the democratic, left-leaning Pakistan Awami Tahreek, which is the political wing of the Moslem sect Minhaj ul Quran, founded in 1980 in Lahore by Mohammed Tahir al Qadri, a follower of the barelwi school.
Represented in the Pakistani Parliament, PAT is advocating total freedom of religion for non-Moslems and is very active in the welfare work among expatriates, through its office in the Passage du Prado (Paris Xth district). But when it comes to the Middle-East situation, it does not hesitate to say that the US intervention in Iraq is motivated by the will to ?provide greater security and political say to Israel in the region.? It condemns the ?sham negociations between Israel and Palestine? and pretends that ?the impending war against Iraq also seeks to implement the dream of Greater Israel.? So there is much doubt about the stand of the seemingly secular Pakistani immigration movements, such as those which publish the Paris Urdu magazine ?Nawa i Waqt?, those who run the website for second-generation young people (www.e-pakistan.biz), or the members of the non-affliated group which demonstrated in Paris on March 15th 2003, to the cry of ? Bush, Sharon, murderers? .
An oddity in the spectrum of the Indian Subcontinent?s Islam in France is the existence of a branch of the Ahmadiyya, located in Saint-Prix, north of Paris. The Ahmadiyya is seen by most orthodox Moslems as heretic. It is advocating a peaceful Islam that allows religious freedom for non-Moslem cults and is itself subject to persecution in Pakistan. The Ahmadiyya branch in Strasbourg is part to the interfaith dialogue with, among others, the Jewish community.
Turkish Islam: a rising force and a divided community
The moderate Turkish mosques, which are a majority, are under the supervision of the Union turco-islamique d?affaires théologiques en France (DITIB), a registered association which is under strict control of the Embassy of Turkey, and promotes a secular Islam. The Ankara-controlled associations which take part into the Conseil Représentatif du Culte Musulman, in which they hold the Secretary General, gather in the Comité de Coordination des Musulmans Turcs de France, whose key organizer is the vice-president, Haydar Demiryurek.
In the Paris and Alsace areas, the two strongholds of Turkish immigration, the Milli Görus movement, which is close to the Islamic party now in power in Ankara, is also active under the name Tendance nationale-Union islamique en France, or in Turkish, Islam Toplumu Milli Görus (TNUIF). There is also a branch of the so-called ?kaplanji? radical movement, by the name of its leader Metin Kaplan, now jailed in Germany, where the group is banned, for having ordered the murder of its rival within the movement. It operates under the name Association Islamique en France and is originally a splinter group (1983) of Milli Görus. The group is aligned on the ideas of the Islamic Republic of Iran and once tried to reach an alliance with Al Qaida. It runs two mosques in Paris and one in Metz, and promotes the idea of ?Khilafah?as well as an extremely anti-Semitic rhetoric .
According to a study by Ali Basaran , the Turks who live in France mostly came during the period 1974-93, and come from rural areas of Turkey. Since 1978, an agreement between the two countries allows the Diyanet, an official body depending from the Prime Minister in Ankara, to send teachers of the Turkish language and imams to France. In coherence with the Turkish state?s vision of Islam, those imams do not take into consideration the ethnic origin of the Kurds, nor the existence of religious minorities such as the Alevis. As a consequence, separate movements which refuse submission to Ankara have been set up such as COJEP in Alsace (an offshoot of Milli Görus), Perspectives féminines and several Suleymanci mosques.
One of the major problems with the Turkish immigrants is that, according to Basaran, in 1992, 85% of the adults ? had trouble understanding the news in French on TV.? While 50% of Algerian mothers say they hardly speak French, the figure is 93% for Turkish mothers. This difficulty with integration into French society is not, however, a result of religious fundamentalism. This community is also home to a lot of Turkish extreme-left groups and among the Kurds, Ocalan?s KADEK party (formerly PKK) has a sizable following. Furthermore, it should be noted that, while the influence of conservative Islam is growing among Turks living in France, most fundamentalists maintain a low-key approach to politics: in the pro-Palestine demonstrations, the Kurdish islamist movement, Kurdistanê Islamiya Harakat, is the only one to be seen, while the Maoist parties and the radical leftist Kurds are very vocal against Israel.
The converts to Islam
There is a long tradition of the French elites?fascination with Islam. The general Jacques-François de Menou, who was second to general Bonaparte during his expedition to Egypt, and brought the Rosetta Stone to Alexandria, converted to Islam. Henry Corbin (1903-78) and Louis Massignon (1883-1962), the most well-known orientalists of their time, although they did not convert, were strongly attracted by Moslem esotericism and spirituality,and the latter became a very harsh critic of Zionism until his death.Massignon?s work was decisive in the conversion of Vincent-Mansour Monteil (b.1913), a former colonial army officer in Morocco, who was a UN observer in Palestine in1948, converted in Nouakchott in 1977 and turned an antisemite, supporting Ayatollah Komeiny and Mouammar Khadafi, then promoting freedom of speech for Holocaust deniers in a book supporting Faurisson (?Intolerable intolerance?, 1981).
From the colonial times up to the 80s, conversion to Islam was mostly the matter of a personal search for spirituality and was restricted to the intellectual milieu: the orientalist Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch (1909-2001), the choregrapher Maurice Béjart, the communist-turned Holocaust denier and philosopher Roger Garaudy, are exemples. In the last few years, a new wave of conversions has begun, which is that of native Frenchmen, mostly from Catholic families, either practising or not, who grew up in a predominantly Moslem neighborhood (typically the suburbs of a big city), and chose to follow Islam because it was the religion of the people they socialized with. A fascinating account of such conversions is to be found on the French-language websites specifically aimed at newcomers to the faith, such as www.air-islam.com/convertis and www.islamic-knowledge.com/Francais/Invitation.
The main question with those conversions is whether they stem from a genuine belief in Islam as a set of values or mean what the British sociologist, Grace Davie, called ?belonging without believing?,that is, the feeling of being the member of a community (in which case conversion to Islam may well mean entering into one of the ?urban tribes?studied by the sociologist Michel Maffesoli or be what German philosophy named a ?Lebenswelt?- a ? world to live?-).
What role do converts play within French Islam today? For reasons which have to do with the fear of Islamic radicals, the media devoted much attention to those who engaged into terrorist activity: to the al Qaeda cell which was dismantled in Roubaix in 1996, belonged Lionel Dumont (who converted while being a soldier on duty in Somalia) and Christophe Caze, both of whom fought in Bosnia against the Serbs. In 2001,the Dutch police arrested Jerôme and David Courtallier, two brothers and suspected terrorists, the latter having been trained in Afghanistan. And one should pay attention to the growing number of prison inmates who convert, one striking example being Régis Schleicher, a former (Jewish) member of the far-left pro-Palestinian terrorist group, Action Directe, who seem to have been influenced by a co-detainee, George Ibrahim Abdallah, who is responsible for the murder of the Israeli military attache in Paris, Yaacov Barsimantov.
But there are of course more positive stories: that of converts who come to occupy prominent positions within the community. As said before, the FNMF leadership, at the start, included two of them, Daniel Youssouf Leclercq and Ali-Didier Bourg, its spokesman. While he was a Moslem activist, Bourg was also active within the Human Rights movement as a branch chairman of the leftist Ligue des Droits de l?Homme and showed his concern for his fellow citizens by being a delegate of the Socialist-leaning school parent?s association, FCPE, which promotes a strictly secular agenda...in what is surely France?s most reactionary and clerical (Catholic) city, Versailles.
Many Moslems rely, when coming to learn how to pray, on Yacoub Roty?s books,published by al-Tawhid editions. And Moslem internet hooks, when connecting to the must-read website www.oumma.com, have to do with Emmanuel Dubuc, a convert from a middle-sized city in the half-Catholic right, half Communist departement of Cher. As in Judaism, there is no central authority in charge of conversions,thus no reliable statistics. However, a conservative estimate is between 30,000 and 50,000. On the basis of conversions registered with the Mosquée de Paris, it was said that one third of those were the consequence of a trip to a Moslem country or meeting a Moslem and wanting to marry her/him, while two thirds were the result of a personal belief that Islam is the truth .In 1983, some sources said that 55%of converts were women.
French overseas territories
In the Indian Ocean, the Réunion Island has a population of nearly 50,000 Moslems out of 700,000. Most of them are Gujarati Indians of the Sunni rite, called ?zarabes? by the non-Moslem locals. In the capital city, Saint-Denis, the Noor al Islam mosque was built in 1905, that is before that of Paris. Moslems on the island enjoy rights which are unknown on the mainland, such as having their own private cemetaries (In Saint-Denis, since 1915) and running a medersa which is supervised by the State, offering a mix of religious and secular education for children under 10. All the imams there are French citizens.
In the election to the local CFCM branch, the moderate slate led by Farouck Omarjee, chairman of he Saint-Pierre mosque, won over a more militant slate led by the chairman of the Islam Sounnat Jamat of Saint-Denis. Another French island is Mayotte, in the Comoros archipelago, which chose in 1976 to remain French territory after the country gained independence. The population is 135 000. 97,1% of them follows Islam mixed with local animist creeds, while a small Indian minority, speaking Gujrati, follows the Shiite rite. As a unique case in France, Mayotte is ruled by French penal law and, for personal status and real estate, by Islamic law, under the supervision of cadis (judges) who are appointed by the French administrative authority. So far, the island has not witnessed any emergence of radical Islam. When the State Secretary for Overseas Territories visited the island, in October 2001, the Great Cadi of Mayotte said that? It is important to anticipate and ask ourselves about the eventual emergence of integrism, but there is no reason to fear an extremist upsurge, as long as the people of Mayotte can learn and practise their religion without constraints.?
In the Caribbean, local estimates are that about 2,600 Moslems live in Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti (which is an independent country). In Martinique, there is a large and wealthy Palestinian community with an Islamic centre (Centre culturel islamique de la Martinique), whose imam is paid by the Saudi?Dar el Iftah.?The International Islamic Federation of Islamic Students(IIFSO) helps by sending printed material, and one native Muslim was recently reported to study in Saudi Arabia, expectedly to be employed by the organization when he comes back. Pro-Palestinian activists there are mainly radical leftists who support independence, like, in Martinique, Combat ouvrier, the local branch of Arlette Laguiller?s Trotskyite group, which in 2002 demonstrated to the cry of ?Free Palestine, down with Sharon?s and Bush?s criminal policies.?
Conclusion: A growing minority, but not the majority of believers
It is a reality that the Islamist and even radical groups have acquired a following, especially among the youth, and more so since the Gulf War. It is also a sad reality that the level of anti-Semitic incidents in France has reached unprecedented heights in 2001-2002, that is, at a time when the September 11th attacks by Al Qaida, and the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist attacks on civilian Israeli people, were felt by Jews worldwide as the symptom of a new wave of anti-Semitism which is thought by many to be more dangerous than the anti-Semitism of the extreme right.
The French situation, however, is not a black and white picture. If we consider the number of Moslems living in the country, the overwhelming majority is no threat to the State or to the Jewish community. It can even be said that the secular radical groups, whether Arab, Turkish or Kurdish, which demonstrate their support for the Palestinian cause in the streets of Paris, use a rhetoric which is more violent against Israel and the Jews than that of the Islamist movements. The Association de Solidarité Franco-Palestinienne (AFSP), the only one whose leaflets end with ?Glory to the Martyrs? and which supports Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, is a splinter group from the very leftist Association Médicale Franco-Palestinienne (once led by Communist Party members). The Mouvement de l?Immigration et des Banlieues (MIB), a strictly secular group of second-generation Arab immigrants fighting for civil rights and the Comités Palestine, refer to a pan-Arab ideology which considers Islam as part of the Arabic culture, but not as a dogma.
One can even find far-left groups, which support the comeback of second-generation immigrants to orthodox Islam as a sign of their re-appropriation of ethnic identity against the former colonizer, and as a sign of revolt against capitalism and the ?imperialist world order.? As an example, the ?Socialisme par en-bas? movement, a Trotskyite faction linked to the UK Socialist Workers? Party, uses the slogan ? we are all Moslems?, and has acquired a large following in some universities, even taking control of the ?Agir contre la Guerre? movement which organized the anti-US intervention demos. The ?anti-imperialist? meaning of Islam is such, on the far-left, that an underground publication titled ?Iqra? (http://chez.com/iqra) features a bland of islamist, far-left Action Directe-style language, which also refers to the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. And last but not least, one should remind that in the French prisons, a solidarity movement with the detainees of the Neve Tirza prison in Ramleh (most of them Islamist terrorists) was launched in August 2002 by the Action Directe inmates, including Régis Schleicher and with the support of George Ibrahim Abdallah. As one may have guessed, most inmates who followed the movement were of North African origin.
So the problem is not so much to which extent the Moslem community today in France is committed to Islamism. It is rather the fact that the vast majority of those who refer to orthodox Islam want to have their right to live by their own sets of values recognized by the French state, which historically, was built upon a strict adherence to secularism. A growing number of non-practising Moslems also want the State to acknowledge their existence as an Arab community. They develop some kind of a counter-culture which can be seen by the launching on the market of the ?Mecca-Cola? or ?Muslim Up? beverages and of the ?Himaya? sportswear company, clearly sold as substitutes to the ? US- Zionist-state-supporting? products. They are at the spearhead of the movement in favor of the boycott of Israel.
The orthodox Moslems today do not see ?hijra? (emigration to a Moslem country) as their future. They rather seek to build what the sociologist Lijphardt, or political scientists Blaise and Mertens in Belgium, have called a ?Moslem third pillar of society?, alongside the Christian and secular socialist traditions which are the cornerstones of French society since 1789. The Jewish community of France, long committed to supporting the Republican model of being ? a Jew at home and a citizen outside? never had such a claim. So, in a country where the communitarian model more and more supersedes the old secular one, it will have to find new ways to counter the growing influence of Moslem anti-Zionism. According to a poll on the French and their attitude towards religion, published in April 2003, for the first time in history, 6% declared themselves Moslem, against a mere 2% in 1994. At the same time, the number of those who declared themselves as Jews dropped below the 1% mark. French pollsters now indicate that in every opinion poll, the sample of those who say they are Moslem is ?significant?, that is, superior to 50 out of 1000. The political future of the Jewish community in France depends on those figures.
According 1999 population census, there are 4,31 million foreigners or French citizens born abroad, that is 7,4% of the population. 1,56 million of them hold french citizenship. Immigration figures are stable since 1975. People from Algeria are 575 740; from Morocco: 521059; from Tunisia: 201700; from Turkey: 175987; from Senegal: 53859
Olivier Roy: L?islam mondialisé, Editions du Seuil, 2002, p.7
Follow-up reports are available on the website: www.actuj.com
Online edition at: www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism
Strangely enough, but may be not so, the crusaders left France in order ? to free the tomb of Christ? from Moslem domination. And on their way, they exterminated the thriving Jewish communities of the Rhin valley, including those of Alsace, which three times chose to side along France(1870;1918;1939) against German occupation.
X.Ternisien: La France des mosquées, Editions Albin Michel, 2002
Cf. Mark Sedgwick, Les confréries néo-soufies dans la mouvance guénonienne, in : Annuaire de l?Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, section des sciences religieuses, n°109 (2000-2001 ),pp.295-98
In Morocco,this tariqa refrains from any overt political activity, but is, according to Abdessamad Dialmy from the university of Fès, ? islamist-to be-movement.? Cf. A.Dialmy, L?islamisme marocain entre révolution et intégration, in Archives de sciences sociales des religions, n°110,p.5-27, April-June 2000
According to Odile Cimetière and Olivier Bot in the daily Le Midi libre (Dec.10th,2002, the tariqa has around 100 followers in France, mostly converts
On his life, see:Ousmane Kane (University of Saint Louis, Senegal), Résumé de la vie de Baye, in Dictionnaire des savants et grandes figures du monde musulman périphérique, du XIXè siècle à nos jours, n°1, april 1992
On the links between the Tijaniya and radical Islam in Nigeria and Sudan, see: Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, ?Nigéria et Soudan, y a-t-il une vie après la sharia??, in Etudes n°5, novembre 2001
On April 25th 2001, the Qatari newspaper al Raya reported that sheikh Qaradawi declared the suicide bombings ? permissible and commandable in Islam?, saying that those ?heroic mardyrdom operations? are ?the only language the jews understand.?
He is a relative of the Algerian islamist leader, Mahfoud Nahnah.
Cf. the article by Martine Laronche in Le Monde, Dec.7th,2002
The moderate approach is that of Fatiha Kaoues, a regular contributor and webmistress of the www. arabesques.org website, who acknowledged that one of the problem within the Moslem community, regarding their opinion on the Middle-East situation, is that ? some of them want to go back to the pre-1948 situation, which is impossible.? Source: meeting with F.Kaoues, March 2003, Paris.
When visiting the Ahbach center on boulevard Ornano in Paris, in June 2002, the author, presenting himself as a non-moslem, was invited to join the daily Quran classes with his family and was able to buy the basic religion textbook for primary school pupils: La culture islamique, Ed. Darou al Mashari li t-Tibaati wan Nachr, march 2000. This would of course not have been possible in any salafi or even tablighi mosque. As other gesture to look moderate, the Ahbach have their textbooks published under the spiritual guidance and with the approval of scholars from Al-Azhar university in Cairo, the orthodox Sunni refeence for religious studies.
I am most grateful to Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, political scientist at the IRD, Paris, for his information on islam in the Comoros.
On this topic: Catherine de Wenden: South Asian Migrants in the Parisian and Francilian Economy: a chronological overview of the South groups?Entry in the Labour Market, research paper for the European Commission (unpublished), December 2001, 40p
The leader of this group, some 30-people strong, wore a T-shirt with the English-language slogan: ? Proud to be a Pakistani.? In April 2003,the Association Interculturelle des Pakistanais en France, headquartered at the Ali Mosque, put posters in the area in support of the French opposition to US intervention in Iraq.
The author visited the mosque in the Cité Industrielle (Paris 11th district) in July 2002. Posters calling for the boycott of Israeli and ?zionist-made?goods were on the walls of the prayer room, which has a capacity of 100. The association is chaired by a turkish small business owner in the 9th of Paris. Those who attend are remarkable in that they do not wear the traditional islamic garb and keep a very low-key profile.
A.Basaran: Les constats concernant école-parents, article at www.cfait.org/IMMIGRATION/analyse.36.htlm