The creation of a new French Muslim Council suggests growing unity among Muslims in France, as well as a new approach the French government may take toward religious affairs.
Representatives from more than 900 mosques across France recently elected members of the new council. .The first generation of Muslim immigrants in France were immigrant workers, often expected to go back to their original countries after retirement. Not only did they stay, but more came over the years, and their children became French citizens. A growing number of the 5 million Muslims in France are entitled to vote, which means French governments will need to pay attention to their voice.
A problem has always been the absence of a representative body of French Muslims as an official partner for the French government, largely due to disunity among the Islamic groups. However, the new and dynamic Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, managed to bring all the major Muslim organizations in France to an agreement. About 80 percent of the French mosques have taken part in the April elections. It now remains to be seen how the newly elected body will conduct its work (the influential and moderate Paris Mosque makes no mystery of its opposition to the “fundamentalist” French Union of Islamic Organizations), and also how the government will respond to various issues which go beyond the role and place of Islam in France.
There are indeed indications that the current French government intends to redefine the religion-state relations, which have often been conflictual in France over the past century. On the other hand, such a redefinition will also involve drawing boundaries: addressing a Muslim gathering near Paris on April 19, Sarkozy reemphasized that wearing an Islamic scarf for pictures used on identity cards or passports would remain forbidden. The mostly scarf-wearing women in the audience were apparently unconvinced.
— By Jean-François Mayer