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Anouar Kbibech, who heads the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), an umbrella organization of French Muslim groups, said the foundation would be used to fund the construction and running of mosques and would be financed by fees paid by actors in the halal food sector.
His announcement follows calls by Prime Minister Manuel Valls last week to end the funding from abroad of French mosques, amid fears foreign influence over certain mosques and prayer rooms in France could encourage the radicalization of attendants.
“Almost all Muslims of France are attached to a serene, open, tolerant Islam and they are fully respecting the values and laws of the Republic,” Kbibech said on LCI television.
After meeting Kbebich, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he wanted the foundation to be launched in October.
Cazeneuve said 20 Muslim places of worship have been shut down in recent months due to radical views being exposed there.
“There’s no room in France for those who call for and stir up hatred in prayer rooms or mosques and do not respect the principles of the Republic,” he said.
He added the government is working on a way to guarantee “total transparency” in the financing of the mosques while at the same time “strictly respecting the secular principles of the Republic”.
The debate about the financing of mosques in France was revived by last week’s murder of an elderly priest in a Normandy church by two Islamic extremists.
The spate of terrorist attacks that has recently struck France, two thirds of them committed by homegrown jihadists, has heightened concern that many Muslim worshippers may be exposed to a dangerous brand of radical Islamism that is imported and financed from abroad.
But calls to strengthen oversight of Muslim places of worship tend to clash with France’s deeply entrenched secular rules, most notably a 1905 law that institutes a strict separation between church and state – and prohibits the use of state funds for the construction of places of worship.
Earlier this month, a Senate committee published a wide-ranging report on Islam in France, in which it criticised the inherent ambiguity of the state’s policy towards Muslims, stating: “On the one hand there is the intent to organise Islam in France in order to have greater control; on the other hand it [Islam] cannot be touched because of the 1905 law. The equation is unsolvable.”
The report also highlighted serious shortcomings in the training of imams in France, calling for a single training programme that is “adapted to the French context”.
On Monday, Kbebich said the CFCM is also working to improve the training of imams in France so that they have a better knowledge of the country’s secular history and the institutions of the Republic.
This comes a day after dozens of Muslims in France and Italy attended Catholic Mass as a gesture of interfaith solidarity following the attack on the priest in Normandy.