France / Nivre - Agence France-Presse
Some 200 students are taking Islamic education in the French school.
Deep in the wooded hills of Burgundy in central France, an unusual institute is training unusual students: aspiring French
imams who hope to minister to the country’s large Muslim population.
Early in the morning, some 200 students from across the country stream into the European Institute of Human Sciences de Saint-Leger-de-Fougeret, where they learn to chant the Koran and study Islamic theology and Arabic literature.
Estimates of France’s Muslim population vary widely, from between 3.5 million and 6 million, though there is little hard evidence as to how many are practising. In any event, France’s Muslim community is the largest in Western Europe.
The initiative goes back 20 years when the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, converted a former children’s holiday centre into the institute. Its stated aim is to train imams equipped “with a solid knowledge of Islam and the socio-cultural realities of Europe.” The idea was to provide an alternative to the recruitment of foreign imams, who often spoke no French
and had little or no knowledge of French
“The training of imams who are products of French
society is vital: Today 70 percent of the faithful don’t speak Arabic,” said the institute’s director Zuhair Mahmood.
Initially financed by the Gulf States, the school depends heavily on fees of about 3,400 euros a year, board and lodging included.
At break time men, often bearded, and women, all of them wearing head scarves, wait for coffee. The women can follow the 20 hours of weekly courses but cannot become imams.