imams

A National Campaign for ‘Islam a la Francaise’ Takes Root Amid Growing Radicalization

Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Students attend class at the Catholic University of Lyon. Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Sunlight slants across a classroom at the Catholic University of Lyon, where the Bible dominates an evening lecture.

The subject may not seem surprising in this ancient city that was once a bastion of French Catholicism and a hub for Christian missionaries. But the dozen or so people jotting notes are not theology students.

One young woman wears a headscarf. A man sports the beard of a devout Muslim. Still others are non-Muslim civil servants working for the local government.

All are enrolled in a program on the French concept of secularism and religious tolerance that is jointly run by two Lyon universities and the city’s Grand Mosque. They’re the unlikely foot soldiers of a national campaign for “Islam a la Francaise.”

The drive has taken on new urgency since January’s terrorist attacks in Paris and the departure of hundreds of French youths to join jihadist movements in the Middle East.

The country’s leftist government has responded with a raft of new measures to fight homegrown extremism.

Pope Francis on Free Speech: ‘You Cannot Insult the Faith of Others’

Photo courtesy of Valentina Calà via Flickr / RNS

A memorial for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Photo courtesy of Valentina Calà via Flickr / RNS

Pope Francis on Jan. 15 condemned last week’s terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo but warned there were limits on freedom of expression.

Speaking to journalists as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines on a weeklong visit to Asia, the pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” and stressed that killing in the name of God was an unacceptable “aberration.”

“You don’t kill in God’s name,” Francis said.

However the pope, who has made a point of reaching out to Muslims, Jews, and other faiths, said there were limits to self-expression when it involved insulting or ridiculing people’s faith.

“You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others,” he said. “You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

U.S. Mosques Hit By Shortage of Imams

betto rodrigues / Shutterstock.com

Shiite muslims in the parade of the Ashura festival on Nov. 18. betto rodrigues / Shutterstock.com

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Islamic Center wants something mosques all across the country are seeking and can’t seem to find: an educated, bilingual, experienced imam who understands American culture.

According to the report “The American Mosque 2011” by University of Kentucky professor Ihsan Bagby, half of all mosques in the U.S. have no full-time staff, and only 44 percent of imams work as paid, full-time leaders.

In Spokane, the Muslim community has been seeking a leader for 18 months and counting.

Pool of American Imams Too Small to Meet Demand

Imam photo, selimaksan / Getty Images

Imam photo, selimaksan / Getty Images

American-born imams are nearly impossible to find. Ads from mosques seeking imams who are fluent in English are readily found in Muslim-American magazines and newspapers. The North American Imams Federation, an advocacy group founded in 2002, gets more than 100 requests for help every year from mosques seeking religious leaders.

Hossam AlJabri, a former executive director of the Muslim American Society, estimated that about 80 percent of America’s 2,200 mosques were led by immigrant imams, although the majority have been in America for at least 10 years, many much longer.  

According to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of America’s estimated 2.75 million Muslims are immigrants — with as many as 90,000 new Muslim immigrants arriving each year. Experts say it will be years before the pool of American imams becomes large enough to meet demand from mosques.

Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 21, 2012

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