A US-based rights group has blasted French President Emmanuel Macron for issuing an ultimatum to Muslim leaders in France to proclaim that Islam is an “apolitical religion.”
“President Macron must reverse course before his nation returns to the colonial racism and religious bigotry that haunted so many European nations for centuries,” said Nihad Awad, the executive director of Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in a statement.
“President Macron is turning ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ into ‘repression, inequality and division’,” Awad added, referring to the national motto of France.
CAIR, the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the US, also condemned Macron’s ultimatum, insisting that “the French government has no right to tell Muslims or any other religious minority how to interpret their own faith.”
The development came after Macron on Wednesday gave the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) two weeks to draw up a charter of “republican values” that its member organizations and affiliates would be expected to comply.
Macron has sparked a controversy after making insulting remarks against Islam and defending the publication of sacrilegious cartoons against Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in the name of “freedom of speech.”
Macron further warned Muslim leaders in France that “if some do not sign this charter, we will draw the consequences from that.”
It remains unclear, however, what consequences will face imams and organizations that do not abide by the future charter.
Macron’s decree further seeks to put an end to any foreign contribution to activities and teachings in French mosques or Islamic centers, in a bid to centralize the formation and accreditation of Muslim leaders in the country by establishing a “National Council of Imams.”
The so-called National Council of Imams would reportedly require different levels of qualifications from its members, including fluency in French and university degrees, depending on whether one leads prayers, offers sermons or engages in public speaking.
CAIR denounced the French president’s move as “hypocritical and dangerous” and warned American Muslims against travelling to France.
The Washington-based rights group further pointed to France’s long history of oppressing its Muslim population, saying:.
“Over the past 20 years, France has implemented numerous laws designed to limit and punish the free exercise of religion, especially among Muslims. France has banned students, teachers, and public servants, from wearing visible signs of their faith, including hijabs, at school or at work.”
In October, CAIR called on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIFR) to investigate France’s ongoing campaign of “collective punishment” against the French Muslim community, as well as the country’s longstanding history of turning anti-religious bigotry into government policy.
Macron delivered a speech in early October about the French Muslim community, claiming that “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country,” and has also expressed concern about “Islamic separatism” and called for efforts to “liberate” Islam.
A draft law on “separatism” is expected to be presented to the French cabinet on December 9.