marriage, youth, prayer… Imams facing “Sheikh Google”

marriage, youth, prayer… Imams facing “Sheikh Google”

Fatou (1), a 19-year-old Parisian, recognizes this without complexes. As soon as a question arises about her religious practice, or about what is allowed or not allowed in Islam, she turns to the Internet. She watches videos or compares the different opinions displayed on the sites. His requests concern subjects as varied as making up for the fasting days of Ramadan, wearing the veil or male-female relations. Her friend Hadja (1) also scoured the internet to see if she could get a piercing. Fatou would not dare ask these intimate questions to an imam: “It’s a bit embarrassing, the neighborhood imam is someone we have to see often. »

Like her, many young Muslims who want to conform their lives to religious precepts say they have gotten into the habit of calling on “Sheikh Google” for guidance. On intimate issues like romantic relationships, or addictions like pornography, the anonymity of the Internet is even favored.. “Young French Muslims have the same questions as all teenagers when discovering a sexuality or an impulse, for example they wonder if they can be in a relationship…”, explicit Soulaymane Jacobs, director of a religious institute in the North.

Faced with this offer present on the Web, which is widely consulted, imams in the flesh are led to reaffirm their authority, and to distance themselves from network preachers with sometimes rigorous approaches, in particular by further arguing the answers that they ask questions of all kinds… and which sometimes go well beyond their skills. A meeting of several dozen imams took place at the end of January at the initiative of Tarik Abou Nour, imam in Val-d'Oise, to initiate a joint reflection on how to respond to the faithful's questions, in particular on questions of morals.

Arbitrations between couples and families

While most concern the practice of worship – way of praying, form of giving alms during Ramadan – a certain number of people regularly call on the imam for questions concerning, for example, couples or marriages. Sometimes, the latter must remind you of the obligation to go through the town hall before getting married religiously. Couples also often consult the imam to resolve their marital conflicts. Faced with these subjects, religious people often feel helpless. “We are not marriage counselors or psychologists! insists Morgan Gallet, imam in the North, who prefers to redirect people towards professionals. What is important in this case is knowing how to say: “I can give you my opinion, but perhaps it is better to go to someone more capable of answering you.” »

It may happen that the imam is required to make arbitrations between the couple and the families on questions that do not directly concern Islam. “People come to me saying: 'I want to marry someone who is not of the same origin as me, our parents don't agree, what should I do?' I tell them it’s un-Islamic to make cultural differences”, slices Tarik Abou Nour. Other imams try to mediate. “In the case of mixed couples, you have to take the time to understand and listen to the arguments to avoid breakups. Often, I tell parents that the greatest bond we have in common is French culture, which unites us all.” reports Kadjoura Baradji, Parisian imam.

And then come the questions, especially from young people, about the authorization or not of certain practices in Islam. This is where imams are confronted with opinions other than their own, found on the Internet and often tinged with rigorism. “Among many young people today, the harshest opinion is valued because they have the impression that it is the one that will bring them closer to God, deplores Tarik Abou Nour. This is a misunderstanding since Islam asks us to seek the easiest advice, without being lax. For example, to new converts who have difficult relationships with their families, I emphasize that God advocates kindness toward parents, regardless of religion. »

Take context into account

Faced with sometimes categorical responses on the Internet, other imams highlight the plurality and divergence of possible opinions. “When I deal with young people, I often give them several answers to show that Muslim law is not fixed”, testifies Soulaymane Jacobs. He tries to get away from only normative answers of halal-haram “so as not to encourage fundamentalist Islam” : “If the person needs a framework, you have to give it to them, and then lead them towards something else. »

Taking into account the context also counts a lot in the approach of these traditional imams, attached to the legal schools of Islam, but who distance themselves from rigorism. Unlike other mosques, Kalilou Sylla, imam at the Grand Mosque of Strasbourg, for example, offers training sessions where boys and girls are together. “There is no consensus among scholars about diversity, but we take into account habits and customs: we are in a society which has evolved and which makes no differences between men and women. Today, if a woman comes to the mosque saying, “I want to learn,” she comes with everyone.”he insists.

He also does not hesitate to tackle subjects directly at the mosque that directly affect adolescents, such as depression, school bullying, and soon sex education, and brings in psychologists to talk about it. While these questions do not specifically concern Islam, “raising awareness of these issues is linked to universal values, which we find in religion”, he believes. He therefore nourishes his interventions with spiritual elements.


A reflection initiative between imams

At the initiative of Val-d'Oise imam Tarik Abou Nour, several dozen imams met on January 28 in a group entitled “French Council for Imamate and Preaching”, in order to to initiate a common reflection and “independent” in order to “restore value and voice to the imam”, and to discuss “sensitive and important subjects for Muslims in their country, France”. Among the themes that will be addressed in the reflection which is beginning are prayer and fasting calendars, religious marriages and divorces, funeral rites and Muslim squares, but also current issues such as gender, euthanasia or even sex change.

(1) The first name has been changed

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