where is their training in France?

where is their training in France?

During his vows, on January 11, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Chems-eddine Hafiz, announced the creation of a training center for imams in Vitry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne). Expected to open its doors next September, this new building will house the headquarters of the Al-Ghazali Institute, a training center for imams created in 1993, which the rector wishes to professionalize. In fact, while the end of the system of seconded imams – these Algerian, Moroccan or Turkish ministers of religion paid by the countries of origin – will be definitively recorded on 1er April, the question of the training of imams in France arises increasingly.

Certainly, for the moment, the cessation of seconded imams, designed to put an end to foreign influences, does not imply the end of the training of French imams abroad. Since 2015, the Union of Mosques of France (UMF), a federation of mosques close to Morocco, has, for example, sent young aspiring French imams to train at the Mohammed-VI Institute in Rabat, like Kalilou Sylla, 27 years old, originally from Sevran (Seine-Saint-Denis) and today imam of the Great Mosque of Strasbourg.

Likewise, to make up for the lack of its seconded imams, the Ditib association – linked to Diyanet, the Turkish religious affairs directorate – sends its French candidates for the imamate to train in Turkey. “After their baccalaureate, these young people follow a four to five year theology course at universities,” specifies Ibrahim Alci, president of the Coordinating Committee of Turkish Muslims of France (CCMTF). However, he himself recognizes that the ideal would be to train them in France.

Remuneration difficulties

However, the training offer for imams in France is still far from being centralized at the national level. If institute initiatives have emerged recently – such as the Islamica institute of the UMF or the National School of Muslim Religious Executives and Chaplains (Encram) of Abdelhaq Nabaoui in Alsace – the two main training centers for imams remain the European Institute of Human Sciences (IESH) of Château-Chinon (founded by Muslims of France, formerly UOIF, close to the Muslim Brotherhood) and the Al-Ghazali Institute of the Grand Mosque of Paris, which has six annexes. In French universities, training courses in Islamology have been developed, but, being non-denominational, they are not directly aimed at training imams.

The opportunities offered by these institutes, and especially the assurance for students of being able to make a living from the work of an imam, are far from certain upon leaving. At the Al-Ghazali Institute, students follow a three-year course with classes held on weekends, and not all of them want to become imams. “Some are already imams somewhere and want diploma recognitiondescribes Abobikrine Diop, coordinator of the Marseille annex. Others take this training simply to gain knowledge. »

In fact, becoming a minister of religion upon leaving is far from automatic. “Students graduateexplains Chems-eddine Hafiz, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, but they are worried because it is not easy that a mosque will take care of them financially afterwards. »

“The job of imam does not appeal”

Upon leaving IESH, where students can follow a full-time course in theology, learning the Koran or Arabic language, “many become imams, others chaplains or teachers”, assures Larabi Becheri, dean. But he points out more the problem of attractiveness: “The profession of imam does not appeal to a majority of young Muslims,” he notes.

The reason: the lack of a clear status for this function. “There is no status of imams set at the national level, explains Francis Messner, professor emeritus at the University of Strasbourg and specialist in religious law. Andvery often the remuneration is too low to support a family. »

Even today, in many mosques, imams are volunteers and have not necessarily followed academic training. They can be responsible for varying missions, ranging from leading the five daily prayers to preaching on Fridays, including providing teaching, or even mediating with families.

“In many places of worship, imams are chosen for their knowledge of the Koran but work in a profession on the side, and are not qualified,” testifies Abobikrine Diop. Hence the importance of establishing a status to organize the training: “Without statuscontinues Francis Messnerno one has a very clear vision of the function of imam. The status includes the required level of training, vacation rights, remuneration, duties and social protection. » The French Islam Forum (Forif), a platform for dialogue between the Muslim faith and the government, is currently working on this.


Federations adapt

In February 2020, Emmanuel Macron announced his desire to end the reception of seconded imams in order to fight against “Islamist separatism” and the “foreign influences”. Those still present in France will have to change their status before 1er April 2024.

Turkey, which initially had 150 seconded imams, has gradually reduced the number of its seconded imams, which now number only 60. The thirty imams from Morocco were employed in 2022 by French mosque associations. As for the 120 Algerian seconded imams, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris “studies the possibilities of maintaining those who want to stay in France”but it will now be “the Grand Mosque of Paris which will employ them”.


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