Cleric's expulsion raises issue of status: Muslims

25th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

LYON, July 24 (AFP) - The expulsion from France of a radical Muslim clergyman raises the issue of the training of imams, or religious leaders, Muslims in the southeastern city of Lyon said Sunday.

LYON, July 24 (AFP) - The expulsion from France of a radical Muslim clergyman raises the issue of the training of imams, or religious leaders, Muslims in the southeastern city of Lyon said Sunday.

Abdelhamid Aissaoui, 41, was deported Saturday after the French agency for the protection of refugees and stateless people formally rejected an asylum request.

He served four years in prison for his role in a network linked to the suspected would-be bomber of a high-speed train in 1995, the interior ministry said.

His name was also on an intelligence list of radical Muslim clerics preaching mostly in the Paris, Lyon and Marseille areas.

"This man was not the official imam of a mosque and a 'part-time imam' (the term used by the interior ministry), I do not know what that is," said Azzedine Gaci, the new president of the Rhone-Alps regional council of the Muslim faith.

Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Grand Mosque in Lyon and a former council president, said it was possible Aissaoui had stood in for an imam two or three times.

The Lyon mosque where Aissaoui was an occasional preacher, according to the French intelligence services, has "always been very independent and autonomous," according to Kabtane, and it "was hard to know who the imam was."

"Abdelkader Bouziane, another expelled imam, had also been a replacement in this mosque," he said.

But Gaci and Kabtane agreed the latest expulsion revived the issue of the training and status of imams.

"You cannot constantly criticise and point the finger at extremist imams without helping those who do their job correctly, who encourage Muslims to live in peace with their environment and who feel hurt by these affairs," Kabtane said.

He called on politicians to show there was "a real political will to help the Muslim community train its imams."

"If the problem of training imams is resolved, in a few years there will be no more expulsions like this."

According to Gaci this kind of affair and the surrounding publicity were "counterproductive because they created a climate of suspicion."

"With all these cases the imams tend to do less, to be less visible, to suggest fewer activities.

"And the young. thirsty for spirituality, end up by going elsewhere and turning to people we do not know," he said.

At present there are no precise conditions for becoming an imam "and that is the crux of the problem," Gaci said.

"Today many imams in France are self-taught and that is what we would like to change."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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