The head of a mosque in Drancy, a northeastern suburb of Paris, was targeted Monday by a gang of Islamic radicals who interrupted the services and threatened to “liquidate him, this imam of the Jews.”
The mob, about 80-strong, burst into the French mosque, halting a meeting of some 200 other imams led by Hassen Chalghoumi, who has consistently spoken out against Islamic extremism.
The extremists called the Muslim spiritual leader an “infidel” (heathen) and a “renegade.”
At the time, Chalghoumi was chairing a meeting of the Conference of Imams, an organization established just last year to promote better relations between the various faiths in France, especially Jews and Muslims.
“They started to cry Allahu Akbar',” Chalghouri told reporters after the incident. “Then they insulted me, my mosque, the Jewish community and the [French] Republic. They left after an hour and a half.”
Despite the anti-Semitic epithets, however, the attack apparently also stemmed from Chalghoumi's liberal positions on the status of women in Islam. At age 36, he is known in France for his interfaith work with Jewish leaders and his activism with Muslim youth, but is also an especially controversial figure on the issue of women's dress in Islam.
Last week he told the French newspaper Le Parisien, “Having French nationality means wanting to take part in society, at school, at work. But with a bit of cloth over their faces, what can these women share with us? If they want to wear the veil, they can go to a country where it's the tradition, like Saudi Arabia.”
He is known for his support for “a legal ban of the burka, which has no place in France, a country where women have been voting since 1945.” The burka, an all-encompassing robe that covers a woman literally from head to foot, hiding her completely from the eyes of all, is “a prison for women, a tool of sexist domination and Islamist indoctrination,” Chalghoumi told Le Parisien.
One of the younger and most liberal imams in France, the Tunisian-born Chalghoumi, is a naturalized French citizen. He has been repeatedly attacked by Islamic radicals, and has also received death threats in the past in response to his statements against anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the imam told an interviewer Tuesday on Radio Orient that he would continue to work against extremism and towards improving Muslim-Jewish relations in France. “It is our future that is at stake,” he said.
The imam confirmed that he would file a formal complaint with police against the gang that burst into his mosque on Monday.
The regional Jewish community organization issued a statement supporting Chalghoumi and expressing concern about the attack, calling the incident “serious and worrisome.” According to Sammy Ghozlan, head of the organization, “a real harmony has reigned between the Jewish and Muslim communities” since the arrival of Chalghoumi. Christian organizations were similarly supportive. However, the Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF) was less positive. The group's president said he was not surprised by the attack, adding, “We've warned him several times to moderate his words because he risks attracting these sort of reactions.”
The imam and his mosque are currently under police protection.