France's Most Famous Muslim Cleric Supports Burqa Ban

Since then, Chalghoumi has always been at the forefront when it comes to spreading a better, brighter image of Islam. There is no doubt that in doing so he represents the majority of practicing Muslims in France, just as it is clear that he has also stirred up a radical minority. "It will be a long battle," he says, "but we will wage it." It is a never-ending battle, and it already seems to have taken its toll on Chalghoumi.

'I Am a Symbol'

He established a new conference of imams last summer, and the launch was attended by cabinet ministers, representatives of the Jewish community and diplomats from the US and other embassies. Chalghoumi has spoken at conferences of the European Parliament in Brussels, he gives toasts at dinners in the Jewish community, he has traveled through the Gaza Strip in the company of rabbis, he has been invited to champion his cause at the Elysée Palace, and both the president and later the prime minister have publicly taken him by the arm, praised him and said that they were proud of him and that he had their full support.

It's a little as if the republic would have to invent Imam Chalghoumi if he didn't already exist. This makes it easy for his enemies to spread malicious rumors about him and condemn him as an "agent of the system." Chalghoumi himself plays into their hands with his speeches and interviews, which are always a little too perfect, a little too zealous and a little too compliant. "I am a symbol," says Chalghoumi, not without a touch of pride. He likes to see himself in the role of the lonely pioneer. "The Drancy mosque is a symbol. And the enemies want to destroy us." These are big words, too big, perhaps for an imam in a small city. They only egg on the resistance instead of placating it. Chalghoumi, the imam of peace, disturbs the peace. Perhaps this is necessary and is exactly what the culture war needs right now. But the mosque in Drancy, whose ministry is now regularly accompanied by dispatches from the press agencies, has also become a place of vulgar behavior and wrangling, a place of discord.

Chalghoumi's enemies now appear at the mosque every Friday, and each time there are a few more than the last time. Some are now coming to Drancy from farther a field. They include skillful speakers who sometimes promote strange ideas, such as demanding that instead of Islam accommodating France, the country should accommodate Islam, because it is the one true faith. The protestors have recently taken to waving photos of the bodies of children in Gaza. They also claim to have collected more than 1,000 signatures supporting Chalghoumi's dismissal. Perhaps his days as imam are numbered.

If so, the republic will lose its good Muslim, the model imam. Is he afraid? For himself? His family? "I'm just afraid for my congregation, for this mosque," he says. Once again, his words are a little too perfect, even a little peculiar, because Chalghoumi says them in passing, as he hurries back out into his small world surrounded by the Carrefour supermarket, the parking lot and the railroad embankment, which is blocking the view toward Mecca.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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