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Villepin targets non-French imams

Villepin deported a radical Algerian imam Wednesday

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Acts of terror
Paris (France)

PARIS, France (Reuters) -- France must tackle the issue of training Muslim prayer leaders in a moderate "French Islam" that respects human rights and rejects terrorism, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin says.

Speaking a day after he deported an Algerian imam for saying Islam let husbands beat adulterous wives, Villepin urged the country's prefects Thursday to expel any foreign preacher who advocated violence, hate, racism or abuses of human rights.

Only about 10 percent of imams in France are citizens and about half of all imams in the country speak French, experts say.

Most are imported from Arab countries, where some have been trained in radical Islamist views that clash with France's secular laws.

But mainstream Muslim leaders' calls for help require funds, scarce at a time when France is struggling to cut its huge budget deficit. Their appeals for subsidies also conflict with the country's strict separation of church and state.

"We must face the issue of training imams," Villepin told a meeting of prefects, who oversee the application of government policy in departments across France.

"I ask you to help the Muslim faith get organized better and more quickly so a real French Islam can emerge," he said, adding that training programs would help the official French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) to supervise imams.

Abdelkader Bouziane, 52, who preached in a mosque near Lyon, was packed off to Algiers Wednesday after he told a magazine that Islam allowed the stoning and beating of unfaithful wives.

France expelled another imam last week for preaching radical Islam and defending the Madrid train bombs that killed 191 people.

Zero tolerance

"We will not tolerate any preacher, of any philosophy or religion, who advocates violence, abuse of human rights, hate and racism or who has links to organizations that condone terrorism," Villepin said.

CFCM chairman Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the moderate Grand Mosque of Paris, requested state aid Tuesday to launch a seminary to train imams in a tolerant "French Islam."

The Grand Mosque and a rival group offer some imam training courses, but these are not officially recognized and teach differing versions of Islamic theology.

"The CFCM must tackle the problem of training imams, but the state must also help us with a minimum of financing to create a training institute," Boubakeur said.

Bordeaux imam Mahmoud Doua said prayer leaders in France -- some of whom have no training at all -- needed a modern education. "The ideal would be a university education in both the social sciences and Koranic studies," he said.

Mohammad Kouba, an administrator of the An-Nour mosque near Caen in Normandy, told Reuters his congregation never hired foreign imams because they did not understand life in France.

"We tell our girls to respect French laws on secularism, even if that means they have to take off their headscarves in state schools," he said. "An imam from Saudi Arabia would not tell you to obey a French law."

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