A French imam has received death threats for promoting positive relations with the Jewish community.
Hassen Chalghoumi, the clean-shaven imam of Drancy mosque, just outside Paris, has been targeted by a group of young Islamists who object to his position on interfaith relations and to his vocal support for a ban on the wearing of the burka, which he calls a “prison for women, a means for sexist subjugation and a tool for fundamentalist indoctrination”.
Two weeks ago — the day before a government commission published its report recommending a limited ban on the wearing of the burka in public in France — 80 youths burst into the mosque, calling Mr Chalghoumi a traitor and the “Imam of the Jews”.
Tunisian-born Mr Chalghoumi was not in the mosque at the time but he made a formal complaint to the police and the mosque was placed under surveillance.
On Friday, during services, another disruption led to Mr Chalghoumi being escorted from the premises by the police.
This is not the first time that Mr Chalghoumi has been threatened with violence. In 2006, his house was vandalised after a ceremony at the Drancy memorial where he called upon Muslims worldwide to respect the memory of the Holocaust. Drancy was the location of the notorious internment camp just outside Paris where more than 65,000 Jews were held prior to being deported to Auschwitz between 1941 and 1944.
A year ago his car was destroyed after he noted that antisemitic attacks had increased in the wake of Israel’s Gaza offensive in December 2008.
In the French Muslim community Mr Chalghoumi is one of several voices — including the high-profile rector of the Paris mosque — calling for rapprochement between the Muslim and Jewish communities. He has been widely embraced by the political and Jewish leadership and has recently been invited to the Elysée Palace and to a dinner held by the Crif, the French equivalent of the Board of Deputies.
The Crif’s Marc Knobel said that the latest attack on Mr Chalghoumi has provoked “grave concern” amongst Jewish leaders.
“This kind of aggression is unacceptable in France. We need people like Monsieur Chalghoumi, with whom dialogue is possible. This is the kind of Islam that these leaders are trying to develop in France, an Islam of tolerance, of French values, respectful of the French principle of secularism.”