In February 2018, french president Emmanuel Macron said :

"I want to lay the foundations for the whole organization of Islam in France"

He plans to do this to diminish the number of young Muslims radicalizing themselves, to diminish the Arabic countries influence over french practicing Muslims (and maybe to gain some points in opinion polls I guess).

[EDIT 1] --

Islam is a sensitive subject in France since a few years. ISIS has perpetrated about 17 attacks on French soil since January 2015 and a lot of laws, reforms and actions were taken by the previous government (François Hollande - left-wing) and the current one (Emmanuel Macron - middle).

Before 2018, the different laws were mostly about police and intelligence services freedom of action as well as proclaiming France in a "state of emergency" to have a more secure state. What Macron is planning to do is directly about Islam.

As always, he isn't really talkative about what he precisely plans to do but he already have met some influential Islamic intellectuals, academics, philosophers or Imams. If the government is involved in the way the religion is structured, we can expect new laws (apart from that, I don't know how it can be done, if you have any idea please enlighten me !)


I do not want to ask if this kind of thing would be useful or simply a good thing to do, but rather of its legality.

As stated in the 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State :

The Republic does not recognize, pay, or subsidize any religious sect. (Article 2)

This law also state that the state have an obligation of neutrality towards its citizen

So, my question is :

can the French government legally reform something it doesn't recognize ?

(if I take in consideration the comment made by phoog : How can the French government act (in any way) on a particular religion (and so, the people practicing it) while it has an obligation of neutrality towards its citizen ?)

  • 1
    It would help if you would add some context to the statement by Macron. Not regarding what his goals are, but rather regarding the methods he wants to use to do that. – Philipp Mar 30 '18 at 11:42
  • 7
    It may be a good idea to note that "recognize" has many senses, as does reconnaître in French. In particular, the law does not state that the republic denies the existence of all religious sects. – phoog Mar 30 '18 at 11:53
  • 2
    @user4012 not necessarily. The question is a good one; I just wanted to discourage people from posting answers that say essentially "no, it's not legal because the law says that the republic may not take into account the fact that religions exist." – phoog Mar 30 '18 at 15:36
  • 1
    @RedGrittyBrick I think that when you get into the guts of the question it is really as much about politics as it is about law. (I also don't think French.SE would be more appropriate.) Ultimately, notwithstanding the quote, what France could do is enact facially neutral laws that favor on thing over another disproportionately in Islam (as it has with head scarves). The French free exercise right is weaker than in the U.S. – ohwilleke Mar 30 '18 at 17:18
  • 2
    It should be noted that, in France, the Ministre de l'Interieur (roughly, the Secretary for Homeland Security) is also in charge of the relation with religions. So the French Republic is not completely blind to religions. – Taladris Mar 31 '18 at 0:39

Formally yes, practically no.

Although religious practice is nominally free in France, with completely secular state that does not interfere in religious beliefs, there are mechanisms that could be used against "dangerous" cults which threaten rule of law, especially if said cults endanger human life. Therefore, theoretically, French state could act against Islamic community if it does not disavow parts of Islamic doctrine that call for violence and killing of unbelievers.

But in practice, non-Islamic government could never be authority in Islam, and even Islamic scholars could not simply erase over hundred verses in Quran that call for violence. In fact they could not erase single one. What would probably happen would be employment of Taqiya-lying to unbelievers, where official leaders of Muslim community in France would publicly claim lots of thing like aforementioned verses in Quran are no longer valid, how Islam is religion of peace etc... But inside Islamic community violent parts of Quran and Islam in general would still stand because none has right to change ostensibly words of Allah given to Prophet Muhammad.

Therefore, it is absolutely clear that any reform of Islam started by secular French state would inevitably fail.

  • 11
    While there is something to this answer, I think it both deeply underestimates more subtle tools that the French secular state could apply to create incentives for French Muslims to decide internally to change in various respects, and deeply overestimates the extent to which French Muslims are a cohesive group with a central organization that can coordinate collective action. Institutionally, Sunni Islam, which is the branch of Islam to which most French Muslims belong, is very decentralized. It doesn't really have close analogs to a Catholic Pope or even to Catholic Bishops. – ohwilleke Apr 2 '18 at 2:56
  • 4
    I think you underestimate the fact that mainstream religion has always ignored the parts of religion that did not fit into the society of the time. Even pious Christians seldom have embraced the "turn the other cheek" idea, nor did they typically kill homosexual men on the spot as is called for by the Bible. – Thern Apr 3 '18 at 9:10
  • 2
    @Thern You fall into typical leftist trap of equating Christianity and Islam, and then drawing wrong conclusions. Christianity was always religion, with very vague guidance for earthly behavior. Islam on the other hand is more of political ideology that use religious parts. Christianity is not bound by rules set by Moses (Judaism) because "law is fulfilled" . Islam is bound Quran, you could either accept it or become apostate and risk your life. – rs.29 Apr 4 '18 at 6:23
  • 6
    @rs.29 While no one has the authority to change the Quaran, differences in emphasis and interpretation are already widespread among the major schools of interpretation within Islam. What it means to be a Muslim in day to day life is very different in Saudi Arabia from Indonesia to Turkey to Iran to Nigeria to London to Detroit, and day to day life as a Muslim in Paris is likewise already very different from Muslims in many other places. None of these global Muslims are less Muslim or apostates for having their own practices. Parisian Islam could shift somewhat too; it's not entirely static. – ohwilleke Apr 4 '18 at 18:38
  • 2
    @rs.29 Christians often take Bible allegorically. This is true for the majority of the European Christians (Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican) but certainly not the case in US "Bible belt" (it has that name for a reason). Also in South America, Brazil particularly, and South Korea and Africa the alarming growth of fundamentalist, hence Bible literalist, protestant sects flies in the face of your eurocentric statement. – user16282 Apr 7 '18 at 1:46

I'm aware that this is an old question but there's a lot of confusion both in the question and in the accepted answer:

Can Macron legally reform Islam in France?

Obviously not, a religion is not something defined by a government.

In the quote cited by OP, Macron said: [emphasis mine]

"I want to lay the foundations for the whole organization of Islam in France"

It's a quite different thing to reform a religion and to reform how it's organized, i.e. the aspects of religion which interact with the rest of the society: how Islamic schools are evaluated, how religious organizations receive money, whether these donations are tax-exempt or not (they are), how prison imams are selected, the process for building new mosques, etc. All these aspects and others have nothing to do with what people believe, but are important for the way people practice their religion in a society.

The 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State means that the state is separated from any religion (the catholic Church was clearly the main issue at the time). It indeed implies an obligation of neutrality, that's what "The Republic does not recognize" means: the state doesn't have any official religion (precision for the sake of clarity: it doesn't mean that the state pretends that religions don't exist).

It is important to mention that various past French governments have always maintained relations with the main religious organizations through their representatives. A particular difficulty with Islam was that there is no established hierarchy (as opposed to the Catholic Church for instance), this is why Sarkozy created a specific organization in 2003: for all means and purposes, the Conseil français du culte musulman is considered by the government as the main representative of Islam. These religious organizations are (presumably) consulted for the matters such as the ones mentioned above.

While I'm not aware of any details about what Macron wants to do, it's likely that the government wants to be able to monitor (if not control) certain things such as which kind of Islam is being taught in Islamic schools. The question of the origin of the funding for Islamic institutions (schools, mosques) is also a sensitive one.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .