France President Emmanuel Macron has set out his desire to “lay the groundwork for the entire organisation of Islam in France” to better integrate worship in the Republic and fight against fundamentalism.
Speaking to the Journal de Dimanche newspaper, Mr Macron said: "We are working on the structuring of Islam in France and also on how to explain it, which is extremely important."
The French head of state wants to create a more peaceful relationship than currently exists between the religion, which has an estimated five millions followers, with the nation and to associate it with the fight against fundamentalism.
“Whatever option is chosen, my goal is in any case to find what is the heart of secularism, the possibility of being able to believe as not to believe, in order to preserve the national cohesion and the possibility of having free consciousness,” Mr Macron explained.
Secularism is at the heart of the French state, which sees a lack of religious involvement in government affairs. In recent years this has manifested itself in such laws as that passed in 2011 by then president Nicolas Sarkozy which made it illegal to hide the face in public spaces, essentially affecting women who wore burqas and naqabs.
Mr Macron is planning to make a set-piece speech about secularisation and Islam at some point in 2018 in which he will address Islamic worship in France with the aim of reducing the influence of fundamentalism and maintaining peaceful relations between religions in the country.
The president said he will “continue to consult a lot” before he makes his speech. “My method to progress on this subject is to move forward step by step. I will not reveal a proposal until the work is completed.”
He said that he will continue to consult widely: “I see intellectuals and academics, like Gilles Kepel [a French political scientist and Arabist who works at the Paris Institute for Political Studies], and representatives of all religions because I consider that we must be strongly inspired by our history, the history of Catholics and that of Protestants.
He also cited other intellectuals, such as the Tunisian philosopher and anthropologist “Youssef Seddik, as well as other intellectuals and all kinds of actors, such as the Institut Montaigne, who have taken initiatives on this issue.”