THE ISLAM OF FRANCE, YEAR ONE: TIME TO ENTER THE 21ST CENTURY

MOHAMED BAJRAFIL

(PLEIN JOUR, 147 PAGES, 2015)

“A free voice calling for republican consensus, urging his fellow Muslim citizens to think for themselves by renewing their relationship to the sacred in a secular society subject to political manipulation.” — Afriscope

A moderate and a great defender of the Republic.” — L’Express

“Level-headed but savvy, Mohamed Bajrafil embodies a new generation of Muslims with religious credentials, bearers of a double culture.” — Zaman France

“ With scholarly words and a gracious face, Mohamed Bajrafil arises in France as one of the last remaining cards to play that might counter incendiary jihadists.” — L’Hebdo (Suisse)

The Islam of France, Year One: Time to Enter the 21st Century is a thoughtful and constructive contribution to the national conversation about Islam in France, which has become—due to the recent acts of terrorism committed by Islamic fundamentalists and by ISIS—vitriolic. Mohamed Bajrafil, the current imam of Ivry-sur-Seine and a professor at Paris-XII university, argues that much of the current debate about Islam in France runs on ignorance and fear-mongering, rather than knowledge and truth. Although written before the atrocities of November 13, 2015, the book provides us with a much-needed perspective on Islam in France.

Bajrafil’s book is a strong affirmation of the core French concept of a secular republic (laïcité). He firmly rejects claims that Islam is inherently violent and invites non-Muslims to educate themselves rather than to fear what they do not understand. He speaks for the vast majority of French Muslims who despise not only the violent fundamentalists who debase their religion, but also the cynical French politicians who stoke fears of Islam for political gain.

The book begins with a basic primer called “Islam for Dummies,” which refutes the notion of a monolithic Islam, drawing attention instead to the vigorous theological disputes that have animated Muslim thinkers during the fourteen centuries of its existence. Bajrafil argues that the close-mindedness of fundamentalist Muslims today is a recent phenomenon, a product of the empowerment of the ultraconservative Wahhabi doctrines of Saudi Arabia, to the exclusion of other, more moderate alternatives. Debates about the relationship between traditional faith and the powers of reason, our ability to understand God’s will as expressed in the Quran, and the proper form of government, he says, have occupied the minds of Sunni intellectuals for centuries, regardless of the school of jurisprudence they belonged to—Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, or Hanbali.

After these clarifications, Bajrafil offers proposals for how to break the fetters locking Islam in a state where violence is more common than debate. As a scholar of Islam, he has little patience for Islamist ideologues unfamiliar with the religious doctrines they claim to espouse. Revealing the flaws in their theological rationale, he tells French Muslims to return to the roots of Islam and question whether statements and actions made in the name of Islam are true to the spirit and the letter of the Quran. If Muslims participated more actively in the religious life of their communities, he writes, if they engaged their leaders in theological arguments, Islam could be reclaimed from the clutches of those who have tied the religion of hundreds of millions of peaceful believers to acts of unspeakable cruelty. If, at the same time, non-Muslims took the time to learn about the beliefs, practices, and history of the millions of Muslims who live among them, they might be less easily swayed and motivated by Islamophobic scare tactics.

Written by a brilliant scholar, this book—clearly written and valuable to a broad audience—is a great place for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to further educate themselves.

Mohamed Bajrafil is a linguist, a professor, and an imam in Ivry-sur-Seine, France.