By Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak
ANKARA (AA) - An organization representing French Muslims has said that those involved in recent attacks in the country, does not represent the community.
Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency, Fatih Sarikir, chairman of Confederation Islamique Milli Gorus France (CIMG), said linking terrorist attacks to Islam and Muslims has caused great distress to Muslims in France.
The world was shocked by knife attacks on two people outside the former offices of the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in September, the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb in October, and the brutal killing of three people inside Nice's Notre Dame basilica on Oct. 29.
“The biggest sorrow for Muslims in France is these kinds of vicious terrorist attacks. They are trying to find a solution to express that these attacks have nothing to do with the religion of fellow citizens who are not Muslims and not knowing Muslims very well,” said Sarikir.
He blamed media and far-right political parties for fueling sentiments against Islam in the country.
“They are saying things like, ‘see, Islam and Muslims are involved in such atrocities.’ This greatly upsets Muslims,” said Sarikir.
But, he hastily added that this is not the general view in France.
“For example, in a recent attack on the church in Nice, those in charge of the church sent positive messages to the Muslim community. They supported us and said we can live in a friendly atmosphere and that these incidents have nothing to do with Islam,” said the Muslim leader.
Sarikir said five to six million Muslims are living in France and those who conducted terrible attacks were not raised in the French Muslim community.
He, however, added that it is impossible to deny the pressure that Muslims right now feel in France.
“When there is a terrorist attack, the media puts our religion to the scanner. Muslims are living under this pressure. But it would be wrong to say the French state is pressuring Muslims,” he added.
The Muslim leader blamed the far-right groups for exploiting the situation for electoral purposes.
“Media carries an important responsibility in this regard. Unfortunately, we are longing for a more conscious media which is sensitive to these issues. They quickly come up with sensational headlines, which we disapprove, “he said.
Sarikir said in the Avignon attack, the media had falsely described the suspect as an “Islamist” who shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) in the street.
On Oct. 29, the suspect was killed in the city of Avignon, after police found him wielding a handgun in the street, and reportedly threatening a North African shopkeeper.
Police source later told French daily Le Figaro that the suspect had been undergoing psychiatric treatment and was believed to be a member of the Generation Identitaire -- French branch of anti-migrant, xenophobic group Generation Identity, which has attracted young people through social media, exploiting fears over refugees and terrorism.
Its members have propagated white supremacist ideas and anti-Muslim and racist conspiracy theories.
French President Emmanuel Macron last week held a meeting with leaders of the leading Muslim organizations, which was also attended by Sarikir.
-Meeting with president
He said, the President listened to all representatives from nine different organizations for two hours and they raised every issue transparently.
“The creation of the French Council of Imams has been on our agenda for four years under the Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM). We have been working on this for four years and we finally were able to present this to our president,” said Sarikir.
Stating that there are more than 2,500 mosques in France and imams in those mosques needs to be accredited, Sarikir said, French state did not interfere with the process but wants to see systematic work in this area.
“Nine organizations under CFCM will propose whom to be granted with accreditation. After checking the applications for certain criteria, the presidents of those nine organizations, and nine imams from those organizations will vote on the decision,” he explained.
The French Muslim leader said, they are working on details very closely and the creation of the Council of Imams will bring Muslims a sense of trust, also strengthen them in terms of representation.
On the declaration adopted after the meeting with Macron, which has used the word “open Islam” that has created controversy, Sarikir said, that word meant to open Islam to everyone, not creating new Islam.
“Open Islam means to open it to everyone and be transparent, and inclusive not changing the religion. This would challenge the core of our religion and I strongly reject the criticism that claimed we were trying to change Islam, “he clarified.
Sarikir recently also disagreed with classifying Islam with ideologies like liberal or secular Islam and nationalities such as Turkish Islam, Arab Islam, French Islam.