France's reluctance to allow imams for its Muslim Turkish-French community in the country may change, a senior representative of the community has said.
Ahmet Oğraş, who heads the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said that obstacles to bringing in imams from Turkey, Algeria and Morocco to serve their respective communities in France hinder access to religious services both for Turkish Muslims and Muslims from other countries living in France. Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Oğraş said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was in Paris last week for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, also discussed this issue with French officials. A solution to this imam shortage might be reopening a theology school in Strasbourg, which opened in 2012, but was later closed. Oğraş said Erdoğan and Macron would work to reopen the school run by Istanbul University to train imams. "Every year, France decreases the number of Turkish imams allowed to work in France by five. Their excuse is lack of French language skills, but they should not underestimate the importance of conveying correct religious knowledge to the community," he said.
Oğraş added that at a New Year meeting between Macron and representatives of religious communities in France, the French president said that the country grants religious freedoms to all faiths and the government is working on amendments to a law on secularism.
Turkey and France signed a declaration of will in 2010 about the status of religious officials, increasing the number of officials that can be appointed to France by Turkey's state-run Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB) to 151 from 121. The declaration has also regulated training of French citizens of Turkish origin in Turkey as imams to gradually decrease the number of Turkish imams Ankara sends to France.
Amid a rise in the far right in Europe, France, which has more than 4 million Muslims, mostly from North Africa, was at the center of debate for restrictions on foreign funding of mosques. The state cannot give financial support to places of worship under the secularism law, but local administrations are allowed to grant land for construction of those places.