The inauguration of the French Institute of Islamology (IFI) took place on November 22, 2022. For the French head of state, this initiative aims to “fight against Islamic separatism” by trying to promote an “Islam Enlightenment.” Many remain skeptical of yet another attempt to integrate Islam into the framework of secularism.
“China and France take the same approach to religion” is the seemingly surprising title of the article published on November 22, 2022 on Ucanews, by Ueno Kagefumi, Ambassador Emeritus of Japan to the Holy See.
The Japanese diplomat develops the thesis of an analogy between the thought of Xi Jinping and that of the tenant of the Elysée Palace in terms of “governance and confinement of religion to the private space,” one and the other defending a “sinicization” or a “francization” of the principles of religions which must be totally subordinated to the State.
Is it in this perspective that the inauguration of the French Institute of Islamology on November 22 should be interpreted? The new structure finds its origin in the presidential address given to Les Mureaux, in October 2020.
At the time, Emmanuel Macron unveiled a major plan to “fight against Islamic separatism” which, in addition to the security dimension, included an academic component, with the ambition of promoting an “Islam of the Enlightenment,” which belongs more in a dream world than reality.
As Ueno Kagefumi remarks: “For Xi Jinping, religion in China must be subordinated to Marxism, for Emmanuel Macron, Islam in France [and further, any religion, ed.] must be subordinated to the Enlightenment. Clearly, the two leaders share similar mindsets. After all, the French Enlightenment is characterized by its anti-religious or 'areligious' tenets. The same goes for Chinese Marxism.”
Concretely, the new structure, which has so far obtained 7% of the ten million euros granted by the State, will have to highlight the “scientific and non-denominational study of the belief systems that make up the Muslim religion.”
In other words, bringing the human sciences - such as sociology - into the Koran and the Hadiths: a new version of squaring the circle, as those who are most critical will say.
Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, wants to believe in it: “It is the greatest gift that French Islamology has received for a long time,” declares the French Islamologist, for whom, “when we historicize the facts, we contextualize them and so we put them into perspective,” which makes it possible “to acquire a distanced and critical look at the texts of the faith.” Nevertheless, we remain skeptical about the capacity of the religion of Muhammad to assimilate the principles of modernist exegesis.
As for the future impact of the IFI on Muslims in France, that is yet another story: “Our mission is not to create training for imams,” Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi emphasizes with care. And for good reason: most French imams are trained elsewhere, such as in Turkey or in the Arabian Peninsula, where Islamology rhymes with heresy, which is never a sign of longevity.