Foundation created to finance Islam in France

Paris, France -- French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin and leaders of the country's Muslim community on Monday signed the statutes setting up a "Foundation for Islam" which will be used to finance the development of the religion in France.

Relying on private donations from France and abroad, the Foundation will spend money on building and renovating mosques and prayer halls, and training imams and chaplains for the estimated five million strong community.

In conformity with France's strict separation of religion and state, the body will receive no public money. However its funds will be banked at the state-owned Caisse des Depots et Consignations - which will guarantee financial


Islam in France has for years been funded by foreign governments and donors, but there has been no public oversight over how the funds have been spent.

Muslim leaders hailed the Foundation as an important step towards the "institutionalisation" of France's second largest religion.

It comes two years after the establishment of the Council for the French Religion in France (CFCM) - Islam's first ever officially-recognised representative body in the country.

Leaders of the four main groups inside the CFCM were at Monday's signing ceremony and will administer the Foundation's funds.

They are the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF) which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement; the National Federation of Muslims in France (FNMF) which is linked to Morocco: the Grand Mosque of Paris, which is close to Algeria; and the Coordination Committee of Turkish Muslims in France.

In response to criticism that "the big four" are monopolising power in the Muslim community, other groups and independents will also be represented.

The Foundation will start operating in a few months, once the state council - France's highest administrative court - gives its approval, Villepin said.

Intense debate broke out over the funding of Islam when Villepin's predecessor - Nicolas Sarkozy - suggested in a recent book that the best way of bringing the Muslim community into the mainstream would be to break France's century-old taboo and provide public money for mosques and imams.

The idea was shot down by most of the political establishment.