France's Imams as Agents of Islam's Formatting

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Although the imams are key actors in French Islam, they remain considerably neglected (as an area of study), specially as they focus the essentialism which undermines the debates on Islam in France in particular. However, the contemporary developments of the imamate in France are only comprehensible if we agree to submit them to the same questionings which enrich the knowledge of other religions. The standardization the imams’ role takes place in interaction with this process of diversification of the religious field (as a functional division of work), authorizing a multiplicity of possibilities (from the imam-president to the ritualistic imam) keeping pace with the organizational flexibility of the imamate. The exercise of the Islamic regulation (role and speeches of imams) reveals the appearance of an imam-islamologist. That is the creation of an original exercise of the Islamic leadership dominated by logic of explanation and of justification of religiosities, which can be compared to the declericalization of the priesthood and recent evolutions of the pastorate. Facing secularization and deculturation, pluralism and democratization of authority, the authorities of each religion can make two choices: adopt a fallback position or agree to compose within these parameters. Some investigations in mosques in the United States have revealed certain similar points, and it would be crucial to observe how ‘ulamâ’ in Muslim countries manage these transformations in the West, as well as to widen this hypothesis to other religions to observe how they react to it, according to their own resources.

Romain Seze

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