With France’s first round of voting complete, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is among the final two contenders for the presidency, along with centrist Emmanuel Macron. Given how often Le Pen invoked the specter of Islamic fundamentalism throughout her campaign, one might expect French Muslims to be worried about the potential for her to win the May 7 runoff.
But Tareq Oubrou, the popular imam of Bordeaux’s Grand Mosque and a prominent theologian, told me he is not concerned. Nor does he blame those elements in French society that harbor fears of Islam. The morning after the results were announced, he spoke about “legitimate fears” among the French, and seemed to put the burden on Muslims to make Islam more compatible with France and its strong flavor of state secularism, known as laïcité.
Oubrou, who was born in Morocco, is a leading advocate of progressive Islam. Beloved among France’s political elite, he preaches in French as well as in Arabic, critiques the veil or headscarf, insists that Islam is compatible with French ideals at the deepest level, and shrugs off the death threats he gets from radicals.
“It’s religion’s job to institute reform and to respect the laws of the republic,” Oubrou told me, before going on to explain how he and other imams are working to create a new French Islam. This reformed religion, complete with what he calls a “preventive theology,” is meant to be, if not terrorist-proof, at least resistant to being coopted by fundamentalists. Our conversation, which I translated from the French, has been lightly edited for clarity and length.