Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Al-Nour mosque north of Paris, is fighting a declared war on fundamentalist Islam.
Dressed in plain white cap, and showing a shaved face except for a light beard on the chin, the renowned, Tunisia-born cheikh travels the world to defend his convictions and call for a dialogue between religions, especially between Islam and Judaism.
Magharebia met with the imam in Morocco to learn more about his moderate views and his effort to stem extremist ideology.
Magharebia: What brings you to Marrakech?
Hassen Chalghoumi: Marrakech has special religious standing, since it is considered one of the oldest cities to which Islam arrived. Anyone interested in Islamic affairs has to learn from its glorious history in terms of civilisation. This was the motivation that brought me to this blessed place and I had the honour of meeting King Mohammed VI, the emir of the faithful.
I met many scholars and righteous people in their centres and schools and we exchanged views and tips that illuminate the path of those seeking God and righteousness in the religion of God.
Magharebia: Why did you choose a Moroccan expert in criminology as co-writer of your forthcoming book?
Chalghoumi: The book will offer solutions and tips to help a young man who falls into the trap of criminality to come out intact and on the right track, and spare him wrongs and misguidance.
As for choosing Rachid El Mnasfi, he has extensive experience in combating crime in Morocco and Sweden, through his activities and his participation in writing, conferences, and seminars.
Magharebia: So what do you say about crimes committed in the name of religion?
Chalghoumi: My position is always clear and explicit. I condemn crimes committed in the name of religion. Those people do not know the culture of difference and hold on to the weapons of fanaticism and intellectual stagnation.
They do not want to listen to the other and thus err and drag others with them, and issue edicts authorising the killing of innocent people.
Magharebia: Your moderate attitudes about religion have made you a target by extremists. How has this threat affected you?
Chalghoumi: As I mentioned earlier, there are those who are open and reassuring when you sit with them at the table of dialogue. There are also those who... automatically excommunicate those who disagree with them, and after that authorise shedding blood in the name of religion.
Campaigns targeting moderate imams are not new. We find that scholars and righteous people in the field of religion and spirituality are tested but remain steadfast, for they are the holders of light and guidance.
They win in the end.
Magharebia: Up against this sweeping wave of militant Islam, what can you do?
Chalghoumi: Moderate imams should stand united to prevent this infectious disease that is destroying everything and everybody.
If they stood in the past against injustice and slavery, today they should confront the wave of takfirism and religious militancy through writing, public speaking and other media.
Magharebia: Did the Arab Spring hurt or help moderate Muslims?
Chalghoumi: There is a difference between one country and another. In the Arab Spring in Egypt, the revolution was looking for freedom of expression and a decent livelihood. The Muslim Brotherhood, instead of opening up to others, carried weapons to monopolise opinion. This led to their exclusion from the government and removal by a counter-revolution from the people.
My position is fixed. I have always been and still am against political Islam...
Magharebia: On that note, many imams encouraged young Muslims in Europe and Arab countries to travel to fight in Syria. Should imams ever preach about political issues?
Chalghoumi: This is not the role of the imam in my view. The responsibility of the imam is major, for he bears a message of mercy and guidance and education. He is an example in the community and if he is on the right track, then the community is righted. His duty is to be an advocate of peace and safety...
I warn young Muslims away from hard-line rhetoric and radicalism because the Muslim should be a good example in ethics, behaviour, and tolerance. This is the aim and significance of our Islamic religion.
Magharebia: Here in the Maghreb, there was much debate over the celebration of New Year's Eve. What do you think about that?
Chalghoumi: We are with the world, and the law of God is to live with others. How can we live together if there is no respect for the habits and feelings of human beings, including holidays and celebrations? We can always exchange congratulations and blessings...
Magharebia: You were criticised over your trip to Israel. How do you justify the visit?
Chalghoumi: I am not a politician, but an imam. My visit was to both countries, Palestine first and Israel second. My intention was to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque and pray. Then in my visit to Israel, I met many imams. They are Arabs.
I am of those who believe in collaboration; two states side-by-side, enjoying freedom and good-neighbourliness.