Meskine welcomed the decision as tantamount to an official recognition of Islam in the French army.

By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent

PARIS, January 22 (IslamOnline.net) – The French Defense Ministry has assigned a Muslim army colonel to study the possibility of setting up a department for Muslim chaplains to meet the spiritual needs of Muslims serving in the republic’s army.

Appointing Ayyat Hussein for the job, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie asked the colonel to hold talks with representatives of the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM) and the French council for imams and report back by the end of June.

Alliot-Marie also held a one-on-one with Dalil Boubakeur, CFCM chairman, on Wednesday, January 19, to discuss the same issue, IslamOnline.net has learnt.

Unlike their Christian and Jewish fellow soldiers, Muslims serving in the French army do not have chaplains catering for their religious needs.

There are 218 Catholic, 55 Protestant and 30 Jewish army clergymen currently serving in the French army.

France is home to around six million Muslims, the biggest Muslim community in Europe.

Official Recognition

Daw Meskine, Secretary General of the council for imams, welcomed the decision as tantamount to an official recognition of Islam in the French army.

“This would likely encourage more French Muslims to serve in the army,” he told IOL.

“The increasing number of Muslims joining the army over the past years has pushed the issue of chaplains to the surface.”

Elaborating on the assignments of the Muslim chaplains, Meskine said they would acquaint the Muslim soldiers with their holy feasts, provide them with halal meat and copies of the Noble Qur’an and lead prayers.

The French council for imams, the biggest umbrella body for Muslim imams in France, was established in April 1992 with the ultimate goal of closing Muslim ranks. It groups some 475 of France’s 1200 imams.

Orientation Sessions

Meanwhile, the French national center for police rehabilitation and studies organized on Friday, January 21, a 90-minute orientation session about Islam and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The session, part of an intended series of presentations, was attended by 1300 policemen, according to Liberation.

The program aims at familiarizing policemen with the faith to be better able to deal with members of the Muslim minority, said the French daily.

The center’s administration gave the attendees copies of a 250-page file about major issues concerning Islam.

A perusal of the annals of 2004 in France makes it indeed the “year of Islam” with all its pluses and minuses for the sizable Muslim community.