Kahina Bahloul, the Islamologist who wants to open an "inclusive" mosque

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Since she announced in early January, want to open an "inclusive" mosque in Paris where men and women would pray side by side, his phone keeps ringing. "The initiative I am taking, with Faker Korchane, is causing a lot of reactions. Supports and questions rain. The wait is obviously very large, "says Kahina Bahloul. Between an appointment with an Italian reporter from Corriere della Serra and an interview with the Brazilian newspaperO Globo, Point met the young woman. If she is pleased with the interest generated by her project, she ensures that the goal of her approach was not to "make a sensation".

A lawyer by training, this 39-year-old Franco-Algerian, born in Paris but who grew up in Kabylie, dreamed for several years of finding a place where she could practice the Islam that her father transmitted to her: "An Islam imbued with humanism and progressivism, a religion where dogma does not stifle reflection, where tradition can be combined with modernity, "she explains. Not feeling in line with what is happening in the mosques today, especially those who claim to be Salafism, the young woman decided to open her own place of worship. "My decision was that I could not find a place that met my expectations," she says.

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Liberal Mosque

The inclusive mosque project aims to allow women to pray alongside men. "The room will be divided in two to avoid too much promiscuity, especially during prostrations, but the lessons will be mixed, delivered alternately by a man and a woman," said Bahloul Kahina.

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Her mosque project called "Fatima" aims to welcome "worthily" women, she says. "It is time for Muslim women to make their voices heard and for Islam to give them the space they deserve. The Qur'an has been read too long with man's glasses. The texts can be questioned differently, "she says. In the aftermath of the January 2015 attacks, Kahina Bahloul created the "Tell Me About Islam" website. A YouTube channel that offers lecture cycles
online, intended to offer another face to the cultural and religious heritage bequeathed by the Prophet Muhammad. "The success of these videos encouraged me to go further," says Kahina Bahloul. The echo of the appeal launched last January 3 reinforces the idea that a liberal mosque would meet the aspirations of many French Muslims.

To put the term "liberal" next to the word "Islam" is not obvious. It even makes some Muslims jump. The expression, modeled on that of "liberal Judaism", whose most mediatized figure is the wife-rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, simply designates a reforming religious movement considering the dogma under the prism of modernity. "Our mosque will offer a historico-critical approach to the teachings of the Prophet. This does not mean that we reject this legacy, but that we want instead to consider it in a contemporary way, "says Faker Korchane, 40, who also carries this project. This 40-year-old philosophy teacher, a Frenchman of Tunisian origin, regrets that we often oppose "Esprit des Lumières" and religion. "Yet many exegetes have examined the texts in a modern perspective. Today, their thinking is only exposed at the university. Our wish is that their teachings are also available in a mosque ", explains this young father, who is also the founder of the Association for the Rebirth of Mutazilite Islam (ARIM). Mutazilism is a rationalist Muslim theological school that emerged as early as the 8th century AD, which addresses the Quran in a dual approach of reflection (fikr) and discernment (furqan).

Read also The transmission of the Koranic message

Genesis of the project

Kahina Bahloul, here at the Phoenix Mosque in the United States, often quotes Amina Wadud, the first imam woman on the other side of the Atlantic, as a model.

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Kahina Bahloul, who has never left the faith but rejected, as a teenager, a too normative reading of the texts, rediscovered Islam at the time of the death of his father, reading in particular the poet of Syrian origin Khaled Roumo. "Although I studied religion as a child, I did not appreciate the contribution spirituality can make to individuals before this great ordeal of my father's disappearance", she emits. This death was a turning point in his life. To the point of upsetting his existence.

Four years ago, she left the insurance sector where she had been working for 12 years and decided to go back to studying Islamology at École Pratique des Hautes Études. Kahina Bahloul then invests in various religious associations of Sufi sensibility. "Mysticism now occupies a very important place in my life," says the young woman, whose father entrepreneur was not particularly versed in religion. His mother (of Jewish origin by his mother and Catholic by his father) claimed to be an atheist. At the same time, Kahina Bahloul is very actively involved in the interreligious dialogue with Rabbi Pauline Bebe and Father Antoine Guggenheim, former director of the Collège des Bernardins research center.

After having created workshops dedicated to the teaching of the history of the prophets within the association Alawya, in Drancy, she participated in the foundation of the association La Maison de la paix in Paris, with the Norwegian Imam woman Annika Skattum, where Iraq's Fawzia Al-Rawi, now living in Austria, teaches Sufi-inspired teachings. "The experience was short because the House of Peace had to close its doors after a year, lack of funding (in 2017). But it is clear that this first experience was decisive in my itinerary, "she says.

The delicate subject of the female imamate

While many women preach in foreign mosques, Kahina Bahloul is the first to do so in France.

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For the Islamologist, women's access to the status of Imam poses no theological problem. "It is acquired since the twelfth century, and the writings of Ibn Arabi that nothing forbids a woman to lead the prayer," she notes. "You just have to deconstruct almost a millennium of sexist speech, because even if the texts do not forbid it, believers sometimes remain struck by the idea that a woman is in the pulpit," says Faker Korchane. "The society in which the Islam we know is very patriarchal, but we can lift this leaden," Kahina Bahloul, who quotes many foreign countries where women preach in mosques, believes.

"Outside France, women take up the issue of the transmission of tradition, lead the prayer and this is no problem," says Kahina Bahloul citing the Danish Sherin Khankan, received last year at the Elysee or Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic Studies at Virginia's Commonwealth University and an imam since 2005. But that's not all. Even though the imam of Bordeaux Tareq Oubrou publicly expressed that the female imamate was not banned by the Prophet, no official representative of the Islam of France has yet taken an official position in favor of Kahina Bahloul, who rejoices that other projects of "liberal" mosques have flourished since the announcement of his project.

Read also Islam according to Tareq Oubrou

The outraged reactions of some, expressed on social networks, that mock the Fatima mosque project as a sort of center of "spiritual yoga" where the attacks and threats received do not scare Kahina Bahloul. The latter thinks that her refusal to wear the veil outside the mosque is perhaps the cause of this "hostility", coming from the most conservative fringe of the Muslim community. "If they think it will change my mind, they are wrong. It may be related to my name, which refers to an inflexible Berber queen, but I do not give in to pressure (the authority of Queen Dihya, nicknamed Kahina in Arabic, extended in the seventh century throughout Numidia : Maghreb in Egypt, Ed), smiles the young woman. "Kahina is extraordinarily strong," says Faker Korchane.

Read also: Who are the Salafists of France?