The carpeted prayer hall at the grand mosque in the French city of Bordeaux is full on a recent Friday afternoon. Behind a sculpted wooden railing on a small raised pulpit, Tareq Oubrou, a popular imam, is delivering his sermon in French as well as Arabic.
Bilingual sermons are rare in French mosques. Most Muslim clerics in France are foreign and speak in Arabic, which most young French Muslims don’t understand. Oubrou says that’s one reason why Muslim religious leaders are out of touch with a generation of French Muslims.
The interpretation of Islamic scriptures is often out of sync with modern times, too, he says. He’s working to change that. Oubrou says a reformation is long overdue, and he’s become a leading force in working for change.
France has suffered two major terrorist attacks in recent years, both carried out by home-grown Islamist extremists. The country is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, and many French Muslims like Oubrou believe it’s time to create a uniquely French brand of Islam — one that is compatible with the country’s secular values and responds better to the needs of modern Muslims.