The ‘moderate’ imam who claims ‘all women are selfish’
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An imam in France has claimed in a sermon that selfishness is part of “the nature of women”, comments that have shocked all the more because of his reputation as a progressive influence on Islam in the country.
“No matter how much good you bestow upon a woman, she will deny it. Her selfishness drives her to deny it.” These were the words of Imam Mohamed Khattabi, delivered during a Friday sermon at the Aicha Mosque in Montpellier, southern France, on March 6, two days before International Women’s Day.
Standing high in the mosque’s minbar (pulpit), Khattabi continued: “This holds true for all women, whether Western, Arab, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. This is the nature of women.
“If a woman overcomes her nature and acknowledges [the truth] … Allah grants her a higher place in paradise. But if she succumbs to her nature, and refuses to acknowledge the man's rights – or rather, the goodness that man bestows upon her – she is destined to go to [hell]…”
A video of the sermon, delivered in Arabic, was posted online complete with a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri).
But the video also shows how, earlier in the sermon, Khattabi told worshippers how Islam teaches women’s rights. “It was Islam that enabled women to raise their heads high,” he said.
A Muslim authority in the Montpellier region told FRANCE 24 that the sermon was employing a kind of “doublespeak” – sometimes moderate, sometimes radical.
This, it seems, is something typical of the 54-year-old Moroccan-Canadian cleric.
Khattabi has previously drawn on Salafism and its literal interpretation of the Koran as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in sermons addressing international issues, most notably last summer during the conflict between Israel and Gaza.
“The Friday sermon is about love, about appeasement,” says a local religious figure, who wished to remain anonymous. “Importing such a conflict, in a mosque in front of 400 people, isn’t a good idea. It worries me – it’s the youth who hear these speeches, those who are lost and do not have the tools to analyse the words.
“If imams start to mix politics with sermons, things are no longer going well.”
Contacted by FRANCE 24, the French Muslim Council (CFCM), the department of religions of the French Interior Ministry and the mayor’s office in Montpellier all refused to comment on Imam Khattabi’s remarks on women.
This kind of rhetoric has got Khattabi in trouble before. After ten years as the rector of the Grand Mosque of Montpellier, Khattabi was forced out of his post in November last year by the mosque’s governing association, ACMIR.
The association, which preaches “togetherness” and “openness” said the imam’s views were “not compatible” with its own vision.
"Mohamed Khattabi is alleged to have taken decisions and given 'orders without advising legal managers' and to have used ‘Friday sermons for personal goals", reported regional daily le Midi Libre at the time.
Pacifism and tolerance
Yet, up to that point, Khattabi had been known more for his pacifism and tolerance.
In June 2013, while still imam of the Grand Mosque of Montpellier, he described himself to the French daily Le Monde as a “promoter of an Islam within French society, of coexistence”.
After the discovery of the death in Syria of several young jihadists from the town of Lunel, located 30km from Montpellier, he issued a warning to other young French Muslims not to get “bamboozled” by extremist organisations, like the Islamic State group.
Khattabi, who sometimes gives sermons in Lunel, went on to explain he had "personally" known one of the young men from the town who had died in Syria, who he said had probably become radicalised while on a trip abroad.
"They are not martyrs. They are not heroes! They are zeros!" he said.
The charismatic Khattabi enjoys significant popularity with the region’s Muslim community, particularly among young people who have “gathered around him”, the local religious source told FRANCE 24.
Many of these supporters have rallied to his cause following his sacking as Grand Mosque rector.
“Our imam had to leave the mosque because the members of the board had met a few days earlier to draw up an official notice of dismissal. They accused the imam of embezzlement without proof,” said one angry supporter on the website Islam & Info.
Khattabi himself has denounced his dismissal as “political” in a video released online, while leaflets with a similar message were distributed in Montpellier.
Another online commenter claimed the imam was relieved from duty as the result of a “putsch by the Socialist councillors of Montpellier”.
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