When Town Hall Mayors Become Imams
Some French Mayors are said to be taking the path of least resistance when marrying mixed Franco-Islamic couples by insisting on conversion to Islam before they will proceed, according to a Charlie Hebdo report.
Who wins when French Secularism clashes with Islam?
The French satirical weekly’s reporter Sylvie Coma writes: “When Frédéric Gilbert, a TV journalist, wanted to marry Hind, his girlfriend and the Moroccan mother of his child, he was a long way from imagining the bureaucratic obstacle course that lay ahead.
“After collecting a marriage application pack from Aubervilliers Town Hall (presided over by socialist mayor Jacques Salvator), he discovered among the usual paperwork a form headed ‘certificate of customs’ (certificat de coutume). He was told he could obtain this from the Moroccan Consulate, and, the wedding registrar of this northern Paris suburb assured him, ‘all Franco-Moroccan couples supply the document to us, all the time’. Thus comforted Frédéric Gilbert confidently headed off to the consulate. Here he was soon dumbfounded to learn that he could obtain this apparently benign ‘certificate’ only by first ‘converting to Islam.’
“Categorically refusing to do any such thing particularly as a condition of celebrating a civil marriage service in a country cleaving closely to ‘republican and secular’ (républicaine et laïque) traditions, the journalist returned to the Aubervilliers Town Hall to hear a summary official verdict: no certificate of custom, no civil marriage, in other words our groom must first convert to Islam or the Town Hall could not be of service.”
Sylvie Coma’s report continues: “Shocked by this turn of events the journalist scoured the Civil Code to find that there was in fact no legal requirement for such a certificate. Instead the certificate can in some cases be required to check the marital status of a foreigner if, as happens in some countries, marriages and divorces were not registered along with the birth certificate. This did not apply in Frédéric Gilbert’s case as his future wife held an official Moroccan certificate attesting that she was unmarried. But apparently to no avail. The Aubervilliers civil wedding registrar was adamant. Frédéric Gilbert must stop making life difficult: ‘Just pretend like all the others, become a Muslim on paper, and just don’t practice the religion’.”
CARTOON: Charlie Hebdo report sparked voter anger
Incredulous and intrigued — the would-be groom is after all a journalist — Frédéric Gilbert made inquiries at several other town halls and received the same answer.
“In other words”, noted the Charlie Hebdo reporter, “Moroccan law prevails over French law in cases of mixed marriages and the same situation pertains with regard to other former French colonies such as Tunisia and Algeria as well as with Egypt.”
Pursuing his investigation, the journalist was dismayed to discover that all his friends married to Muslims have on paper anyway, become Muslims. It’s easy they tell him! “You can convert in any mosque in three minutes. All you need do is to repeat ‘with conviction and heart’ this sentence: ‘I recognize that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet”, and the Imam will agree that you have converted to Islam.’ ”
Frédéric admitted to Sylvie Coma that if he were reasonable man, that is what he would have done and so end his problems with the French and Moroccan administrations. “Of course I would then drink alcohol and enjoy pork ten times more than usual just to show my independence.”
But Frédéric was not about to be ‘reasonable’. A man of far left convictions he has nothing against Islam and respects the faith of his wife. However he tells the reporter: ” I’ve never been a Muslim nor a Catholic nor a Jew nor a member of any religion, and I do not wish to be” and, given his personal story, that is unlikely to change . “I am the son of a priest, my father was excommunicated, and became a classics teacher in a republican high school, he was strongly supportive of secularism in schools and raised me in that spirit. I have no connection with religion and I am not about to be forced against my will to become a Muslim just so I may marry, despite all the problems this will raise in Morocco”… problems that he in fact already knows by heart, as he recounted to the Charlie Hebdo reporter.
“When my partner gave birth to premature twins at Casablanca hospital they were left for 18 hours before anyone deigned to give them any medical attention, because they were the daughters of a single mother and a disbeliever. They were not intubated, not placed in an incubator, nor kept warm … In the face of this neglect, the couple then struggled to find a private clinic — at 500 euros day– to agree to take over post natal treatment. After four days one of the twins died. But I was not able to grieve for my daughter, because, as a non-Muslim, I was not allowed into the cemetery … “
Frédéric continued: “When I went to register the surviving daughter they would not let me because I was not married and not a Muslim. The French Consulate advised me of what they said, was a fairly common tactic: let the mother say the child was born of an unknown Moroccan father. As the mother’s name is not transmitted under Islamic law, the child will be given a first name and registered as ‘X’, I would then register the birth at the consulate which in turn would recognize the girl as my daughter and she would become a French citizen. Except that on the day we went to register the birth, we found that the Moroccan registrar had changed the name of their daughter and declared the father to be one ‘Abdula Mossaid’. Where this unknown father came from no one knows. I think he was invented so that the registrar could ensure that by having a Muslim father the child would be Muslim. So, my daughter had officially become the daughter of another.”
The report then relates how a furious Frédéric returned to the Moroccan registry office: “Hello, my name is Frédéric Gilbert, but apparently my testicles are known as Abdula Mossaid! ” His fight lasted four days. “Everything was finally resolved in the office of the local préfet, who I nearly beat up when, pointing to my baby’s mom said: ‘I understand you, but everything that has happened is because of this whore, and it is her that I will put in prison. Do not forget that in Morocco any relationship outside marriage is a crime.’ “
Frédéric finally won the point. But his problems continued, this time on the French side. The little girl suffered from hydrocephalus, and at all costs, needed major surgery at the Necker Hospital in Paris. But the couple faced a host of difficulties to arrange a travel visa for the mother. ‘We ended up getting the visa, but only after two months, three applications and two rejections … Furthermore there is a four to six month waiting list for pediatric MRI scans, and if one misses out, as we did because of the visa, its back in the queue for another four months of fighting!” That was one of the reasons why the couple decided to marry in France. “We just wanted it all to be lighter and simpler but then we ran up against French Town Halls and their custom certificate! Legally, they (town halls) don’t have a leg to stand on. What must be done is for people to tell the mayors: stop your bullshit. I am the father of my daughter and no French mayor is going to stop me from being the husband of my wife!”
PHOTO: Aubervilliers Mayor Jacques Salvator – ‘shocked at the revelations
Meanwhile Le Parisien reported: “The case would have ended there, if the media had not picked it up following the Charlie Hebdo headline: “When Town Hall Mayors become Imams” . The media campaign prompted an avalanche of letters and emails to Town Hall attacking the Aubervilliers decision. Mayor Jacques Salvator admitted he was shocked by the public reaction: “I took the matter very seriously, and asked for a full explanation from our legal services. I had never heard of this conversion requirement, and even less that we would refuse to marry the couple without it. What this gentleman has now revealed is correct.” The Mayor in a spirit of fair play announced that both he and Edgar Minimbu the Town Hall registrar would attend the marriage to show their support for the couple.
The marriage which finally took place in mid-January will have no legal force in Morocco thanks to a failure to produce the infamous certificate of costume or de-facto conversion. Le Parisien noted that 4,677 French–Moroccan marriages were celebrated in France in 2009 many of which with recourse to false conversion to beat the bureaucracy.
Story: Ken Pottinger