Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish communities, both located in
France, have just elected new leaders Sunday, who both vow to make
their faiths more tolerant and open to non-believers. From Paris, Lisa
Bryant reports the two men assume their new jobs under difficult
Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of France's Representative Muslim Council and Gilles Bernheim, tapped to become the next Grand Rabbi of France, are both intellectuals who preside in their separate positions over Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish communities. France is home to between five to seven million Muslims and roughly 500,000 to 600,000 Jews.
In interviews on French radio and in newspapers, both new leaders call for a new openness, with Mr. Bernheim specifically talking about the need to reach out to those outside the Jewish faith.
Mr. Bernheim said it was important for the Jewish religion to reach out to non-Jews and offer solutions to problems people of all faiths share. He said it was important to reach out by speaking but also by writing articles and books.
The 56-year-old Paris rabbi takes over his job as France's Grand Rabbi next January. He presides over a community that has witnessed a rise in anti-Semitism although the numbers of incidents have declined over the past two years. Still, a Jewish youth remains in critical condition at a Paris hospital after being attacked Saturday night in what may be a new act of anti-Semitism.
Mr. Moussaoui is a 44-year-old imam from Morocco who also works as a math instructor at the University of Avignon, in southern France. His election to the representative Muslim council reflects the battling branches of French Islam, divided partly by national origin. The previous council head, Algeria-supported Dalil Boubakeur, boycotted the June vote.
In an interview with Radio France, Moussaoui said it was important for French mosques to be places open to the world and sites of peace. He has called for launching open door days in mosques, so the public can visit, but also for building mosques that do justice to France's second largest religion. Some Muslims complain about the difficulties of building new mosques in France, forcing them to pray in less formal places like apartments.