"It has to be stated that all this is not Islam," Valls said, citing "hate speech, anti-Semitism hiding behind anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel, hideous sermons, self-proclaimed imams in our neighborhoods, our prisons which promote violence and terrorism, who participate in this criminal enterprise which lures hundreds of young people to jihad."
The prime minister was speaking to more than 120 Muslim leaders of federations, rectors of mosques, imams, chaplains, theologians, Islamic scholars and personalities from civil society gathered at the French Interior Ministry. The conference aims to improve ties with France's large Muslim community.
We must "demonstrate to the world that France and Islam are fully compatible," Valls insisted.
At the same time, he acknowledged that "Islam still provokes misunderstandings, preconceptions, rejection by some" of the French, "conflations of which you are the victims."
The Muslim community in France numbers around 5 million people. Since a series of jihadist attacks hit Paris in January, claiming the lives of 17 people, there has been a rise in malicious acts against Muslims.
"This necessary forum is an opportunity to express our discomfort with conflations," replied Dalil Boubakeur, the outgoing president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris.
Local Muslim leaders say that the 2,500 or so mosques currently in existence in France are not enough. There are another 300 under construction, local media reported, adding that Boubakeur and his fellow imams believe up to 5,000 mosques could be needed.
Boubakeur told Europe 1 radio the solution could be for empty Catholic churches in France to be requisitioned as mosques.
“It’s a delicate issue, but why not?” Boubakeur told Europe1 radio.