Sales of books on Is­lam rocket af­ter France at­tacks


Books on Is­lam are sell­ing out in France af­ter deadly ex­trem­ist at­tacks in the cap­i­tal raised un­com­fort­able ques­tions about Europe's fastest-grow­ing reli­gion.

A spe­cial mag­a­zine sup­ple­ment fo­cused on the Qu­ran has flown off the shelves, and shops are sell­ing more books on Is­lam than ever af­ter the Paris at­tacks in Jan­uary that left 17 dead.

"The French are ask­ing more and more ques­tions, and they feel less sat­is­fied than ever by the an­swers they're get­ting from the me­dia," said Fabrice Ger­schel, direc­tor of Philoso­phie mag­a­zine, which pub­lished the sup­ple­ment.

Sales of books on Is­lam were three times higher in the first quar­ter of 2015 than this time last year, ac­cord­ing to the French Na­tional Union of Book­shops.

Mathilde Mahieux, of La Pro­cure chain of book­shops that spe­cial­izes in reli­gion, said peo­ple want a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the reli­gion that the bru­tal Is­lamic State (IS) group claims to rep­re­sent, so that they can make up their own minds.

'Is the Qu­ran vi­o­lent?'

The ji­hadist at­tacks against the Char­lie Hebdo satir­i­cal mag­a­zine and a Jewish su­per­mar­ket have left many non-Mus­lims look­ing for an­swers.

"A very Catholic lady came to buy a copy of the Qu­ran, be­cause she wanted to un­der­stand for her­self whether or not ( Is­lam) is a vi­o­lent reli­gion," said Yvon Gi­l­abert, who runs a book­shop in Nantes, west­ern France.

Oth­ers want to see past ex­trem­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Is­lam.

"I think we have to know how to see past the fun­da­men­tal­ism, in or­der to see what re­li­gions have to of­fer," said Pa­trice Bes­nard, a regular at a Paris book­shop spe­cial­iz­ing in re­li­gions.

French aca­demics too are be­com­ing more cu­ri­ous, with a chair in the study of the Qu­ran in­au­gu­rated on Thurs­day at the pres­ti­gious Col­lege de France in Paris.

Jean Rony, who teaches law at the nearby Sor­bonne uni­ver­sity, be­gan study­ing the Mus­lim holy book for him­self this year.

"Given the sit­u­a­tion, I have added ses­sions on monothe­is­tic re­li­gions to my gen­eral cul­ture class for stu­dents pre­par­ing for mag­is­trate ex­ams," he said.

Man­sour Man­sour, who runs the Al Bouraq pub­lish­ing house spe­cial­iz­ing on Is­lam and the Mid­dle East, said his sales have shot up by 30 per­cent.

"The same hap­pened af­ter the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks in 2001," he told AFP.

Now the spike is likely to last longer "be­cause Is­lam will con­tinue to pose a geo-po­lit­i­cal prob­lem," Man­sour sighed.

Lit­eral In­ter­pre­ta­tions

Part of the in­ter­est in France ap­pears to stem from the fact that many of the ex­trem­ists com- mit­ting hor­rific abuses in Is­lam's name in Syria and Iraq are of West­ern ori­gin.

En­raged by the ji­hadists' in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Qu­ran, Man­sour said his com­pany has with­drawn sev­eral books that of­fered "too lit­eral" an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam from his cat­a­logue.

He warned about peo­ple div­ing into read­ing the Qu­ran "un­ac­com­pa­nied" and jump­ing to con­clu­sions on its highly po­etic text. In­stead he rec­om­mends that the unini­ti­ated start by read­ing a bi­og­ra­phy of the Prophet Muham­mad.

Claude Brenti, of the Catholic pub­lisher Beat­i­tudes, said he has no­ticed a change in at­ti­tudes among schol­ars.

"In cer­tain Mus­lim

cir­cles there was a re­fusal to crit­i­cally an­a­lyze the text, but now I see some thinkers are chang­ing," he said.

With the IS's bru­tal­ity cre­at­ing shock­waves since its emer­gence in 2013, pub­lish­ers like Man­sour were al­ready sell­ing more books on Is­lam even be­fore the Paris at­tacks.

Twice as many books pub­lished in France last year were ded­i­cated to Is­lam than to Chris­tian­ity, ac­cord­ing to the pub­lish­ing weekly, Hebdo Livres.

And at France's largest book fair in March the big­gest seller for Le Cerf imprint, which is run by the Catholic Do­mini­can or­der, was "A Chris­tian Reads the Qu­ran," a reprint of a book first pub­lished with much less fan­fare in 1984.

It was far from the only hot ti­tle deal­ing with Is­lam at the fair, with the U.S. pub­lisher Columbia Uni­ver­sity Press snap­ping up the rights to "The Si­lent Qu­ran, the Talk­ing Qu­ran" by Mo­ham­mad Ali Amir-Moezzi, as well as the pa­per­back launch of rap­per Abd al Ma­lik's best­seller "May Al­lah bless France."

Even the pub­lisher of the year's big non- fic­tion hit, The French Sui­cide, whose con­tro­ver­sial au­thor Eric Zem­mour has been ac­cused of Is­lam­o­pho­bia and stir­ring up anti-im­mi­grant feel­ing, made a strong play at the fair of its new trans­la­tion of the Qu­ran as well as a "Plea for Fra­ter­nity" by the Mus­lim philoso­pher Ab­den­nour Bi­dar.

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