Can Muslims be Freemasons?


Jean Moreau

Jean Moreau, born in Paris in 1938, is a professor of philology, a writer and socially engaged. He is a member of the Grand Orient de France, where he is lodge master and chapter director. He is also a member of the editorial board of the Masonic magazines Humanisme and Le Maillon.

Freemasonry in France is often perceived as a powerful network whose influence extends to the top of the French state. This causes concern. In doing so, she is often misunderstood: She herself sees her specialty not only in relation to the republican values ​​of freedom and secularity, but also in her connection between spirituality and social commitment.

Facade of the Freemasonry Museum in Paris and seat of the Grand Orient de France Lodge. (& copy Guilhem Vellut)
Freemasonry is a social phenomenon with a universalistic and humanistic orientation, based on the ideals of brotherhood and solidarity. In Great Britain, where the covenant came into being in the 18th century, as in the USA, it is part of the establishment. This is not the case in France, where grand lodges (associations of lodges, i.e. locally anchored Masonic associations that share the same principles) are organized according to the principle of the Associations Act of 1901. It is true that Freemasonry is often perceived as a particularly influential movement in the political sphere. (The major French magazines regularly publish reports on the apparently opaque Freemasonry, which is the subject of diverse fantasies.) In fact, however, it is far from the unity and influence that the inherent myth of a powerful network assumes. On the contrary: It is precisely their complexity that is characteristic of Freemasonry.

Many well-known figures in French history were Freemasons: For example, General Marie-Joseph La Fayette (1757-1834), liberal aristocrat who played a key role in the American War of Independence and the French Revolution (in 1789, he submitted a draft declaration of human rights to the French parliament ); the revolutionary Camille Desmoulins (1760-1794), who played a decisive role in the uprisings in Paris in the summer of 1789 and in the overthrow of the monarchy on August 10, 1792; the politician Victor Schœlcher (1804-1893), one of the most important opponents of the slave trade in the colonies, which he abolished as Minister of the Navy in 1848; Léon Gambetta (1838-1882), leader of the republican ideal, who as President of the Chamber (1879-81) and Prime Minister (1881-82), albeit unsuccessfully, campaigned for the introduction of an income tax and the recognition of trade union law ; Jules Ferry (1832-1893), who, as education minister, founded the free, compulsory and secular school system; as well as the elementary school teacher Georges Lapierre (1886-1945), trade unionist and resistance fighter during the Second World War, who campaigned for the deletion of warmongering passages in school books.

Even today, some Freemasons hold responsible positions in politics and business, such as the
Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian together with François Hollande in front of the Elysée Palace. (& copy picture-alliance)
Socialist Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (since 2012) and the Conservative Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand (2010-2012), but also in the field of culture and science. However, since most Freemasons do not make their membership public or even deny it, it is difficult to give specific names. Among the approximately 150,400 French Freemasons (the official numbers vary depending on how they are counted) there are also numerous anonymous members who strive to spread their ideals outside the temple through individual or collective activities. Freemasons mainly belong to the middle class and the upper middle class, not least because of the membership fees to be paid. Membership is accompanied by an obligation to attend a certain number of meetings.

Liberty, equality, fraternity

Various myths can be found in the world of ideas of the Freemasons, relating to ancient Egypt, the building of the Temple of Solomon and the Crusades. The descent of operational, i.e. handicrafts, Freemasons (the former builders of the cathedrals) and speculative, non-artisan Freemasons (today's Freemasons) is easier to understand. For some time the role has also been emphasized, which in the 17th century was probably the Londoners Royal Society Starred in the history of Freemasonry, the National Academy of Sciences of the United Kingdom. The rules of the Freemasons were first defined in writing by the pastors James Anderson (1684-1739) and Jean-Théophile Désaguliers (1683-1739) Constitutionswho form the first charter of the Speculative Freemasons. The pamphlet, published in London in 1723, announces the humanistic intention represented by the Freemasons: "Freemasonry thus becomes a place of unity and a means of establishing true friendship between people who would otherwise have remained strangers to one another". All lodges in France and around the world refer to these principles proclaimed by Anderson and Désaguliers at the beginning of the 18th century. The principle of tolerance was staged by the poet and Freemason Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) at the time of the Enlightenment in his famous ring parable: In his play Nathan the wise he describes how a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim - since they are all righteous men of honor - actually belong to the same religion: namely, that "on which all people agree". It is no coincidence that the rise of Freemasonry in France coincided with the dawn of the revolution, the Ancien régime put an end to it and pave the way for the republic. With the principles of freedom, equality and fraternity, it is the same principles that shape the work of the Freemasons within the lodges on the one hand and form the basis of republican societies on the other. In his book Pénitents et Franc-maçons (1984) the historian Maurice Agulhon shows to what extent the Freemasons in the 18th century promoted a new kind of social behavior, that is, changed the way in which the inhabitants of a country lived their interpersonal relationships. Because of Freemasonry, nobles, clergy and commoners lived together within the lodges, even if the latter, as simple people, could only achieve the office of "serving brother". In addition, the specific language of the Freemasons, with their appeal to freedom, equality, progress and education, often coincided with the republican discourse in the 19th century - and this so strongly that the language of expression persists in the bourgeois world to this day. In this sense, Freemasonry prepared social modernity without, however, breaking with tradition.

Although Freemasons agree on the essential principles and find themselves in the principles established by Anderson, there are great differences between the individual lodges. This corresponds to a slogan of the Freemasons, according to which "unity in diversity is preferable to unity in conformity". The boxes differ in size - the largest are the Grand Orient de France and the Grande Loge de France - but also in their organizational form: some only allow men (Grande Loge de France, Grand Loge Nationale Française), others are mixed (Droit Humain, Grande Loge Mixte Universelle), and still others are only accessible to women (Grande Lodge Féminine de France). According to the principle of diversity, the rituals differ (the prescribed order of the ceremonies during temple work, i.e. the closed ritual meetings within the lodge). Systems of degrees and symbols used can also be diverse. As for religious affiliation, for example, writes Grande Loge Unie d’Angleterre the belief in God as it emerges from the Bible, and only recognizes the lodges that follow this principle. However, it has very limited influence in France. Only that Grande Loge Nationale Française, which is facing the split precisely because of large losses of money caused by mismanagement, invokes this "regularity". The other lodges are adogmatic, even if some refer symbolically to the "Almighty Builder of All Worlds".

On the way to becoming a Freemason

Following its universalistic philosophy, Freemasonry refers to the search for a personal spirituality. Symbolically speaking, the Freemason, driven by the belief in mutual tolerance and the ability to perfect mankind, endeavors to construct a "building": the inner temple, but also the outer temple. In other words, he tries to improve himself and society at the same time. To do this, he relies on a method that attaches equal importance to imagination and reason, without ever mixing the two together.

On the one hand, Freemasonry refers to the principle of verification that characterizes any scientific activity. This adherence to reason relates to the approach of Isaac Newton (1642-1729) and his discovery of universal gravity: a building collapses if the laws of geometry and gravity are not taken into account. In a broader sense, the reference to reason means a distancing from religious, especially papal, authority. In the 19th century, Freemasonry was synonymous with anti-clericalism. And yet, contrary to an old belief, Freemasonry is not anti-religious: In the 18th century in particular, the lodges had many priests among their members. From the beginning, Freemasonry appealed to deism - that is, the scientifically founded assumption that there must be a God, since the origin of the universe cannot be explained otherwise - and referred to the "Almighty Builder of All Worlds". In 1877 the Grand Orient de France from the Almighty Builder of All Worlds, who has been compared to the biblical God, and proclaims the principle of freedom of conscience (the right to be a believer or not). This orientation is still in the minority among Freemasons worldwide. In practice, believing and non-believing Freemasons meet in different numbers in all lodges. Freemasons must go through a process of induction into the Order, which is divided into three stages: separation from the profane world (a symbolic death), passing tests that allow rebirth, and finally revelation (access to knowledge) . Initiation largely relies on symbols and attaches great importance to the world of emotions, images and questioning. One of the symbols is the square measure: this tool, which was used by the builders of the cathedrals, is intended to remind of the straightforwardness and conscientiousness that men and women of different opinions must have in their behavior. Presumably the Freemason and state theorist Montesquieu has the basic idea of ​​the initiation method in his Persian letters (1721) most aptly illustrated. The fictional novel, in which two Persians from France exchange letters with people who stayed at home to describe the political and social events in France, is based on an alienation (a fiction): by seeing things from a distance, one understands them better. Montesquieu relies on an open symbolism that brings the individual elements together beyond their external appearance and affiliation and encourages us to take the analysis even further.

Act in society

Freemasons are recommended to be active in society, but this civic engagement (charity, solidarity, associations, trade unions, politics, etc.) should be individual and less collective. The individual character of public activity is all the more justified in view of the diversity of philosophical, religious and political opinions represented in Freemasonry. In most lodges, the entirety of the political spectrum is depicted - with the exception of the extreme right (including the Front National).

The diversity of opinions and ideologies also explains the fact that French Freemasons have disagreed on major political issues throughout history. The order split up at the time of the French Revolution and temporarily disappeared. Freemasonry was Napoleonic during the first and second French empires. A minority of Freemasons supported the Paris Commune in 1871, the revolutionary, socialist Paris City Council; the majority of them distanced themselves from this popular uprising against the government. There was also disagreement among Freemasons in the 20th century on the question of decolonization. During the Third Republic (1870-1940), it was republican principles that held the covenant together. Republican policy and the opinion of the majority of the lodges have in fact often been the same - undoubtedly a French peculiarity.

Individual Freemasons and sometimes even entire lodges have publicly supported the passage of laws. The first government of the Third Republic, proclaimed in 1870, consisted of a majority of Freemasons. At this time, the Grand Orient played an important role in the expansion of the secular movement within trade unions, insurance associations and the "Ligue de l’enseignement", an association of associations that advocate a comprehensive schooling for all social classes. This commitment ultimately led to the passing of a law on school education (which stipulates free attendance at school, compulsory schooling and the principle of secularism in schools) under Education Minister Jules Ferry (1881-1882), himself a member of the Grand Orient. The Grand Lodge has also spoken out in favor of the principle of "école unique", the unified school, whereby school education should no longer be based on social classes, but on the performance of each individual student. With this position he contributed to the gradual unification of the French school system in the 20th century. At the same time, the Freemasons worked to improve the condition of the workers. This is, for example, the case of the trade unionist Arthur Groussier (1863-1957), the spiritual father of the Code you travail (1910), which forms the basis of French labor law and guarantees workers legal protection and the right to freedom of association. The close connection with republican principles ultimately led to the ban on French Freemasonry by the Vichy regime. Numerous Freemasons were persecuted, deported and murdered between 1940 and 1944. Since numerous archives were destroyed during this time, it is not possible to collect exact numbers. The Grand Orient de France has compiled a list of 500 Freemasons in his lodge who were deported, shot or captured, who were killed in battle or perished in the resistance. This list does not include those who died in prison camps; their number will certainly continue to grow as research proceeds. As individuals, Freemasons fought for the Forces Françaises Libres on the side of the Allies. Only a small minority placed themselves at the service of Marshal Philippe Pétain's regime, including Bernard Faÿ, then director of the French State Library.

Weakened by the Second World War, French Freemasonry experienced a new beginning after the liberation from German occupation, especially with the emergence and upswing of the Grande Lodge Féminine de France. The Freemasons have also repeatedly initiated and shaped important socio-political debates. For example, it was a Freemason, the doctor Pierre Simon (1925 to 2008), who initiated the legal regulation of contraception. Simon, emblematic figure and multiple grandmaster of the Grande Loge de France, introduced new forms of contraception in France (especially the IUD, which he invented). He was a co-founder of the French family planning movement that was formed in 1956 and in 1971 wrote a report on the sex life of the French population, the Report on the comportement sexuel des Français. However, he also initiated the dialogue with the Catholic Church. Another example is the MP and later Senator Henri Caillavet (1914-2013), who in 1947 and 1949, contrary to public opinion, passed a law to legalize abortion, and in 1982/1982 a law to control research on artificial insemination in humans and for Proposed ban on genetic engineering.
Freemasons demonstrate in Paris in January 2013 for the introduction of "marriage for all". (& copy picture-alliance)
He is also the author of the law on organ donation and transplantation and advocated dying with dignity. In recent years, a grand lodge such as the Grand Orient has supported the ban on full-body veiling (law of October 2010), advocated the incorporation of the 1905 law separating church and state into the constitution, and for gay marriage, and has sat down advocate reforming euthanasia legislation.

There was a lively media debate among those widespread in French Freemasonry fraternelles, associations of Freemasons, often organized according to professional groups, who want to spread the truths they have acquired within the temple in a secular sphere. They are often accused of doing business. And indeed there are occasional headline-grabbing scandals: One example is the case of the former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, who had to resign from his post in the spring of 2013 after suspicion of tax evasion and who was immediately excluded from the Grand Orient de France in the wake of the affair has been. In the media, the appointment of a person known as a Freemason to a high public post is often portrayed as the result of a conspiracy or intrigue. The fraternelle for education, founded in 1895, is repeatedly presented as a powerful organization that determines the education ministers of France, although this is always denied by those responsible. According to her own statements, her goal is to found a school that is open to all young people, regardless of their social background. As far as the parliamentarians' fraternels are concerned, there are men and women with the most varied of opinions and from all parties represented in parliament - with the exception of the Front national. Its members, estimated at around 150, of whom there is no official list, are elected officials or officials from both chambers of Parliament, the Economic and Social Council and the European Parliament. The meetings, which take place two to three times a year, are primarily about open and non-binding debates, which, depending on the topic, lead to dissent or consensus. Thus the members of the fraternelle are not bound by any decisions. If they have an influence on the (especially legislative) decision-making process, it can be at most indirect. As a group, they rarely take a public stand for or against a particular piece of legislation.

Translation: Julie Hamann