The courses are being held in an unusual location - the Catholic Institute of Paris, an institution better known for training priests and Christian scholars than Muslim clerics. Established in collaboration with the French government and the Paris mosque, the program began in January with a largely male class of 25. It aims to give the students a broad understanding of France's legal, historical and social mores.

What the year-long program does not do, says Interior Ministry spokesman Gerard Gachet is offer theology training.

Gachet says religious training for the future clerics is the role of Muslim institutes. But the government believes the courses on France will help shape a French Islam that is perfectly in touch with society.

The students at the Catholic Institute course are largely foreign born, with many coming from North and sub-Saharan Africa. The program's director, Olivier Bobineau, says they are eager to learn.

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