Some 300 imams from Algeria and Morocco are expected to conduct prayers in French mosques during the month of Ramadan as part of bilateral agreements between France and the two Maghreb countries.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is one of the most notable critics of the agreement and has called for "an end to these bilateral agreements allowing the arrival of 'imams of Ramadan' because it does not correspond to the idea of an Islam of France".
Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey are other countries which send imams to France – there are nearly 300 clerics in the country who have been sent to boost numbers and counter extremism.
There are 2,500 Muslim places of worship in France though the exact number of imams is not known as many are volunteers. There is a particular shortage over Ramadan when many Muslim communities are looking for imams who are able to recite the Qur'an, a practice known as the "tajwid".
"Why should the arrival of these foreign imams suddenly be considered a problem? The controversy is unexpected and incomprehensible," said Mohammed Moussaoui, President of the Union of Mosques of France (UMF). "The statements of some political men and women about these imams show how out of touch they are with the reality and testify to a clear lack of knowledge of the role and mission of these imams."
Earlier this month 300 French celebrities and politicians condemned radical Islamists and the rise of the "new anti-Semitism" and urged Muslims to denounce anti-Jewish and anti-Christian references in the Qur'an.