French veil ban prompts
Muslims to open separate schools
The trend of Muslim schools look
strong enough for French media to talk about ‘a new activism’ among
Muslims, who now make up 10 percent of the population in France
FRANCE’S ban on religious symbols in state schools, a attempt to strip
Muslims of there Islamic identity, is prompting some Muslims to pull out
of the system and launch their own schools and tutoring services.
Representatives of new projects around the country turned up at France’s
largest Muslim convention at the weekend, canvassing for money and
support to educate girls who have dropped out or been expelled from
school for insisting on wearing headscarves.
The projects are informal and probably number more than the dozen that
ran stands at the annual fair of the Union of French Islamic
Organisations (UOIF). Some are in the planning stage while most of those
operating help only a handful of pupils.
But the trend looks strong enough for French media to talk about “a new
activism” among Muslims, who now make up 10 percent of the population in
“The demand is increasing and it’s clearly linked
to the headscarf law,” said a man collecting money for a planned
high school in the southern city of Marseille. He declined to be
identified, saying his project did not want too much publicity.
“We are not a real school, but we may become one
if this law continues to exclude girls from state schools,” said
Romina Fauser, who runs a study centre in a northern Paris suburb for 16
girls following correspondence courses to finish high school.
France allows private religious schools and subsidises them partly if
they meet state standards. The Roman Catholic Church runs a large
network and Jewish schools are growing in response to anti-Semitism
pupils say exists in some state schools.
The Education Ministry has declared the headscarf ban a success, saying
it ended 15 years of tension between girls insisting on a right to wear
a headscarf and school officials unsure of whether they could discipline
them for doing so.
Hanifa Cherifi, the ministry’s inspector general, said only 48 pupils
had been expelled from schools for wearing headscarves while almost 600
more had agreed to uncover their hair.
Hungry for knowledge: Activists at the UOIF fair took a more negative
view. The March 15 Freedom Committee, which runs a telephone hotline to
advise schoolgirls, counted at least 806 victims of the law including
drop-outs and girls pressured to uncover their hair.
“There are girls who took off their headscarves
but now want to put them back on. There are girls who simply dropped out
of school whose numbers we don’t know,” said National Secretary
Fatima Ayach at the Paris-based committee’s stand.
Fauser’s group, whose SMS-style name “Gfaim2savoir” means “I’m hungry to
know,” mobilised 20 volunteer teachers last autumn to help 16 girls
prepare for their baccalaureat tests.
“It’s very hard to do that alone,” she
said. “We give them a structure to study. We keep
regular school hours and we have occasional field trips. They shouldn’t
feel they’re victims.”
Fauser said her group depended on donations to raise the annual cost of
3,750 euros per pupil per year.
In the northern city of Lille, Lycee Averroes - the only approved Muslim
high school in France - saw enrolment grow from 15 when it opened in
2003 to 45 this academic year, said deputy principal Makhlouf Mameche.
“We needed a school that integrates Muslim
culture, teaches Arabic and respects Ramadan and other holy days,”
he said, adding the new law had probably boosted enrolment. ALIF, a
study centre launched last year in the south-western city of Toulouse,
ran a stand to collect funds. “By the grace of
Allah, it has acquired more spacious premises but they need refurbishing
estimated at 490,000 euros,” its appeal said. reuters
31st March 2005
Source: Daily Times