In Marseille, a fragmented official Islam coexists with the refuge Islam of the neighborhoods

In Marseille, a fragmented official Islam coexists with the refuge Islam of the neighborhoods

The project for a large mosque in Marseille resurfaces. The new president of the departmental council of Muslim worship (CDCM), Djamel Zekri, is determined to wear it. At the head of this new representative structure which emerged following the reorganization of religion launched by the Ministry of the Interior, this doctor and his team wish to breathe new life into the paralyzed organization of Marseille Islam. for years by the fragmentation of Muslim communities closely linked to their countries of origin.

In this fragmented landscape, the CDCM embodies the timid hope of bringing with a single voice the necessary demands concerning the arrangement of prayer rooms, Muslim cemeteries, etc. But the large mosque project in Marseille, who still believes in it? A true political sea serpent, he traveled through the successive mandates of Jean-Claude Gaudin, former mayor of Marseille, without ever leaving the ground.

A “great dispersion”

The ultimate paradox in this city where almost a third of the population is of Muslim faith – according to unofficial figures – and a symbol of the chronic organizational difficulties of Islam in Marseille… while, in working-class neighborhoods, some are seduced by an identity-based Islam.

“Today there is a great dispersion, describes Azzedine Aïnouche, head of the El-Islah mosque and an old figure in Marseille Islam. Each place of worship operates a bit in its own way, without many relationships. » With around 250,000 people, the Marseille Muslim community is as diverse as the communities that landed in the port of Marseille during the second half of the 20th century: Algerians, Comorians, Tunisians, Moroccans and West Africans.

Today it is polarized around the Capelette mosque, linked to the Paris mosque and the Algerian state; the El-Islah mosque, a vast prayer room located in the heart of the flea market, also Algerian; the Bilal mosque, linked to Comorian and African Islam, or the private high school under contract Ibn-Khaldun, directed by Mohsen Ngazou, president of Muslims of France, formerly UOIF (linked to the Muslim Brotherhood). Comorian Islam also links the territory with its fabric of schionithese religious training schools.

“Islam of the country”

Somehow, “Islam in Marseille resembles that of the 1960s: it is still a bit of a “local Islam”, very structured around countries of origin”, describes Vincent Geisser, sociologist specializing in Islam. He puts forward a possible explanation: “Unlike other cities, Marseille has produced few young middle-class Muslims. It is a poor Islam in a poor city, which has emancipated itself less from the ethno-national referent. »

The Marseille Grand Mosque project crystallized this fragmentation to such an extent that it never came to fruition. In 2007, the long lease was granted by the town hall to one of the two competing associations which wanted to carry out the project. After the laying of the first stone, in 2010, the takeover of power within the association of Abderrahmane Ghoul, Moroccan of origin and vice-president of the regional council of Muslim worship (CRCM), caused the freezing of the Algerian financial participation. After three years of unpaid rent, the town hall finally canceled the lease in 2016.

This failure still leaves a bitter taste for certain Muslim leaders. “It is unthinkable that Marseille, which has a large basilica and synagogues, does not have a large mosque, reflecting what this cosmopolitan city represents for the Mediterranean! “, insists Abobikrine Diop, rector of the Bilal mosque, who is indignant :“How is it that in Marseille we still have cellar Islam? »

The quest for personal identity

However, this lack of institutionalization does not seem to undermine the religiosity of young people. Marseille is a city where religion is seen and, on Fridays, qamis flourish in the streets. Could these be the “djellabas-sneakers” which the Marseille journalist Philippe Pujol talks about in his book The Fall of the Monster (1), designating these young people from working-class neighborhoods who have made a return to religion?

In the relegated northern neighborhoods, undermined by poverty and violence, where “we have fought for a long time for equality and justice” and where now “the quest seems illusory”, the journalist notes that “the struggles have shifted from great ideals to the quest for a more personal identity.” It sums : “a change from the Che Guevara t-shirt to the djellaba-sneakers. »

Nassurdine Haidari, 45, imam of Comorian origin and president of the Representative Council of Black Associations of France (Cran), went through this identity-based Islam and “claimant”, before coming back. As a child, Islam was first a refuge from neighborhood violence. “I was reading the Koran on the third floor while some guys were injecting themselves in the lobby,” he remembers.

In Marseille, a fragmented official Islam coexists with the refuge Islam of the neighborhoods

As an adult, he will go through a Salafist period. Nassurdine Haidari explains this moment by the frustration that social exclusion causes. “When you go to Sciences Po and find yourself a security guard, watching the trains go by, because you don’t have a network… you tell yourself that the Republican model that we sold you is of the flute”, he asks, evoking his own experience.

An attraction to a rigorous Islam

“So you’re going to take refuge in a more identity-based and protest Islam,” he retraces, describing “Salafism, which brings distrust and questioning of democratic authorities”. He will gradually abandon this trend, in particular because of his positions on “the status of women” And “slavery”.

Today, Nassurdine Haidari understands the attraction of certain young people to this rigorous trend in Islam as a feeling of identity rejection: “On TV sets, we explain to young people that they are pests. That in the third generation, they are not “integrated”… So what do young people do? They take refuge in an Islam which gives them a place, an identity, a pride. Everything the Republic should give them. »

If, according to Vincent Geisser, Marseille does not constitute “a stronghold of French Salafism” like certain towns in the north of France, it is clear that “this trend has made many followers in the Phocaean city”. “It has contributed to the crisis of Muslim institutions linked to consular Islam, but also to more conservative Islamic organizations which sometimes find themselves overtaken by the proponents of a proselytizing Islam linked to the countries of the Persian Gulf,” he describes.

In Marseille, many followers of this movement were trained by imam El Hadi Doudi, “a kind of guru”according to the sociologist, who exercised real influence in his so-called Boulevard National mosque, before being expelled in 2018.

“He has the same background as us, he understands us”

It was with this influential preacher that Imam Ismaïl, whose real name was Smaïn Bendjilali, was trained, a local figure of Islam 2.0 in Marseille, who nevertheless denies adhering to Salafism. With long hair tied up, beard and sunglasses, the forty-year-old preaches on social networks and in his Bleuets mosque, in the northern districts, a conservative and literalist Islam that speaks to young people.

Born in a working-class neighborhood, to Algerian parents, he recounts his youth where he loved DJ decks and went to parties with his friends after evening prayers. “Sound was a passion, but it was religion that won out,” remembers the one who has now abandoned music.

Like many, he was promoted to imam without much training, because someone needed to ” hold “ Friday sermon. Today at the head of an institute which trains around 500 students, he believes that his speech works because young people identify with him. “Before being imam, I am Ismaïl: I like football, video games, I am from Marseille, I go to the stadium. Young people say to themselves: “He has the same background as us, he understands us”. »

Drugs and poverty

Faced with poverty and drug trafficking which plagues his neighborhood, the imam occupies a social function by his very position and warns against settling scores. “I know that there are young people here who are in the networks, working hard, he said in one of his sermons. Fear Allah, for there is no future in the path you have taken. Most of those who engaged in it died. There is either halal or haram, there is either heaven or hell. »

Considered a Salafist by other imams in the city center, he detaches himself from the older generation of Muslim leaders, whom he considers “disconnected”, preaching “an Islam of idiots”.

In fact, in Marseille, several managers share the observation of a necessary generational succession. “The younger generations must take over,” believes Abobikrine Diop. “We need to connect to the reality we live in,” also judges Nassurdine Haidari.

Since the riots in June, he has organized, with other imams including Azzedine Aïnouche, a meeting to try to understand what happened at that time, and confides the question that drives him: “How to be an imam today, in the social reality of Marseille? »


Plural communities

In 2020, there were around 80 Muslim places of worship in Marseille.

The Muslim population is estimated between 200,000 and 250,000 people from different migrations: Algerian (100,000), Comorian (70,000), Tunisian (25,000), Moroccan (10,000), West African (10,000) and a few hundred French converted to Islam.

These figures should be taken with caution because these are projections based on the national origins of the inhabitants, which do not prejudge their beliefs or their practice.


“The imams-priests group makes us discover another way of loving God”

Abdessalem Souiki

Imam, founder of the association La Plume des savoirs

“In 2010, a group bringing together imams and priests from Marseille was formed at the initiative of Étienne Renaud, a White Father who had a lot of experience in the Muslim world. This has been going on for thirteen years. We address different themes, which are rather pretexts for listening to others, and confronting through others a foreign perspective on oneself. This approach requires a lot of tact, pedagogy and altruism.

I believe that this dialogue frees us from our religious tranquility: the other makes us aware of the religious rumors that we take to be true. At the first confrontation, everything that doesn’t hold together collapses. At first, it upsets us a little. But the foreign gaze helps us get rid of it. At first, some imams were doubtful. Ultimately, they liked it, and made them discover another way of loving God. »


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