There are around twenty children aged 6 to 11 years old fidgeting in their chairs at the El Feth mosque in Arras, this Saturday, October 14 in the morning. In front of them, Toumi Gherbaoui, 52, gives an Arabic lesson like every week. “Are you aware of what happened yesterday? “, he asks them, in reference to the terrorist attack during which the alleged perpetrator, a young radicalized Russian, killed a teacher and injured three people, in the Gambetta high school in Arras.
” Why did he do that ? “, asks a blonde child with multi-colored elastics. In her soft voice, Toumi Gherbaoui tries to say simple and clear words. “We must think of this gentleman who died, his wife and his children. That’s not Islam, that’s not religion. When you are Muslim, you do not have the right to harm others, and in the name of Islam. It’s haram, it’s forbidden. Our religion is forgiveness and tolerance. »
Despite his calm tone, Toumi Gherbaoui appears moved. The day before, his phone didn’t stop ringing. Until late in the evening, the president of the Lire et Écrire association of the Arras mosque spoke with his daughter, who attended the Gambetta high school and knew Dominique Bernard, the murdered literature teacher. “Why are they attacking a teacher? “, he asks himself. This is why this morning, he wanted to say a word to the students. “We had to reassure them, and tell them the truth from the false. Tell them that when you do this in the name of Islam, you cannot call yourself Muslim. »
“Muslims are fed up”
The suspected killer lived a few hundred meters from the mosque. In this Blancs Monts district, made up of blocks of social housing, wedged between a shopping center and suburban houses, Muslims, like others, are affected as fathers and mothers who fear for their children, as as neighbors who have already encountered the attacker in the street or as students who could have been a victim.
They are incredulous that a national tragedy can suddenly arrive on their doorstep. And for them, the feeling of being victims of the tragedy is coupled with the fear of being stigmatized – again – as Muslims. They want to radically distinguish the Islam they practice from terrorist violence.
In the afternoon, Tarek (1), Toufik, Ali (1) and Julien (1) improvise a picnic on a side table, down a block. When the discussion comes to the fact that the assailant allegedly shouted ” God is great “exasperation is growing, with the feeling that the entire Muslim community will pay the consequences: “We’re going to get pigeonholed again,” comments Tarek, 36, irritated.
“Muslims are fed up because we are still going to say that it is our fault, when we have nothing to do with it! It’s heavy”, he emphasizes. “We”, in the mouth of the gang, are 24-hour news television channels that they accuse of continuing controversies about Islam. “How should I care about crazy people doing stupid things? “, Tarik asks. “You read the texts of Islam, it is forbidden to kill. We know our religion anyway! “, continues Ali.
An “obvious” dissociation between Islam and violence
Having the feeling that in the media, terrorism is now associated with their religion, many feel like they have to respond to a suspicion of complicity: “The simple fact of coming to ask us what we think about it as Muslims is disturbing, replies the faithful man in his forties. It’s like we have to prove we’re affected. » “If you want to hear that we don’t endorse, we’ll tell you,” adds a practitioner, tired of this question.
For many, the dissociation between Islam and violence is in fact so obvious that they do not feel concerned, and reject terrorists outside Islam. “We are asked to apologize, but we do not have to apologize to someone we do not consider to be Muslim,” sighs the man who has come to say his prayer.
Some practitioners, however, feel concerned. A concern which seems to depend on the degree of knowledge of jihadism of those interviewed: “We strongly condemn, we know this ideology and we fight it,” thus firmly affirms a faithful returning from prayer.
“We do our best to educate our children in true Islam”
“It was a big scare, we said to ourselves that it could happen to our children,” also expresses Fatima, a mother who left her home, still moved. When she heard about the attack, she admits to thinking: “My God, let it not be a Muslim!” »
This woman in her fifties now fears that the stigma will fuel resentment among younger generations. “We do our best to educate our children in true Islam and in respect of the law, so that they are proud to be French. But if they feel discriminated against, this can only fuel a withdrawal,” she fears.