“With what is happening to us, which Muslim establishment is still going to enter into a partnership with the State? » This inquiry was launched by Makhlouf Mamèche, director of the Averroès association, after the decision of the prefect of Hauts-de-France to break the association contract which linked the private Muslim establishment with the State. “While we have gone very far in cooperation, and around ten inspections have taken place in the high school since its opening, our contract is withdrawn. It was, however, the best guarantee of our good will, because that required accepting close control. he pleads.
In fact, the breach of trust decided by the public authorities with regard to the Lille high school, accused of financial and teaching irregularities “contrary to the values of the Republic”is a hard blow to the small world of private Muslim education.
1,300 students in private Muslim education under contract
This is struggling to emerge, under a double effect of distrust of public authorities and lack of internal organization. Until today, Muslim children first attend public schools en masse, then private Catholic schools under contract. Since 2004, only around ten Muslim establishments – mainly primary schools – have obtained an association contract with the State, totaling to date just over 1,300 students educated in this framework. Alongside this small ecosystem under contract with the State, around a hundred establishments outside of denominational contracts exist. In total, Muslim contract and non-contract establishments educate more than 10,000 students.
Without exploding, the demand for Muslim education has been driven, since the early 2000s, by the law banning religious symbols in schools (2004) and the emergence of a Muslim middle class wishing to have the choice between public education and confessional. Specifically, the Averroès high school was opened twenty years ago by the Islamic League of the North to take care of the education of students excluded from their high school because they refused to remove their veil. “Families are attracted by the religious specificities of these establishments, but not only that, explains sociology researcher Diane-Sophie Girin, author of a thesis on Muslim private education. We see that these establishments are opening in priority neighborhoods for middle-class Muslim families who are also seeking to bypass the school map. »
No united or reassuring face for the State
Unlike Catholic education which has succeeded, over time, in equipping itself with a true national organization, the absence of structuring was, for a long time, the main reason given by the Ministry of National Education for refuse establishments the signing of an association contract, a guarantee of public funding. In 2014, a National Federation of Private Muslim Education was created, supported by mosques influenced by the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) – conservative Islam, close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The structure has around ten founding members, including the largest Islamic school groups, such as the Averroès high school and Al-Kindi in Décines (Rhône). Little by little, the actors are diversifying, without however succeeding in presenting a united and reassuring face for the public authorities. The absence of established clergy, “unitary religious discourse, and therefore no theological teaching that would correspond to French society”remains a point of concern for the State, explains a history professor, specialist in Muslim religion.
“When I was at the Ministry of National Education, requests for an association of Muslim educational establishments were viewed with great suspicion and reluctance. Agreement requests for Jewish establishments were simpler,” traces Bernard Toulemonde, former director of school education until 2000.
“Under the era of Jean-Michel Blanquer, we cut off the tap”
Under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, there is however a strong political will to contract Muslim establishments in a logic of partnership, in particular with the UOIF, which has become Muslims of France. Between 2014 and 2017, three school groups obtained agreement with the State. “From the arrival of Jean-Michel Blanquer, we turn off the tap”, notes an observer of these issues, for whom this halt marks the disgrace of organizations originating from the Muslim Brotherhood among political personnel and a more secure treatment of Islam, following a series of Islamist attacks.
The setbacks of Averroès, notably called into question for his courses in Muslim ethics, illustrate how these schools now give rise to reservations from the public authorities. Above all, the few that have seen the light of day have contributed to reorienting French secularism, “which has moved from a logic of accommodation to a logic of control”, says Stéphanie Hennette-Vauchez, professor of public law at Paris Nanterre University. Gatel law in 2018 – which simplified the procedures for closing private establishments –, Blanquer law in 2019, separatism law… Numerous texts have been passed in order to better control these establishments. They all point in the same direction: “Tighten the opening conditions, and strengthen ex post controls. This marks a real break with the spirit of application of the contract which prevailed until then. The Debré law of 1959, designed for Catholic schools, has been strongly regulated since Muslim establishments opened. More than ever, secularism is seen as never compromising with religion. »
“A risk of double standards”
Should we regret this, when the association contract is a structuring factor in the religious proposal, which makes it possible to bring establishments otherwise intended outside the contract into the fold of the State? Anne Brugnera, MP (Renaissance) responsible for the education aspect during the debates on the separatism law, assumes different controls for Muslim schools. “Catholics have seniority, institutions which are interlocutors of the State. » Conversely, “it is justified that Averroès, even if it is the oldest Muslim high school in France, is also the most watched, she believes, because we cannot act as if Koranic schools did not exist, nor as if separatism did not provide the basis for terrorism.”
Former inspector Jean-Louis Auduc believes that the controls to which Averroès was subjected “are fully justified”but that “the same rigor must be exercised everywhere”. The former inspector points out a risk of ” Two weights, two measures “because “not all private establishments under Catholic or Jewish contract are subject to such rigorous control.” In a June 2023 report, the Court of Auditors criticized “a deficiency in state controls” on the private sector under contract.