There are a dozen of them hanging out in front of the college this Friday in June, between bursts of laughter and water fights. Yasmine (1), in a hooded sweatshirt, long ponytail and mascara on her eyelashes, her friend, diamond on her nose and veil floating on her head, Ilyès and Anna call out to each other and spoof.
On their phones, which they consult regularly, appear in their TikTok suggestions imams whose sermons they are imbued with, in the forefront of which Nader Abou Anas and Rachid Eljay, previously known as Rachid Abou Houdeyfa, former imam of Brest.
Success of these preachers 2.0
“Their videos are an awareness, to avoid smoking, masturbation, relationships outside marriageexplains Yasmine. They teach us a lot of things, for example about girl-boy friendship: that doesn’t exist in Islam. »
With these words, Yasmine nevertheless exchanges a big “check” with her friend Ilyès. Both discuss the benefits of prayer, which they say they have resumed the habit thanks to the imams of the networks: “If you don’t pray, the next day you’re not well. Whereas when you focus on the benefits of religion, you feel better! Prayer is a remedy. »
Ilyès adds: “Religion helps you in the difficult trials of life. » He stops, distracted by the arrival of a young man a few meters further: “He’s a Christian, and he’s my best friend!” » He runs towards him, before taking advantage of the presence of a journalist to ask the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals.
783,000 subscribers on YouTube and 2.43 million on TikTok
Muslim teenagers The cross met in Paris admit spending a lot of time watching the videos of imams on social networks, including Nader Abou Anas and Rachid Eljay, both known for spreading a rigorous Islam. The success of these 2.0 preachers with young middle and high school students is confirmed by their number of “followers”: 783,000 and 2.43 million subscribers respectively on YouTube, a little less on TikTok, platforms popular with the youngest.
The adolescents interviewed assume the preponderant place of these imams in their religious training, which complements that received from their parents. Watching their videos, they say they have resumed prayer, found peace and a sense of personal satisfaction. They also claim the rigorous standards that are disseminated there, particularly in terms of gender diversity. A sort of ideal in their eyes… which these young people seem far from applying to the letter.
Simple answers to young people’s questions
What Fatou, 17, appreciates in these preachers is first of all that they speak “as if they were friends”. They answer the questions that this high school student asks herself about the practice: “how to start prayer” Or “how to dress”.“Even if the veil, I don’t put it on, but hey”, nuance she in an embarrassed smile. With her friend Awa, 18, dressed in a beige veil, they find these speeches very important. “It gives meaning to our lifeinsists Fatou. It soothes us a lot! When we are sad or angry, we can listen to words from the Quran. When we do a good deed, we are rewarded…”
In fact, many of these preachers’ videos cover topics that combine Islam and self-fulfilment, or provide Islamic advice for daily life: “Three keys to a happy life”, “How to react to the wickedness of people? », “Don’t be sad, everything will be okay”.
“Facilitators of entry into adulthood”
For Younes Van Praet, a sociologist specializing in the transmission of Islam, some of these preachers are part of the trend of success in personal development – even if many others criticize it – by “putting into the words of Islam problems that everyone encounters”. In this sense, emphasizes Sami Zegnani, lecturer in sociology at the University of Rennes 1 and specialist in working-class neighborhoods, care must be taken not to “particularizing Muslims”.
We also find on the accounts of the two star imams – who staged their exit from Salafism to adhere to traditional Maliki Islam – videos on how to behave well, to get into a relationship… “They offer turnkey recipes for becoming an adult, finding a place in society while pleasing God,” describes Sami Zegnani, drawing a parallel with the quietist Salafis he had observed in working-class neighborhoods, finding success with young people because they were perceived as “facilitators of entry into adulthood”. A common discourse according to him at “all non-violent rigor”, who integrate religion into all aspects of life.
Regular religious practice
Injunctions to diligent religious practice also occupy a central place in these discourses. Ayoub, 14, began to say his five prayers after listening to these imams. Previously he “neglected” often the prayer to play video games. The teenager now describes this resumption of practice as a way to better control his life. “It’s also good for our future. If we do things right, it can help us in our education. (…) When I started doing my prayers, I started getting better grades, I was more collected and mature, I could do my homework. »
These contents are also impregnated with a rigorous vision of religion. Ayoub says he saw a video of an imam saying that men could not “check” a girl. Since then, he says he has distanced himself from the group of girls in his class. “In college, it’s commonplace to check a girl or stay with her, he describes. But we shouldn’t do that. » Younes, 14, also believes that imams encourage them to “to be on the right path” : “They help us avoid temptations like girls, cigarettes. »
“Religion is transmitted from person to person”
Kalilou Sylla, 27, imam of the Great Mosque of Strasbourg
“Today, our young people live on social networks, and are inevitably affected by imams who have a lot of influence. It often happens that young people send me videos and ask me for my opinion on their content. When I arrived at the Grande Mosquée de Strasbourg, I launched the “assizes for young people”, training and discussion sessions every Sunday. This was not very common in France. This was in response to a request from them.
This time allows young people to meet and ask their questions directly. It is also an opportunity for me to correct misunderstood concepts, very present on the Internet, for example on diversity. I also draw attention to the fact that there are a variety of streams in Islam, some of which are problematic, and tell their story. I believe religion is something that is passed from heart to heart, person to person. »