Many of the 8,847 private Roman Catholic schools in France have welcomed Muslim students. The country currently has four Muslim schools. While there are no national statistics, Muslim and Catholic educators estimate that Muslim students make up more than 10 percent of the 2 million students enrolled in Catholic schools. In more ethnically-mixed neighbourhoods and in the northern part of the country, that percentage can rise up to more than half. 80% of the students at the Saint Mauront Catholic school in Marseille, featured in this article, are Muslim. Soheib Bencheikh, former grand mufti in Marseille whose eldest daughter attends a Catholic school, claims that “It’s ironic, but today the Catholic church is more tolerant of, and knowledgeable about, Islam than the French state.”
In return for teaching the national curriculum and opening its doors to students of all faiths, the government pays teachers’ salaries and a subsidy per student. Catholic schools are free to allow girls to wear the headscarf.
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