The Great Mosque of Paris has recorded 40 conversions to Islam in January 2015, compared to 22 in January 2014. Conversions to Islam have thus doubled, and increased mosque attendance has been reported in Strasbourg, Aubervilliers and Lyon, where conversions have increased from 20% to 30%.
The media has reported that since the Charlie Hebdo attacks there has been an increase in sales of Qur’an.
The results may appear strange considering the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks and the tense climate following the Averroès high school controversy, where a former teacher accused students of harboring Islamist tendencies.
“The school’s director plays a double game with our secular Republic: from one angle he shows its credentials to the media…and also continues to profit as a result of its contract with the state, and from another angle, perniciously disseminates an interpretation of Islam which is none other than Islamism, that’s to say, a dangerous mix of religion and politics,” said former teacher Soufiane Zitouni.
One of the recent converts explained his decision to convert: “It makes me want to convert to Islam and show the world what it’s not.” The phenomenon of conversion is all the more notable because it is present on several socio-professional levels. Imams who were interviewed on the radio stated that recent converts include doctors, professors, police officers, and even school directors.
This article profiles Reussite, one of the first Muslim private schools in France. Several associations and activities are grouped under the umbrella of Reussite, which means “success.” The school first opened in 2001 in the densely populated suburb of Aubervilliers, northeast of Paris. Initially the school had a handful of middle school students, but today 138 pupils in junior and senior high school study there. Many girls come specifically because of problems they’ve had in public schools related to the veil ban, said Belkhier Okachi, the school’s treasurer.
The school has become a victim of its own success and regularly turns away students in order to keep class sizes small — the average is 24 — so students can benefit from individual attention from teachers.
Recognized by the state, the school follows the same national curriculum as its public school counterparts with some notable differences. Students are required to take Arabic language classes as well as one hour of religion per week. Although the midday prayer is not a requirement, most students participate in the 15-minute exercise.
The school’s enrollment is almost equally split between girls and boys, although it enrolls slightly more girls because they have a harder time in public schools. For funding, Reussite relies largely on the 2,500 euro annual tuition per student as well as donations from local businesses and private sources. Nevertheless, the school is facing grave financial difficulties.
La Réussite (Ibn Rushd) school in Aubervilliers, France is collapsing under the weight of its debts, its headteacher recently reported. Many critics have pointed to the French government for denying it the same grants given to other faith schools. According to the Guardian newspaper, with a 1959 law, over 8000 Jewish and Christian schools receive state grants; none of France´s four French Muslim schools have qualified. With the school´s debts reaching approximately €300,000, the school has turned to charitable donations. La Réussite was approved in July 2003 and became the country´s first Muslim school. It follows the same curriculum as state schools, and became one of the most successful schools nationwide, with a 100% Baccalaureate rate. Administrators of the school cite its importance since the banning of the hijab in state schools four years ago.
This video piece by Katrin Bennhold of the International Herald Tribune reports on the possible closing of La Reussite Islamic School in Aubervilliers because of its difficulty in self-financing. Yvonne Fazilleau, the school’s principal, claims that without any state subsidies the school may close in February 2009. The school’s yearly tuition is approximately €5000; the school is no longer able to pay its teachers due to declining enrollment. Fazilleau explains that La Reussite teaches the required national curriculum and that all religious-related events and classes are optional (both requirements for state subsidies to private religious schools), but that the school’s physical education classes are sex-segregated. All other classes are mixed.