Reuters – May 16, 2011
Muslim creationists are currently touring France preaching against evolution and claiming the Qur’an predicts many modern scientific discoveries.
Followers of Harun Yahya, a well-financed Turkish publisher of popular Islamic books, held four conferences at Muslim centers in the Paris area at the weekend with more scheduled in six other cities.
Harun Yahya, one of the most prolific publishers in the Muslim world, gave proudly secularist France a scare in January 2007 by mass-mailing thousands of free copies of his “Atlas of Creation” to schools and libraries across the country.
The Education Ministry quickly ordered headmasters to seize and hide copies of the large format book. It followed up with a special seminar to train teachers how to counter a small but growing group of pupils who challenge evolution with creationist theories. In October 2007, with strong French support, the Council of Europe denounced the creationist views laid out in the “Atlas of Creation” as a religious assault on science and human rights.
“People who defend evolution can’t accept the existence of a Creator,” Sadun said at La Reussite (“Success”), one of the few Muslim-run private schools in France.
“Life is not the result of chance, it’s the creation of a higher power, which of course is Allah,” he said in fluent French, adding that the confiscation of the “Atlas of Creation” was similar to book-burnings staged by the Nazis in the 1930s.
A teacher at the La Reussite meeting said French educators called him an Islamic fundamentalist for his creationist views, but he thought they were actually secularist fundamentalists.
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.
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.
Video available here.(5:10)