Le Parisien newspaper carried a story earlier this month of a 12-year old boy who had his head shaved and was badly beaten for showing up with a blonde streak in his hair at an Arabic language class at the Faith and Unity Mosque in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris, in April 2017.
The principal of the Quranic school (Boubou F.) told the boy his hairstyle was forbidden by Islam and that he needed to be punished. He sent another pupil to get an electric shaver, with which he reportedly shaved the boy’s head in front of the class. The following day the principal called his brother (Mamadi F.), a monitor employed by Sarcelles city council, and asked him to find some “heavies” to beat the boy. He was surrounded by the principal and around 15-20 other people. He was taken into a utility room where he was beaten for two hours by Mamadi F., another monitor and a mediator (Souley S.) also employed by the city council.
At the trial on March 8, 2018 Boubou F. (35) was sentenced 12 months in prison, with 4 months suspended. Souley S. (29) was sentenced to 6 months with 4 suspended and the two monitors, both in their early 20s, were sentenced to 8 months each, with 4 months suspended.
The boy’s step-father, who had ordered the punishment, was not present at the trial as he had returned to Mali. He was given a 6-month suspended sentence.
Souley S. refuted the accusations, claiming he left the school before the beating took place. “We are not radicals or Islamists,” he told the judge.
Frédéric Zajac, the lawyer defending Boubou F., claimed the incident was not a problem of religion but of education.
Quranic schools have mushroomed in France over the past twenty years or so. They are generally run by Salafists and funded by organizations such as the Islamic Development Bank, Qatar Charity and the Red Crescent.
Back in April 2016, François Pupponi, Socialist mayor of Sarcelles, expressed concern about the growth of Quranic schools in France. Many are not schools in the strict sense of the term, but pseudo-cultural centers providing after-school classes in Quranic studies, Islamic morality and Arabic. They are generally attached to mosques.
The number of such schools is difficult to determine, as many are set up off the radar of the Ministry of Education. A 2010 research paper published by the IISSM (Institute for the Study of Islam and Societies of the Muslim World) and the EHESS (School of Advanced Studies in Social Science) put the figure at 600 (of which 200 were in Paris and its suburbs) attended by 35,000 pupils. In 2018 the number of Quranic schools and pupils attending them is undoubtedly far higher.
In addition, there are currently around 100 Muslim schools in France, ranging from kindergarten through elementary, primary, junior high school and high school. The majority of these are controlled by the UOIF, the French branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Whether or not these schools are educating young Muslims to adhere to the secular and pluralist values of French society is debatable.