Islamic Religious Education in France

Diane-Sophie Girin

State-Church Relations and the

Muslim Communities in France

Across the different church-state models we find in Europe, with its policy of laïcité, France is probably the most exceptional case. Laïcité is not only a legal matter, it is also considered a central part of France’s culture and identity. But the meaning of laïcité remains disputed among scholars, with interpretations ranging from exclusive “assertive secularism” (Kuru, 2009, 106) that is hostile to religion and deems religion in all its aspects to be a private matter, to the more inclusive and accommoda-tionist “open secularism” (Baubérot, 2015, 89).

The Law of Separation of Church and State of 1905 is particularly associated with laïcité, even if the legal text does not explicitly use or define the term. The two axioms that are generally cited as being at the heart of the law are the freedom of conscience (which can develop into freedom of belief) and the neutrality of the state (which does not recognise, pay, or subsidise any faith [culte]). However, it is important to note that these principles will be expressed in different ways depending on the place and time. According to Véronique Altglas (2010, 495), laïcité is far from being a stable and unitary idea, it “has been shaped in various contexts by interactions between competing social actors in some of the most passionate social debates.” It is “an emergent property from discourses, actions and administrative practices in particular contexts. In other words, laïcité is as laïcité does” (Altglas, 2010, 500).

For instance, religious education (RE) classes are not organised in state schools with the exception of the region of Alsace-Moselle, which is, for historical reasons, still regulated by the concordat of 1801 and its organic laws of 1802-1808. Consequently, there are four recognised religions in Alsace-Moselle (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Judaism), and the state pays the wages of their ministers. RE in these religions is also organised in state schools, and the RE teachers are paid by the state. Similarly, some of the French transoceanic territories are not governed by the French secular law of 1905 (Baubérot, 2015, 129).

Table 8.1 Current schooling options in France

State schools

Private schools


Number of




Number of





Number of schools

Number of


Contract No contract

  • 7,673 1,211
  • 2,117,429 pupils 69,028 pupils
  • (= 97% of the private

schools’ pupils)

Sources: DEPP, 2018, 29, 33, 45, 65, 89; Ministère de l'éducation nationale

Another exception to this strict secularism in France is the Debré Law of 1959, which legalised the funding of private education, 90% of which was Catholic (Akan, 2009, 245). This law established a system of contracts between the state and single private schools; they had to offer the same curriculum as state schools and could offer optional confessional RE in exchange for salaries, insurance, funds for maintenance of school buildings, and equipment. In addition, the state had control over staff appointments and prohibited the selection of pupils on the basis of their religious beliefs. Since the enactment of the Debré Law, there have been two types of private schools: those that have a state contract and those that do not (i.e., are non-contracted [hors contrat] - see Table 8.1).

Similar to most other European nations, France also has a system of registration for religious communities, with corresponding tax benefits. However, most Islamic communities do not benefit from it since they are registered as cultural and not as religious associations. Furthermore, the French policy with regard to Islam is often perceived as a policy of interference and control, in which the (institutional) freedom of religion is sometimes threatened. Franck Frégosi (2018, 35) sees in the current situation a phenomenon of “domestication of Islam” that is rooted in the colonial era: “it’s a question of promoting the full integration of Islam into French societv, as well as controlling, regulating and even supervising, if necessary by law, the organisation of worship, the social visibility of the public practice of this religion”. The “forceps delivery” (Jouanneau, 2017, 254) of the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman (CFCM) in 2003 can be seen as a good example of the process of selecting Muslim interlocutors deemed legitimate, with whom the public authorities are supposed to dialogue, negotiate, and have regular contacts (Frégosi, 2018, 39). The CFCM is expected to reflect on, among other things, the construction of mosques and Islamic graveyards,

Table 8.2 Confessional private schools in France1

Nu mber of schools

Contract/No contract

Number of pupils


7,400 pedagogical units

98% with contract



100 schools

76% with contract



6 schools

100% with contract




31 schools

0 schools with contract




62 schools-

6 schools (10%) with partial contract; 56 schools (90%) without contract’


Sources: Respective federations for the Catholic, Jewish, Evangelical schools; Akgoniil, 2009, 131 for the Lutheran schools.

ritual slaughter, halal food, the appointment of Islamic chaplains, and the training of imams. With regard to this last item, the Fondation de 1’Islam de France (FIF) was established in 2016 at the request of the Ministry of the Interior. /

Religion and Education in France: General Overview

There are currently three school types in France: state schools (which form a substantial majority), private schools under contract, and private schools without a contract. In addition, parents and legal guardians can also choose to educate their children at home (homeschooling).

Most private schools are Catholic schools (98% under contract), followed by Jewish schools (76% under contract), Islamic schools (10% under partial contract), Protestant-evangelical schools (no schools under contract), and Protestant-Lutheran schools. At present, there are 62 Islamic schools in France: six schools have a partial contract with the state, and 56 schools have no contract (Table 8.2).

Given the different school types, there are also different types of RE in France. In state schools, RE is not organised as a separate subject, whereas it is optional in private schools with a contract. In confessional private schools without a contract, RE can be optional or mandatory, and it can range from one hour a week up to half of the school time.

The Place of Islam Within National Life and Education

The dominance of Catholicism was one of the triggers for the Revolution (1789) which ultimately ended in a strict separation of church and state. More than 200 years later, the French religious landscape has evolved considerably. According to Claude Dargent (2019, 224), 58% of the

Islamic Religious Education in France 131 population of metropolitan France is currently not affiliated with any religious group. Catholicism remains the main faith, with 32% of the population identifying themselves as Catholic, but the number of its practitioners is in decline. Among them, 19% identify as non-practicing Catholics (attending church one time or less each year). In contrast to this continuous decline, Dargent (2019, 225) notes the emergence of Protestantism (2%), Judaism (0.5%), and Buddhism (0.5%). According to the most recent statistics, France, with a Muslim population of 6-9%, has the largest number of Muslims in Europe (Dargent, 2019; Pew Research Center, 2017).

Since the 1970s, the presence of the descendants of postcolonial immigrants in French state schools has generated a number of controversies, starting with the provision of Arabic language lessons. First conceived as a great opportunity to prepare for a return to the homeland of immigrant parents, then as a means of integration (Akgônül, 2018, 56-77), these classes later became suspect for being a hotbed of communitarianism or communautarisme.3 From 1989 to 2004, the presence of pupils wearing a hijab revived the discussions on the place of Islam and Muslim students in state schools. It ended with the vote to ban of all “ostentatious religious symbols” in state schools.6 More recently, controversies around the presence of mothers wearing a hijab accompanying school trips have occurred. Mention should also be made of discussions around pork-free meals and the non-availability of vegetarian or halal options in school cafeterias, or the accusation of anti-Semitism and self-segregation weighing on the pupils of the suburbs (“banlieues”). With the terrorist attacks of 2015 (see introduction in this volume), Muslim pupils faced accusations of radicalisation and were blamed for not respecting the minute of silence in memory of the victims. Meanwhile, students who self-identify as Muslims have also had many concerns about school beyond purely religious ones: “[...] dwindling school diversity (not just of religion and race but also of class), inept or discriminatory school counsellors, the tendency to send young Muslims and children of immigrants to technical schools regardless of the students’ interests, (...) an inadequate system of teacher evaluation, [and] not enough internships” (Fredette, 2014, 16).

Simultaneously with the headscarf-affaire of 2004, the first Muslim secondary school opened in the north of France (lycée Averroès de Lille), becoming the first of its kind under contract with the state. Bras, Mervin, and Amghar (2010, 43) hypothesise that the ban on ostentatious religious symbols in state schools accelerated the movement for private Muslim schooling. The evolution of the figures seems to confirm this idea: While there were only two Muslim schools in 2001, this number increased exponentially to ten in 2010, 41 in 2015, and 62 in 2019.

(Islamic) Religious Education in France: History and Current Situation


Historically, confessional RE as a school subject was abolished in 1882 when moral and religious instruction (RI) was replaced by “secular moral education” and “civic instruction”. The aim was to replace Catholic teachings with republican ones. At the same time, however, the situation was different regarding Islam in the schools of the colonised territories, particularly in Algeria, which was then divided into three French departments.' It is worth remembering that, regarding the Islamic faith, most of the mechanisms for separating church and state that were established in metropolitan France were not introduced in Algeria. A logic of systematic monitoring and control of the public exercise of Islam was deployed there, increasing as the Algerian national movement developed (Fregosi, 2018, 37).

Emile Combes, an anticlerical senator and ardent defender of the separation of church and state in metropolitan France, recommended the coexistence of the zaouia (Quranic school) and the state school for colonised Muslims in Algeria (Dimier, 2001, 69). For instance, the decree of 18 October 1892 on indigenous primary education allowed the presence of a taleb (indigenous teacher) in the state school classroom to teach Arabic and the Qur’an to students (Dimier, 2001, 72).

Under the Vichy regime (1940-1944), optional RE was briefly reintroduced into mainland France (Handourtzel, 2013, 107). Moral and civic instruction was taught again until 1969 and was recently reimplemented in primary schools with the new school programmes in 2008. From 2013 onwards, the aim of moral education in primary schools was to strengthen the teaching of a “non-denominational secular and civic morality that is closely linked to the principles and values of republican and democratic citizenship” (Bergounioux, Loeffel and Schwartz, 2013, 23). In the particular context of the aftermath of the abovementioned Paris attacks, moral education became Moral and Civic Education (EMC) at the beginning of the 2015 academic year.

Current Situation

The French education system stands out in Europe by providing no specific RE subject in state schools. Since the 1980s, many considerations have nonetheless been voiced on the topic of transmitting knowledge about religion, especially with regard to the presence of Muslim pupils in state schools. The controversies around veiled pupils, the reaction to 9/11, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the recent terrorist attacks have periodically revived the discussion about the teaching of “religious facts” (“les faits religieux”).

Oissila Saaidia (2008, 209-221) notes that in the late 1980s historians in charge of producing curricula became aware that students were no longer able to understand a significant part of their heritage due to their lack of “religious” references. Countering the growing ignorance of students and enabling them to master the tools necessary to understand the world in which they live were considered sine qua non conditions for citizenship.

According to Portier (2014, 193), France chose the option of “teaching about religion” by regarding religion as a simple social reality that could be understood scientifically. The approach to religion had to be contextualised historically and geographically, and religious facts were transmitted as dimensions of the life of societies, their cultures, and their developments (Willaime, 2014, 11).

“Religious facts” are taught to students of secondary education in literature, art, philosophy, and especially in history classes. The content of history textbooks on the topic of Islam is regularly debated among scholars. Critics have for instance noted that some religious assumptions are presented as historical truths (Saint-Martin, 2018, 47), that Islam is essentialised, and that Muslims are frequently represented as foreigners. On the other hand, other commentators have mentioned a laudable effort on the part of editors to escape from stereotypes in their presentation of the early days of Islam (Saint-Martin, 2018, 48).

In state schools, students can also have access to chaplaincies. These were established in 1802, but the 1905 law of separation of church and state did not change this arrangement in order to respect freedom of conscience and of religious worship of the pupils. The vast majority of the chaplaincies are Catholic, and there are currently no Muslim chaplaincies.8 However, Catholic chaplaincies face an uncertain future with the decline of parental demand, and state schools seem to be hesitant towards anything that might look like a breach of laïcité. In addition to that, some principals refuse to display information or to provide a classroom for the Catholic chaplaincy, as they fear parallel requests from Muslim parents.9 If there is no confessional RE in state schools and there are no Muslim chaplaincies for pupils to access discussion about their faith, then it would appear that private Muslim schools are the only place where confessional Islamic religious education (IRE) is currently available.

Islamic Religious Education in French

Muslim Schools: A Typology

At present, the topic of IRE and Muslim schooling in France calls for deeper examination. The data available about IRE (e.g., Bras et al., 2010; Bowen, 2011; Ferrara, 2017; Bourget, 2019) concern only a handful of schools and often the most iconic ones (a few of them receive media coverage, public funds, and give researchers access to their classrooms).

In order to add to the limited quantity of research material available at present, we propose a first attempt at classification based on interviews with the founders, school principals, and IRE teachers of 12 Muslim schools. We have only included elementary schools because, in spite of being the most numerous, they have been less studied than secondary schools. One of the schools is under contract, six of them have the intention of coming under contract once they are eligible, and the rest of them have not decided yet or wish to remain non-contracted. We completed our study with a period of observation in three of them (schools A, C, and G).

Based on this empirical research, we identified a wide variety of practices. The first thing to note is that there is no common approach to IRE on a national level and that IRE practices vary greatly from school to school. IRE can, for instance, be mandatory or optional; integrated into the school timetable or outside of it (moved to Wednesdays and weekends, off mandatory school hours); and provided by general subject teachers or specific subject teachers. While some schools choose to teach Qur’anic memorisation, others only include Quranic references in the IRE courses. In a few sample schools, the teaching content even varies from one class to another, depending on the teachers’ skills and personal preferences (see also Berglund, 2010, 59). Finally, the subject name also changes across different schools, from obvious formulations such as Islam and Islamic Education to more euphemistic expressions like Spiritual Initiation (“Spiritual Awakening”), Introduction to Faith, or Muslim Ethics (despite the content of the teaching generally remaining in the domain of morality and not ethics). In the following paragraphs, we propose a typology of the teachings provided in the IRE courses of the Muslim schools we studied. It should be noted that the types are neither exhaustive nor exclusive, as they can eventually be combined in one school.

No Specific Islamic Religious Education

It is quite exceptional that Muslim schools do not offer any specific religious teachings. For example, some schools do not offer any IRE in the sense of teaching Islam in the timetable, but still offer to teach Qur’anic memorisation. This is the case in school D, where the school principal cancelled IRE classes when she found out that one of her teachers was talking about hell to her pupils. Considering that religion was a matter of “subjective” appreciation, she decided to suspend the classes: “RE we stopped, but we will make links with religion, for example in civic and moral education. On the moral dilemma, I will make links with religion, and that’s it. It’s more subtle in fact. Less something instituted” (school principal school D). As an alternative, she kept two 30-minute periods, four times a week, devoted to the memorisation of the Qur’an (one 60th portion - hizb - of the Qur’an per year).

Caught in a wave of inspections from the Ministry of Education after the 2015 attacks, school F embarked on a reform movement to focus on academic learning and decided to stop IRE classes. The school principal told us, “We need our hours for general education, knowing that there are alreadv five hours of Arabic language, so the choice was made this year to do spiritual initiation... let’s say more of an attitude and behaviour than actually teaching” (school principal school F).

Both of these choices can be explained by the tense French context, the shift of laïcité towards securitisation (Portier 2016, 243-310; see also the introduction in the volume), and the related intention of Muslim schools to be as close as possible to “regular schools” (i.e., secular state schools).

Lastly, in classes where general subject teachers are in charge of IRE, secular education takes precedence over RE when time is of the essence. Laura, a fourth-grade teacher at school C, for instance, takes advantage of the slot provided for IRE on Friday mornings to catch up on the time lost in the course of the week. In addition, she has not been trained to teach IRE. Laura feels very little legitimacy regarding the subject, particularly because of her status as a recent convert to Islam. She also considers that it is ultimately up to the parents to provide such teachings.

Teachings Comparable to That Offered in Mosques

At least half of the Muslim schools of our sample have strong historical connections to their local mosque (e.g., same founders, leaders, staff, premises). This may explain why the content of IRE classes is sometimes quite similar to what is offered in the local mosque’s Sunday school. This is the case in school A, where the teacher in charge of IRE is also in charge of the town’s mosque. The founder of school B is also an imam at the local mosque and does not hesitate to use his experience as a religious leader to provide IRE classes himself. Curricula include knowledge about dogma (five pillars of Islam, six articles of faith), religious practice (how to perform prescribed rituals), the history of the prophets, and the memorisation of the Qur’an. It is quite similar to what is usually done in the weekend’s classes in French mosques (Boursin, 2012, 167-278).

Bricolage or Hybrid Teachings

In some of the classes we observed, IRE teachers gather together a patchwork handout of sources drawn from both the Islamic children’s publishing market and the internet. The eldest of our respondents referred to the evolution of sources available for IRE classes. She compared the cassettes that she used to bring back from each trip to Morocco in the 1980s to teach her students Islamic songs with the abundance of sources available today, particularly through the internet. In the meantime, a whole market has developed in France: written, audio, and video sources are now available in French. In terms of form, these productions are also adapted to the local market. The books follow the codes of the regular children’s publishing sector by adopting the style of the illustrated album or of the educational booklet. Some of them deal with the stories of the prophets found in the Qur’an, the biography of Muhammad, or provide an illustrated exegesis. They can display specificities by not representing drawings or pictures of faces or any animated being when they follow orthodox rules.

The emergence of these products is a good indication of the development of a Muslim middle class in France. Books, songs, and videos have to be in the form of entertainment and have to fulfil an educational mission. For instance, the verses of the songs are both engaging and focused on a particular teaching of Islam (e.g., ablutions, the five prayers, good behaviour). They include lyrics in French, English, and Arabic. This is in line with the pedagogical ambitions of multilingualism from an early age of French Muslim families and of the education system as a whole. Video clips are colourful, adopting the codes of Hollywood animation movies. They also respect certain specific cultural and religious norms, such as the representations of women wearing a hijab or mosque decor.

As Simon and Tiberj (2015, 560) point out, while immigration changes the religious structures of French society, the reverse process of the transformation of the religiosity of immigrants and their descendants into the new environment can also be observed, as these audio, written, and visual sources illustrate.

Child-Centred Islamic Religious Education

The last few years have been marked in the French education sector by a media, political, and commercial enthusiasm for “active” or “alternative” pedagogies. Maria Montessori’s and Célestin Freinet’s teachings have been the subject of numerous films, books, and experiments in state and private schools. Major distribution chains have marketed specific materials and books for teachers and parents to buy. This trend has also had implications for Muslim schools and IRE with the development of classes in which manipulation and exploration are central.

Alia, a first-grade teacher at school C, offers activities inspired by Maria Montessori’s pedagogical tools (like nomenclature cards and puzzles) in all subjects, including IRE. She uses cards to teach the different steps of wudu (ablution) or a puzzle that, once reconstructed, displays the word “Allah”. She often uses websites run by Muslim homeschooling mothers who have developed open-source materials, inspired both by new pedagogies and by Sunni orthopraxy and orthodoxy.10 These tools and methods attempt to create a new educational model based on Montessori pedagogy, reinterpreted in the light of Islam (Puzenat, 2011, 142).

At school G, IRE is optional and is attended by about half of the students every Wednesday morning (traditionally the off-day in state

Islamic Religious Education in France 137 schools). Pupils are divided into three mixed-age classrooms. Rania, in charge of the religious classes there, explained to me that in order to put children at the centre of learning, it requires their participation. Accordingly, a significant part of the courses is devoted to practical productions related to the theme being addressed. For instance, students collected food and basic necessities for the benefit of a non-denomi-national association fighting precariousness. The teacher wanted them to learn about solidarity and giving (related to the Islamic concepts of saddaqa and zakat). Pupils also built a birdhouse to reflect on a hadith featuring Muhammad’s companions and a bird that fell from its nest. Manual activities (drawing, mock-ups, posters, gardening, caring for the animals of the school’s educational farm, cooking, etc.) occupy half or more of each session. These exercises should be used to instil the “love of God and Islam” in the hearts of pupils by giving them a good time.

Although the references to alternative pedagogies can sometimes be a simple marketing argument, they are a good indicator of the social characteristics of the families opting for Muslim schools. “Expressive” dimensions favouring the development and the personalised care of students (Van Zanten, 2009, 39-48) can be found in the educational choices of other segments of the middle classes. Here they are combined with specific dimensions, such as Islamic references.

Islamic Religious Education: Curricula, Textbooks, Teacher Training, and Inspection

Curricula and Textbooks

There are no regional or national curricula for IRE in France. Each school is responsible for the curricula and the content of its classes. However, the year 2018 was marked by the publication of the first IRE manual aimed in particular at Muslim schools and their IRE teachers. The handbook is entitled Islam, Foundations, Values and Practices. The first volume is intended for teachers and students of the first grade (age 6) and is composed of ten chapters covering topics such as faith, the life of the Muslim scientist Al Birouni, citizenship, hygiene, and health. The aim of the publishers11 is to produce an additional volume each year to accompany students from elementary to secondary school.

The starting point of every chapter is a Qur’anic verse or hadith which the pupil is led to ponder through practical activities (observation of nature, scientific experiments, or manual activities). The author, using an interdisciplinary approach, also makes links with the themes addressed in the secular teachings of the national curriculum. For instance, the chapter on citizenship was written to echo the teachings of moral and civic education. We can wonder whether this is a French particularity of Muslim schools, and in particular of those wishing to obtain a contract with the state. As the existing literature on the subjectshows, these schools seem to place a strong emphasis on the dimension of citizenship in IRE classes. To understand this situation, it is necessary to return to the current context of tension and suspicion surrounding Muslim education. Schools, by emphasising their attachment to republican values (a widely used but rarely defined term), are trying to reassure the authorities and the public.

Without doubting the goodwill of the schools or their sincerity, one can wonder about the effects of the domestication mentioned above by Frégosi. It is not a unilateral process imposing from the top to the bottom a programmatic redefinition of the contours of Islam where Muslims are confined to the role of passive spectators. Domestication is a “self-discipline which leads Muslim operators to reformulate by themselves their understanding and practice of Islam in order to facilitate its observance in society by minimising its visibility” (Frégosi, 2018, 42).

Among the publishers of this handbook is the National Federation of Muslim Education (FNEM),12 suggesting the possibility of a unification of IRE content on a national scale. More and more schools are coming together to reflect on practical issues such as IRE. They can regroup on the basis of an affiliation to an Islamic federation. For instance, the FNEM, founded in 2014, has strong connections to Musulmans de France (MDF).13 Similarly, the European Union for Muslim Private Education (L’EPM), founded in 2016, is linked to the Millî Gôrüç movement." The Professional Synergy of the Leaders of Independent Schools (SYPREL), founded in 2019, on the other hand gathers Muslim schools that are not affiliated with any Islamic federation. Others are trying to regroup on a local basis, by department or region.

This multiplication of structures is a reflection of the fragmentation of the Muslim field in France, opposing local and national representatives and national and transnational federations (Frégosi, 2005,99-114). Even if some schools consolidate their content, it is unlikely that all schools will reach agreement or compromise at the national level.

Teacher Training

A similar fragmentation can be found in the teacher training programs for IRE. There is currently no specific dedicated offering; each school recruits and trains its teachers locally. This issue relates to the broader challenge of the formation of a pious French elite. There is currently a multitude of training courses in a variety of disciplines and with varying degrees of legitimacy:

Secular training for religious leaders is available at some universities. The aim is to train them from the point of view of both the law and social sciences on the subject of laïcité (Bobineau, 2015).

  • • Theological training can be found at private institutions like the European Institute of Human Sciences. Linked to MDF, it has been providing Arabic language and theology courses since 1992. The Al-Ghazâli Institute of the Paris Mosque has also been training imams and chaplains since 1994. They worked in partnership with the Catholic Institute to open a training program for imams in 2008 but only achieved a “limited success” (Akgônül, 2012, 185). Unlike Catholic universities and the Protestant Faculty of Theology, Muslim private higher education institutions award diplomas that are not recognised and not evaluated by the state. The possibility of a faculty of Islamic theology in Strasbourg was raised as early as 1970, but to no avail (Zwilling, 2014).
  • • Islamology can be studied at the university level. Strasbourg introduced a master’s degree on the subject in 2009, which became a master’s degree in Muslim Worlds (History and Civilizations) at the beginning of the 2019 academic year.

Among the teachers we met, two have received proper theological training (one abroad and one in France). Others acquired religious knowledge through the instruction they received during their primary socialisation (abroad or in France) or were educated as adults by attending classes at their local mosque.


Finally, the law does not prescribe control over the content of IRE classes; it is considered to be among the distinctive features specific to each school. Nevertheless, inspections are carried out by public authorities at the level of the académie15 to ensure that there is a clear separation between religious and secular teachings (separate schedules, resources, and notebooks). In practice, they also make sure that the school as a whole respects republican values in the teaching of both general and religious subjects. One inspector told us how difficult such controls can be when the Arabic language - which inspectors rarely master - is used.

Improving Islamic Religious Education: Recent

Trends, Initiatives, and Future Prospects

Some actors try to imagine the future of IRE in terms of a greater openness to other confessions. For the principal of school E, the aim is to open Muslim schools to students of other faiths, especially because they are located in suburban areas where populations are multi-cultural and multi-confessional. Accordingly, he imagines RE courses adapted to the students’ confession: “Ideally it would be nice if there was a room for Muslims who learn the Qur’an and another room with a chaplaincy for

Christians and another for agnostics who could have an activity of meditation, philosophy, reflection on the meaning of the world... it’s the Scout model.”

While the project seems to be moving in the direction of opening up and bringing together children of different faiths and worldviews, it has a number of limits. One of them is the absence of several confessions, such as Judaism and non-Abrahamic religions. Another problem with this RE model is its segregation - it doesn’t include an exchange between pupils. In a way, this option is closer to what is currently offered in Alsace-Moselle while adding an Islamic option. It is also comparable to what is available in other European countries such as Belgium, Austria, or Germany.

In conclusion, the biggest challenges to come relate to the very existence of IRE courses in the long term. The majority of the schools we visited wish to enter into a contract with the state for financial and/ or symbolic reasons (i.e., getting out of debt or obtaining state recognition), but signing such a contract raises questions about the place of religious matters in state-funded Muslim schools - and, thus, also about French laïcité. Faced with a climate of mistrust, some schools choose to erase as much of their denominational character as possible, particularly by eliminating their IRE courses. Students are invited to join the weekend classes offered at the school outside school hours or in the local mosque. This configuration limits the possibility of fully integrating (I)RE into general education or even of building bridges between religious and secular teachings. In addition, the integration of (I)RE into the week showed a tendency towards secularisation by freeing up weekends for non-religious extracurricular activities such as sports, the arts, friends, and family.


  • 1. Officially, the Ministry of Education doesn’t produce statistics on denominational schools. Table 8.2 was produced with the figures given by the different denominational education federations. The counting practices may vary: Catholics count the number of pedagogical units (i.e. level of teaching: primary school, lower secondary school, upper secondary school), while others count the number of schools (one school may contain numerous pedagogical units).
  • 2. We obtained this number during our doctoral research, based on information available online, in the press, through interviews on the phone or in person.
  • 3. Of the 62 existing Muslim schools that we know of, only six have achieved a partial contract with the state, meaning that they receive funding for a few of their classes only. This situation is due to the relatively recent opening of the majority of them, sometimes to their inability or unwillingness to match the Ministry’s requirements or to an alleged lack of financial resources on the part of the state.
  • 4. This estimate was provided by the National Federation of Muslim Education (FNEM) for the year 2017-2018.
  • 5. “Communautarisme” is a word that carries a negative connotation in the French context, as it is “deemed as incompatible with the values of universalism promoted by the French model of the nation” (Bourget, 2019, xviii).
  • 6. Law 2004, 228 of 15 March 2004 concerning, in application of the principle of laïcité, the wearing of signs or clothing showing a religious affiliation in public schools, middle schools, and high schools.
  • 7. The departments of Algeria, colonies (like Senegal until 1958), protectorates (like Morocco until 1956), and League of Nations mandates (like Syria until 1946) coexisted within the French colonial empire. There are currently twelve overseas territories. They include departments and regions (like Guadeloupe, Reunion, Martinique) and overseas regional authorities (Saint Barthélémy, French Polynesia among others).
  • 8. Unlike hospitals, prisons, and the army, where Muslim chaplaincies are well established.
  • 9. See: [Accessed 11 June 2020].
  • 10. See for example: ("teach me Ummi”) [Accessed 11 June 2020].
  • 11. The book was published by the European Research Centre for Research on Islam and its Interactions (an organisation created by Musulmans de France [MDF]); the Islamic publishing house AlBouraq, and the National Federation of Muslim Education.
  • 12. The FNEM claims to represent 35 Muslim schools; see [Accessed 11 June 2020].
  • 13. MDF was formerly known as UOIF-Union des organisations islamiques de France. Founded in 1983, it is close to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gidf states (Frégosi, 2005, 99-114).
  • 14. Millî Gôrüç is one of the main transnational organisations structuring the Turkish cult. (...) The activities of the Millî Gorily have diversified (Quranic courses and colonies, concerts, cultural activities) but its theological doctrine remains orthodox. (Armagnague-Roucher, 2010, 235-252)
  • 15. An “académie” is an administrative district of the Ministry of National Education; its boundaries correspond to the administrative region. There are 30 such districts in total.


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