France targets the capital’s only school catering to Muslims amid a wider crackdown on the country’s 4.5 million Muslim population.
Paris’s only Muslim school was shut down by French authorities while pressure continues to increase on Europe’s largest Muslim community.
MHS College and High School is a private secondary in Paris, originally established in 2015. Although the school is officially secular and follows the national curriculum, its students are predominantly Muslim.
One of the school’s founders spoke to TRT World on the condition of anonymity saying that “we are an open school to all cultures religion convictions origins” adding that “we don’t teach any courses around religion.”
A unique feature of the school, however, is that it allows its female students to follow their religious convictions and wear the hijab if they wish, “because we think that everybody should wear the clothes they want!” said the founder of the MHS.
In 2004, France cracked down on Muslim girls’ right to wear the headscarf on school premises, compelling many to take off their head-covering at the entrance of the school gate.
Since then, there have been few options in which a Muslim woman could receive an education while still being able to practice her faith.
MHS in Paris was one such unique operation which allowed this freedom.
In a statement, the school called this latest decision to shut the school as “arbitrary”, not least because the closure has left more than 110 students without a placement in the middle of an academic year, as well 18 teachers and support staff unemployed.
The closure order came about after an inspection took place on November 17.
During that inspection, students “found themselves surrounded by around forty controllers, inspectors and ministerial agents and police officers.”
Authorities claimed that the building’s safety standards were insufficient. The school contends that it had carried out extensive renovation to meet legal obligations. In addition, they explained the building is shared with other institutions that are also working with children and “they were not asked to shutdown. Only MHS was ordered to.”
The school warned that the disruption to students' education will hamper their progression at a time when the country is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, during which academic institutions are facing the heavy burden of trying to teach in difficult circumstances.
The abrupt closure at this inconvenient, mid-year time, has left some wondering whether rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and recent statements by the French President Emmanuel Macron singling out Muslims, has helped this decision come to pass.
One online user said that “France has now shut down the first and only Muslim school in Paris @mhs_paris. This was a secular school that taught the national curriculum, the difference was 90% of students were Muslims, and girls were free to wear hijab, unlike other French schools where it's banned.”
Another called the move an “absolute scandal” drawing attention to the more than seven Jewish schools in Paris alone and at least twenty Catholic Schools which have not been molested by the state.
So far the school has appealed for “solidarity, responsible and peaceful support in the face of this injustice."