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Last Updated: Friday, 11 July, 2003, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
France gets first private Muslim lycee
Lille mosque
Muslims, Jews and Catholics are welcome at the school

The French education authorities have granted permission for a Muslim school to open in the northern French city of Lille when the new academic year starts in September, French media reports say.

The Lycee Averroes is the first private Muslim lycee on the French mainland.

It is named after an Andalusian-Arab philosopher of the 12th Century who preached religious tolerance, and will initially welcome some 30 students.

The lycee is the brainchild of Amar Lasfar, head of the Lille mosque, who has been pushing for such a school for eight years.

After securing the necessary funding - 150,000 euros in donations - he had the premises converted for use by students.

Poster reading 'Discovering Islam'
Muslim culture will be optional

However, the authorities turned down the first three applications to open the secondary school, twice on safety grounds, before finally giving the go-ahead.

"The Lycee Averroes is open to everyone," Deputy head Makhlouf Mameche told French TV.

"All pupils of different faiths are welcome here - Muslims, Jews, Catholics. It is open to all. Girls with headscarves, girls without headscarves. All are welcome."

Tolerance and respect

The head teacher, Sylvie Taleb, has 17 years' teaching experience in Catholic schools and will be taking up her post in September.

The Koran in French
Classes will be conducted in French

Potential pupils did not have to be able to speak Arabic to attend the school since lessons would be in French, Mr Mameche said.

"We have made Arabic and Muslim culture optional subjects, so that non-Muslim pupils feel more welcome."

Mr Lasfar welcomed what he called "this brave decision" by the education authorities.

He said there was no essential difference between his school and any other private establishment, but acknowledged what he called "doubts" about the new school.

"Our actions will succeed in allaying any qualms," he said.

"It is through our results that we will answer those who have their doubts about this new institution, which they charge with exclusively favouring a specific minority.

The aim of the school is enshrined in a logo on the school brochure: "To educate young people in a climate of tolerance and respect."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Headscarf row erupts in France
25 Apr 03  |  Europe


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