By Siham Ali
By Siham Ali
August 25, 2011 (Magharebeia)
Moroccans are turning to multiple sources for religious advice, even though the High Council of Ulemas is the only officially sanctioned religious authority in the kingdom.
Under Morocco’s constitution, rulings of the Ulema are to be based on Islam’s purpose, principles and tenets. There is no such directive for fatwas from satellite television and Internet sources, so Moroccan homes are being besieged by questionable positions.
The problem is that people without religious training are issuing fatwas, said Abdelbari Zemzemi, a theologian and MP.
“We cannot control people’s inclinations. There are some solutions such as awareness campaigns and national television programmes to address the citizens’ problems in order to keep them from falling back to satellite channels,” he said.
Many of the alternate sources of fatwas are simply trying to change the status quo, according to PJD party chief Lahcen Daoudi.
“It is necessary to train an ulema that is skilled in many areas,” Daoudi told Magharebia.
“We need to change the ulemas’ image by directing brilliant students to Islamic studies and creating courageous ulemas able to issue opinions independently,” he added.
For political analyst Mohamed Darif, the state, “which has been committed to reforming the field of religion for years, needs to make more of an effort” to increase the credibility of the ulema.
The way to effect this is “by not prompting them to defend the state’s positions”.
“Independence is an important element. People are influenced by the most independent and most daring ulemas,” he said
According to the Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs Ministry, the ulema councils were established to answer citizens’ questions regarding Islamic precepts. The Ministry maintains that fatwas need to take into consideration the realities on the ground and keep a practical tone.
“We cannot ban out-of-the-ordinary fatwas, but we must define clear rules,” suggested Hocine Mefrah, the president of Mohammedia’s local ulema council.
“At the risk of being punished, an unqualified person cannot prescribe medicine,” he said on Moroccan TV2.”The same thing should be enforced in the field of religion. If we protect people’s health and property, then we should also protect them with concern to their religion.”
Citizens can contact local councils via post or telephone to ask for religious advisories or fatwas, and the ulema are responsible for answering the inquiries according to the tenets of Maliki Islam. Local councils also organise conferences for citizens to attend.
Despite these outreach measures, student Khalid Maraj said that it is often easier for people to contact the neighbourhood imam for religious opinions than go to the ulema council, which “may not respond immediately”.
“Others prefer to directly contact the ulemas from the satellite channels, thinking that they are more competent than the Moroccans,” Maraj said.
“This image is what needs to be changed.”
Photograph: Reuters/Rafael Marchante