By Anouar Majid
By Anouar Majid
Morocco World News
Portland, Maine, June 11, 2013
I wrote before about Ahmed Assid and his tireless and almost quixotic struggle to challenge his Moroccan compatriots to accept diversity in all its forms and champion a true culture of human rights. Because of his position, he gets vilified by extremist religious leaders, especially the Salafi types, and dismissed by so-called “moderates” as too much of an Amazigh (Berber) militant. He almost seems to have no real allies anywhere. Which is a real shame.
According to news articles, while discussing education reform and lauding the example of Norway, a nation with a state religion but whose pedagogical values are firmly anchored in a culture of human rights, not on the dictates of theology, Assid made a reference to Prophet Mohammed’s purported letters to his contemporary emperors and kings inviting them to embrace Islam and save themselves and their nations from sin and perdition. In the common Muslim imagination, the content of such letters, including the one addressed to Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor, is reduced to two words: aslim taslam, which means: Convert to Islam and save yourself. Out of context, it sounds like a threat, more like “Convert to Islam or else.” For Assid, this kind of thinking contradicts today’s human rights culture and, therefore, is a bad idea to have in Moroccan school textbooks.
Such views were enough to provoke a Salafist imam to call Assid a criminal and the enemy of Allah, leading a Moroccan human rights organization to condemn the imam’s attitude and put the government on notice for Assid’s safety. Another Islamist leader dismissed Assid as a fame seeker. But Assid is not one to walk away quietly. His perseverance in the face of intolerance, fanaticism, and violence reminds us that by remaining on the sidelines, we are allowing the forces of darkness to fill up the spaces of public debate.
This brouhaha happened almost at the same time that Morocco’s official religious council issued an opinion validating the murder of apostates. Once again, public opinion, including Islamist movements, countered this fatwa and affirmed their attachment to a culture of human rights and freedom.
What’s even more ironic is that such scandals are, in the end, about nothing. There is no indication in the Koran that God orders the killing of apostates or that Mohammed ever corresponded with kings and emperors. Like the dubious hadith (saying attributed to the prophet) ordering the murder of apostates, the letters are almost certainly artifacts developed in later decades and centuries.
By Wednesday, April 24th, some 226 organizations had come to Assid’s defense and warned against any attack on him in any shape or form, while Assid continued to stand by his statement of aslim taslam, saying that in today’s culture it has terroristic connotations. He also vowed never to retreat from his defense of human rights.
On Friday, April 26, one imam, Yahya Ben Mohamed Mdaghri, gave an entire sermon vilifying and condemning Assid and apologizing to the prophet. On Sunday, April 18, Fox News carried an AP story reporting on the issue. Meanwhile, a person who participated in the forum where Assid made his remark is denying that Assid spoke disrespectfully of the prophet. Meanwhile, the Assid case reached the parliament, leading a member of a socialist organization to warn against the dangers of religious extremism.
On Monday, April 29, the news site Hespress published a video by Assid explaining his position regarding his statement, and followed it, the following day, with Assid’s critique of mosque platforms that give exclusive access to imams only. On May 1st, Morocco’s labor day, a group of people demonstrated in Assid’s favor, claiming that they are all Assids.
Originally published in Tingitana.com
Anouar Majid is Director of the Center for Global Humanities and Associate Provost for Global Initiatives at the University of New England in Maine, USA. He has written many books and articles on the West, Islam, and the clash of ideologies in the modern world. Majid is also a novelist, the author of Si Yussef (1992, 2005).
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy