By Saad Eddine Lamzouwaq
By Saad Eddine Lamzouwaq
Morocco World News
Rabat, July 5, 2013
I was shocked, frankly speaking I’m still, by the decision of the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic Affairs to shut down Quranic schools in Marrakech belonging to the Salafist Sheikh Mohamed El Maghraoui. Despite the legal reasons that the Ministry advanced to try to justify such a miscalculated decision, it is clear this was a political decision. The question remains though: why and for what goal?
I really don’t pretend to have the answer, but I’m rather more concerned of the implications of such decision. Let us first go a little back in history, and remember that the same schools were closed by the authorities in 2007 when Sheikh El Meghraoui issued a fatwa saying marriage is permissible for 9 years girls.
No matter how backward and appalling was the fatwa, closing the schools was not understandable. Other Muslim clerics such as Sheikh Abdelbari Ezemzzami, who said a man can have sexual intercourse with his wife’s corpse, issued fatwas in the same line and were not prosecuted.
What is more disconcerting is that Sheikh El Maghraoui came back to Morocco, after spending four years in Saudi Arabia following the closing of his schools, after concluding a deal with the authorities to back up the 2011 constitution. He announced support to it once he got off the plane and called for his followers to vote YES.
This was not that surprising. In fact Sheikh El Maghraoui is one of the Salafist leaders who are pro-regime in opposition to the other salafist figures who were put in jail in the aftermath of May 16th, 2003 terrorist attacks. The latter, who had a more jihadist leaning, had to give signs they accept the legitimacy of the Monarchy.
So Sheikh El Meghraoui and his followers didn’t represent any “terrorist” danger to the regime and its institutions. It’s true the Salafist ideology is problematic. I agree that it’s a school of thought that originally sprang from Saudi Arabia, a context where there has been a more hardline and textual interpretation of the religious text, something which doesn’t go along with the moderate Malekit school officially adopted in Morocco.
Salafist ideology is now a general phenomenon. Whenever there is a Muslim community, even in developed countries, you’ll find among them men who dress mainly in Abayas and women in Niqab thinking that’s the true practice of religion. It has spread largely thanks to Saudi money and Middle Eastern TV stations, taking advantage of the lack or failure of religious policy of Arab regimes. So it’s not something that is controllable.
In Morocco, despite all its maneuvers, the state is clearly unable to preserve one religious identity for Moroccans. People are naturally not satisfied with a religious discourse coming through official channels. The desire to keep firm control of the religious sphere makes the imams unable to deliver a message that is attractive to the toiling masses. Furthermore, the official religious discourse is mostly a scholarly discourse and is far from responding to the daily concerns of the lay man.
The salafist discourse, however, is largely popular among people from underprivileged backgrounds and with little education. Those people have recourse to TV clerics in Egyptian and Khaleji religious channels to find answers to their questions. Consequently those clerics become their authorities instead of the imam in the nearby mosque or the ones they see in their Moroccan religious TV. They also follow other local Salafist sheikhs who become authorities to them such as Sheikh El Meghraoui.
Closing down his Quranic schools could be seen by his followers as an act of aggression on institutions who teach the holy book. El Maghraoui’s followers took massively to the streets to demonstrate against the decision and were beaten up by security forces. The state run the risk of driving those people to more hard-line positions because it’d be seen as an act against religion itself. Why on earth people will be denied to learn the Quran in a country where the majority are Muslims?
Another important element is that these particular Quranic schools are known of having produced some of the finest Quran recitors in the country, including Morocco’s most famous recitor Sheikh Omar El Kazabri. Shutting them down was unfavorably received by many people.
Some speculate the state took the decision as a punishment for El Meghraoui’s support for the Justice and Development Party (PJD) in the last 2011 parliamentary elections. If this might be true, then it’s really despicable.
To punish certain citizens because they exerted the right to choose whom they want as their representative in parliament is extremely absurd. Let alone the fact the regime itself was ready to accept PJD’s leading a government in a context where the Arab Spring paved the way for Islamic parties to move from opposition to government.
Shutting down those Quranic schools is an extremely uncalculated decision, and I don’t see any good that may come out of it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed