“I will never forget the day Madrasa-t-Aliwaa opened. It was summer 1961. It was at the beginning of a new Casablanca, a new Morocco.”
Madrasa-t-Aliwaa is part of Moroccan history. It is a symbol of patriotism, of love, and of dedication to community, freedom, and true Moroccan values. COVID-19 could close its doors for good.
Our story dates back to 1953, to before Morocco and King Mohammed V had wrested Morocco from France’s colonial claws, to a time of struggle and resistance and a time when patriotic and brotherly love came above all else.
Morocco was rising up against the French protectorate, rallying behind the King in exile. The resistance movement swelled, with Moroccans from all over the country joining its ranks. Among them was Ahmed Al-Damoudi, a young Amazigh (Berber) man from the countryside near Essaouira. Al-Damoudi, also known as Ahmed Tildi, was part of a secret organization called Al Hassaniat.
The organization linked the guerrilla resistance cells in different Moroccan cities. Al Hassaniat provided the guerilla groups with weapons, logistical support, intelligence, and funding. The organization symbolized Morocco’s struggle for freedom. They believed in sacrifice, redemption, courage, and unwavering love for their country and compatriots.
Mohammed V’s Al Horat schools
The struggle for freedom was not simply an armed struggle or one of violence. It was a fight for Moroccan culture, Moroccan values, and Moroccan freedom. Al-Damoudi and his fellow resistance members understood this.
They knew that Morocco needed to break free from all the chains of colonialism, including those of education, religion, and culture, and forge a new, forward-looking Morocco based on true Moroccan values and Moroccan people.
So, the Al Horat (Free) schools were born. Al-Damoudi, Mohamed Zawg, Hamza Amin, and other members of Al Hassaniat, including King Mohammed V, raised funds to build and run their own free schools in cities across Morocco.
The schools were in direct opposition to the state-run education system that followed the French model and focused on French culture, French systems, and the French language. They aimed to inspire patriotism and national pride in the students and instill Moroccan values in them through curricula based in Moroccan culture, Islam, and the vision for a new, independent Morocco.
The Al Horat schools offered free education for patriotic, deprived, or struggling families who refused to enroll their children in state French-run schools. Parents who could pay gave a nominal amount to contribute to the National Movement and to keep the Al Horat schools running, but many could not.
The Mohammed V Al Horat schools continued even after independence, as the new Moroccan government focussed on stability and transition to a new system. The schools continued to support local communities and serve as a symbol of the National Movement and Moroccan solidarity.
Al-Damoudi opened his second Al Horat school in 1961 to serve Derb Sultan in Casablanca. Called Madrasa-t-Aliwaa the preschool sits at the heart of the community.
Defending Moroccan values
“I will never forget the day Madrasa-t-Aliwaa opened. It was summer 1961. It was at the beginning of a new Casablanca, a new Morocco. I was just a child of course, but I will never forget it,” Haj Abderrahim Dahbi told MWN, gently stroking the rim of his tea glass with a bent, weather-beaten finger.
His unseeing eyes clouded over as he turned them on Mounir, Madrasa-t-Aliwaa’s current owner and director. “Your grandfather was an extraordinary man, he knew us.”
Haj Abderrahim explained that Madrasa-t-Aliwaa did not change through the years, but kept its doors open to provide the community with a strong source of identity, leadership, and Moroccan values.
“Let me tell you a story,” he continued.
Back in 1961, just after the school opened, the community was buzzing with gossip about a young woman who had a daughter and no husband. The child’s mother worked as a dancer to earn a living and her 3-year-old child went with her to work. She did not attend school.
Al-Damoudi heard of the child’s plight and intervened. He promised the girl’s mother that, if she agreed, he would educate the girl at his two Al Horat schools from pre-school to the end of primary school. He would give her meals and even house her if her mother was struggling.
After some persuasion, the little girl’s mother agreed and the child went to school. The mother was reluctant, believing that learning to dance would offer the child a career and school would not.
The little girl is now a grandmother. She finished her education and became a preschool teacher herself. Her grandson started at Madrasa-t-Aliwaa in September 2019.
“Haj Ahmed saved that girl’s life. And many others,” Haj Abderrahim said.
As part of the Al Horat schools movement, Al-Damoudi actively promoted early years education. For him, and his fellow resistance fighters, gaining independence for Morocco was not the end of the war, but the beginning.
Building a strong, forward-thinking, proud population was their next mission, and Al-Damoudi used Madrasa-t-Aliwaa and all resources available to him to develop the local community by encouraging attendance from 3 years old.
At the time, this was groundbreaking. Many parents took their children to work with them from the time they could walk and focused on vocational learning rather than reading, writing, and moral teaching.
Through Al-Damoudi’s charisma, dynamism, passion, and unrelenting love for Morocco and the local community, Madrasa-t-Aliwaa became a cornerstone of the quarter and a source of hope for struggling or marginalized families.
A 21st Century Al Horat school
Al-Damoudi died in 2016, leaving behind him a wife, three daughters, five grandsons, and three granddaughters. To the last days, his love for Morocco and commitment to the Al Horat movement was tangible.
He handed over Madrasa-t-Aliwaa to his oldest grandson, Mounir, in the hopes that his legacy and mission would be kept alive.
Since taking over the school, Mounir has lovingly brought it into the 21st century. Still supporting the community and promoting Moroccan values and the principles of Al Hassaniat, he brings volunteer teachers from all over the world to help local children improve their language skills and runs private language classes to fund the preschool.
Like Al-Damoudi, his grandson believes that children are Morocco’s future and deserve a strong foundation in education and Moroccan values. Mounir supports the community by giving as many free places as he can afford to children who could not otherwise access education, such as children with unmarried mothers or non-resident migrant parents, and children living in unstable families.
Seven-year-old Adam* is just one of scores of children Madrasa-t-Aliwaa has helped. Adam’s father has been in and out of prison for his entire life. His mother, meanwhile, struggles to make ends meet working as a cleaner, and she is afraid of her husband who is often violent. Adam has attended Madrasa-t-Aliwaa for free since he was 3 years old. Since starting primary school, he goes to the school every day to complete his homework in the evenings. Mounir and the school have been the most stable thing in his short life.
The COVID-19 lockdown in March closed Madrasa-t-Aliwaa for the first time since Al-Damoudi opened it in 1961.
Madrasa-t-Aliwaa and the legacy of the Al Horat schools are under threat, as COVID-19 restrictions continue to take their devastating economic toll on an already precarious community.
After months of closure, Mounir does not have the financial means to fund free places and will struggle to open the school at all in September, as electricity charges and basic maintenance stack up.
The school has been a symbol of hope, Moroccan patriotism, and the forging of a new future since Al-Damoudi and his fellow freedom fighters dreamt of it, and has since changed the lives of countless vulnerable children.
COVID-19 has already stolen hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide and has thrown millions into desperate poverty, and this small beacon of the National Movement legacy in the heart of Casablanca may too fall victim to the deadly virus.