The monarch in Morocco is the head of the state, but, most importantly, he is “the Commander of the Faithful;” amir al-mu’minin, a religious office that gives him a quasi-sacrosanct status.
Mohammed VI is quite a taciturn monarch in comparison to his late father Hassan II, an eloquent speaker; keen on public speaking and giving interviews to foreign press. The son unlike the father believes more in deeds than words and, indeed, since his accession to the throne, he hardly gave any interviews to the media, be it national or foreign.
However, Mohammed VI, very much like his forefather Hassan I (1873–1894), a sultan who was always on his horse, travelling all over the country collecting taxes and enquiring about the well-being of his subjects, is a jet-set monarch visiting different capitals in search of diverse markets and cooperation schemes that could bring investment to the country and provide jobs to Moroccans.
The Moroccan monarchy is one of the oldest in the world, it dates back to the Idrisid dynasty (788–974) and has always strived to strike a balance between different religious currents, social tendencies and economic interests and achieve equilibrium for the sake of stability. The task has always been difficult, if not impossible, but this political system has been successful through time in keeping the country united and inclusive.
The monarch in Morocco is the head of the state, but, most importantly, he is “the Commander of the Faithful;” amir al-mu’minin, a religious office that gives him a quasi-sacrosanct status. Ordinary people would often criticize his political acts, his worldly decisions in running the affairs of the country, but hardly his religious clout or actions. Interestingly enough, his religious status is even recognized in many countries of Western Africa, who acknowledge his religious title of “Commander of the Faithful,” especially among the Tidjane communities in Western Africa.
Mohamed El Mansour, a prominent Moroccan historian writes that Mawlay Sulayman (1792 – 1822), an Alouite sultan was vanquished by Berber tribes near Meknes and made prisoner. He thought, deep down, that the Berbers who contested his temporal role would kill him, but he was wrong. They put him in a tent, fed him and took off his djellaba (robe-like garment with a hood), cut them into hundreds of pieces, which they distributed evenly among their warriors, for divine grace Baraka purposes, and went back to their mountains happy and satisfied with their accomplishment.
In the 19th century, Morocco was divided into two political territories, though it was still one country. There was bled al-Makhzen, land under total control of the central government and bled as-siba, land of dissidence, made generally of mountains inhabited by Berbers, who recognized the religious authority of the sultan but not his temporal one since they often refused to pay taxes to him.
But in spite of this quiet and muted rebellion of the Berbers against the sultan and his power, his religious clout remained intact. The inhabitants of the mountains made Friday prayers and the ensuing sermon khutba in his name, as well as, all other prayers, especially prayers for the rain followed by a procession, called taghunja.
After the independence in 1956 and the reunification of Morocco, King Mohammed V, King Hassan II and the present monarch all practiced their religious office. They were written in gold in various constitutions, solemnly and diligently, by leading Friday prayers, religious feasts and Ramadan daily lectures.
Because of the importance of the religious field, the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs was always located in the Mechouar (palace’s precinct). This enabled the Monarch to walk to the ministry, whenever he deems it necessary, to oversee personally the management of religious affairs of the country.
During the reign of Hassan II (1961-1999), a very conservative monarch, he made it a rule to always start and end his numerous speeches to the nation with verses surats of the Koran and intersperse them with sayings of the Prophet Muhammad hadiths. This gave his words a kind of sacredness and his message utmost importance, even though most of the people did not understand such speeches because they were delivered in classical Arabic and not in darija, the local Arabic idiom.
Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the subsequent rise of political Islam in the Muslim world, Islamists took easily control of the religious matters in most Muslim countries because local political leadership had either secular inclinations or did not consider religion as an important issue of daily life. To give their campaign importance and gain in membership, they also invested effort, money and dedication in social affairs, a good example of that is the Ikhwan in Egypt, assisting poor people with education, health and living expenses.
In Morocco, the Islamists frustrated by the predominant role of the conservative monarchy in religious affairs, epitomized by the yearly act of allegiance bey’a, presented by officials to the “Commander of the Faithful” on the day of his accession to the throne, to give his office a religious blessing, divide into three factions of different opinions:
The latter group tried their hand at violence in the events of Casablanca bombings of May 3, 2003, leading to the death of 47 innocent people. This dramatic event served as a wakeup call to Mohammed VI to review his management of the religious faith in Morocco.
It turned out that most of the attackers of the Casablanca bombings of 2003 were young recruits coming from the poor and marginalized shanty town of Sidi Moumen. Nabil Ayouch, a Moroccan film maker, immortalized this important even of Moroccan history in a long feature film entitled: “Horses of God.”
As a follow up to this dramatic event, Mohammed VI launched on May 18, 2005 the National Human Development Initiative (INDH) , a national solidarity project aiming at empowering the needy and alleviating poverty.
This was followed by a rigorous program of training of Imams (religious preachers) in the conservative and moderate Malekite doctrine and school of thought and for the first time women religious were included as clergy and were trained to initiate womenfolk to the moderate Islam. They were called mourchidate and have achieved an incredible success in counseling women in religious affairs to the extent that many countries copied this experience to halt them from becoming violent and serving as vehicles for time bombs of the extremists.
However, the most important achievement in the present monarch’s progressive management of the faith issues is the opening, on March 27, 2015, of Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates, slated to play a leading role in fighting religious radicalism and violence related to extremist interpretation of the Islamic faith in Morocco and the world.
Ilan Berman, in an article published in Foreign Affairs, views this experience in rather positive light, as a progressive approach that can be easily grafted on the religious establishments of other countries of the Muslim World:
“For years, the Kingdom of Morocco viewed itself as an exception to the radical political problems of the Middle East—a designation that suggested its experience was both unique and not easily translatable to the outside world. Increasingly, however, Morocco appears to be transitioning into the role of an intellectual model that is both willing and able to take a stand against Salafism and jihadism. In the words of one Moroccan religious official, the kingdom today “sees itself as a natural leader” in the battle of ideas taking place in the Muslim world, on account of its religious credibility and its tolerant teachings.
For the United States, this should come as welcome news. Washington, deeply invested in countering violent extremism in its various forms, would do well to take note of Morocco's soft-power innovations. It would do even better to leverage them in the global fight against Islamic radicalism.”
The Imam Academy is, probably, the first organized reaction to the massive fundamentalist tsunami in religious preaching and education. Until now, radical Islam, quite aptly, had the upper hand in religious education or rather religious indoctrination, brainwashing the youth in hating anyone standing against their philosophy and teachings and especially the West, for its secularism and democracy.
This institute is training at the moment Moroccan students as well as clergy from such countries as: Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and France. Soon students from Tunisia and the Russian Federation will join.
The Institute provides curriculum in religious topics such as Koranic interpretation, exegesis, Sayings of the Prophet Hadith and his doings Sunnah in addition to Islamic law shari’a, etc. Besides, it, also, provides education in humanities, mainly; history, geography such subjects as philosophy, psychology and sociology that are despised by the Islamists because teach critical and freethinking.
The duration of the training is one full year for Moroccan students and two years for the others, the French, instead, will have to spend three years after which they will be granted a degree to become official Imams in their own countries.
Mohammed VI has not only succeeded in keeping Morocco safe from the Islamist Tsunami and the ill-fated Arab Spring and its dire consequences, but has, also, successfully initiated a paying strategy to combat radical religious indoctrination, which for the moment is available in Morocco but can be easily copycatted in other countries of the Muslim world.
So, not only Morocco has survived miraculously the Islamist undertow, but it is, also, leading the way toward a more moderate Islam, accepting of other faiths and cultures and respectful of their difference. And it was about time Muslim moderates stood up to extremism in an orderly manner.
You can follow Dr. Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
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