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What does it mean to be Muslim in Morocco ?

Publié le jeudi 13 décembre 2007. Lu 10565 fois

The Moroccan constitution updated in 1996 states that people who are born in Morocco are by tradition Muslims- 85% to 90% are Sunnis

(Lamchichi, 1995, p.239). It implies that Moroccan citizens are not religiously free and have no choice in term of religion direction while it represents a public affair, yet it should private. According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary, “religion is one of the systems of faith that are based on the belief in the existence of a particular god or gods”. In reality, Moroccans do not follow Islam’s precepts and rules because of the educational system, the western influence, and the cult’s freedom. In fact, for example, in the Islamic religion as it is written is the Koran, the sacred book for Muslims, it is prohibited to have premarital relations for both men and women and it is forbidden to drink wine. However, Moroccans do it without paying attention to Islam and society. Also, politically, some Moroccans believe that the increasing of the Islamic party, PJD, is going to be a disaster since they strongly believe that they will live in the same context that people lived in Iran during 1979. All these ideas give no homogenous religious identity – in accordance with Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary “who or what somebody or something is”- to Moroccans. Indeed, what does it mean to be Muslim in Morocco ? I will try to propose a possible answer to this question in six parts : first, Moroccans’ points of view through a survey, second the conception of Islam by Moroccan intellectuals, third the ideas of famous figures in Muslim World, fourth foreign authors’ point of view, fifth the feedback of a seminar organized by a scholar group HEM (High Studies of Management), and finally position of Moroccan government about Moroccan citizens’ religious identity.

Initially, some Moroccans think that belonging to the Muslim world in Morocco means to go behind Islam’s five pillars : sala (prayer), fasting (Ramadan), zaakate (charity), religious trip to Saudi Arabia (ElHaj) and Chahada (saying” la ilaha ila lah mohammed rassoulo lah”, only God can be the best). According to a survey, based on two responses from Moroccan citizens, they are apparently convinced that a Moroccan Muslim is only an individual who follows the five Islam’s pillars.
Islam represents for Moroccan intellectuals - Rachid Benzine, Faouzi Skalli, Abdou Filali Ansari, and Mohamed Tozy- diverse ideas. First of all, Rachid Benzine, author of The News Thinkers of Islam is convinced that “people should read critically the sacred book, the Koran” (Ksikes, 2004, issue number 128). He can be included in Moroccan people who express the feeling to know more about Islam. His thinking leaded him to publish The News Islamic thinkers, in 2004. Benzine assumes that Moroccans use Islam’s precepts written in the Koran as a superficial tool-only- to secure their morality and religious identity as Muslims. For instance, Moroccans try to find a religious sentence that explains the validity of theirs actions, since they reason in terms of halal, haram, hchouma, right, wrong, hell, and paradise. It means that the historic value of the Koran does not exist ; besides Moroccans do not analyze the holy book deeply. Benzine states that religious’ fundamentalists attempt to rebuild Islam without its history, yet they act based on God’s paroles organized in the Koran. Benzine accuses the Islamists of forging new past and new history :
"Instead of studying history, the Islamists create it. They forget that Islam has a human history and that history is not sacred." He points to the danger of such an approach : "I try not to disconnect Islam from the countries [in which it developed]… It is dangerous to present Islam as a global idea, detached from any context and disconnected from history… The revealing of the Koran lasted 23 years"(N. Szerman, February 3, 2006, issue number 264).

Moreover, in accordance with a personal interview I did on 30th November in Par Chemins Association at Fez, with Faouzi Skalli, the creator of the World Sacred Music of Fez and Sufi Festival is persuaded that “religion represents a mean to identity, not an end”. “Muslims in Morocco should assume what they are and what they do without hurting others’ sensibility” since “religion illustrates the faith that is private and sacred”. Also, Abdou Filali Ansari, 61 years old, Moroccan philosopher and editor in chief of Prologues magazine deems that Islam is compatible with secularism-separation between politic and religion-. Nevertheless, this author does not focus his studies on religious identity of Moroccans, yet ; he proposes to Muslims to not use the term of Islam because of the heterogeneity of cultures :
“My suggestion therefore is very simple : we should avoid using the term ’Islam’ as such, without any further qualification. We have to admit that there is no such thing as an Islam which can be a religion, a history, a system of law, etc., which may be described as severe, aggressive, funny, etc. There are only Muslims who live their cultures, traditions, and religious views in multiple ways, who project the most diverse conceptions of what ’Islam’ has been, is nowadays, and should be (or should have been). There are also non-Muslims who see Islam in different ways and project on it different conceptions, aspirations, fears, etc”. (Filali-Ansary)

It implies according to Filali Ansary that using the term Islam appears nowadays to be inappropriate in Muslim countries, and especially in Morocco. This author lets Moroccans free concerning their religious identity while he accepts that a person can be Muslim and has different values. In other words, Filali Ansari presents the non-unity of Islam, and “a new Islamic conscience”. Finally, Mohamed Tozy, a Moroccan Islam’s political analyst focuses his analyze on power as well as influence of Moroccan fundamentalists in Morocco. He strongly agrees with the idea that Moroccan Islamists can not take the power since there is a monarchy. Tozy can make secure people who believed on September 7, 2007 that the party of Justice and Development (PJD) was going to be more represented in the Moroccan parliament. Indeed, Tozy’s point of view excludes the possibility to see Moroccans as religious’ fundamentalists. Religious identity can not exist through Moroccan Islamists as Al-Adl wal-Ihsan- Justice and Charity- . “Mohamed Tozy has been consistent in his belief that the Islamists do not show a serious challenge to the regime” (Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, 2003).

Following the Moroccan intellectuals’ view of Islam, the point of view of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss Muslim, and Younes Tsouli’s case represent famous figures in Muslim World. In one hand, Tariq Ramadan, 45 years old, and the grandson of “Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood- Ikrouan Muslimounes, in Arabic- in 1928” (Ian Buruma) strappingly consent to the idea “that the permission for "un-Islamic" activities, such as drinking, or pre-marital sex, does not oblige Muslims to do anything” (Wikipedia website, 26 November 2007). On the other hand, Younes Tsouli represents a Moroccan young guy, 23 years old from French system high school, Descartes, Rabat who studies in England, and in 2005 was implicated in expanding terrorism through Internet. The British justice proved on July, 5 2007 his guiltiness, and he had to stay 10 years within jail. It is clear that Tsouli is target from Islamic network located in England ; members of this network influence him more and more using Islam’s precepts. It is obvious that it is hard to have a religious identity in Morocco though these back contradictions.
Foreign studies made by Yusuf Da Costa and Mohamed Arkoun can be applied to Muslims in Morocco. Costa uttered in 1994 in Muslims in Greater Cape Town : a problem of identity that “religious identity within a group may override all other forms of identity. Most members of Muslim community experience a greater degree of shame when other Muslims commit crimes than such crimes are committed by non-Muslims and that most Muslims also prefer to use Islamic forms or greetings, give their children Arabic names, and have indicators in their homes showing that such homes are Muslims ones ; all focus on their cardinal identity as Muslim” (p.243). These feelings can be Moroccans’ religious identity as Muslims. They believe that using symbols and signs embodies a way to illustrate theirs religious identity as Muslims. secondly Mohamed Arkoun, Algerian Islam’s philosopher, 79 years old studies deeply the Koran : “the holy book is used by millions of faithful followers to legitimate behaviors, support battles, constitute aspirations, maintain hopes, perpetuate believes, and affirm collective identities face to homogeneity ordered by industrial civilization” (Benzine, 2004, p277). Arkoun believes that Islam, now reviewed by intellectuals is filled of rationality instead of the separation between right or wrong. In other words, as said by Arkoun, the Islam’ world is footed on wisdom.
October, 26th 2007 at Casablanca, a conference was organized within the Moroccan school of high studies of management. Its purpose was to answer the following interrogation : “Is the prophet contemporary person ?” The general aim was to define if people Muslims by birth or by rationality. Feedback’s conference was composed in three parts, according to a Moroccan newspaper, L’Economiste. In fact, Muslims should be critical ; they may put the Koran in its historical context, and the requirement of doubt to understand Islam better. Hichem Djait, a conference’s stakeholder concluded this conference by this relevant idea : “a religion that can not let people think is a dead religion”. The Moroccan society should let people to reflect about Islam, and theirs identities.
The position of Moroccan government through two viewpoints : Nadia Yassine from Justice and Charity estimated between 10,000 and 20,000 by Tozy, Ismael Alaoui, the general secretary of PPS (Party of Progress and socialism) and PJD about Moroccan citizens’ religious identity. Primary, Nadia Yassine, 49 years old, a Moroccan Muslim, from French system high school, besides the daughter of the head of Al Adl wal Ihsan struggles for Moudawana’ s reform, for monarchy’s ending, and for constitution’s changes. In 2006, in an interview Nadia Yassine specified the following :
“No, it is not as easy as that. We do not want to take over power. It is a much too heavy burden to carry alone. We have to work together with all political parties and all of the other forces in society. We need each other and only together can we solve the difficult problems of our country. And this can only take place through democracy, free elections, a multi-party system, the division of powers, and an independent judiciary. The people of Morocco have a right to democracy. But first, all forces in society must work together to change the constitution”.

As a response to the question “You get rid of the monarchy, you come to power, and all the problems are then solved ?” Yassine’s intervention demonstrates that she identifies her identity, but it appears a large contradiction between her educational system and her current carrier. In fact, her advice for Morocco’s improvement deals with fashion ideas used by Benchemsi -editor in chief of Telquel-concerning constitution’s reform, yet Nadia Yassine grew up within an Islamic family that leads her to wear the veil. The contradiction subsists here. How can she convince Moroccan government to reform a national paper to reach democracy if she belongs to an Islamic movement, and wears the veil ? It emerges that Nadia Yassine builds a form of religious identity that has no sense with her educational feedback. To collect further information, an email was sent to Nadia Yassine about her position on Moroccans’ religious identity. Her response is simply a mix of darkness and propaganda toward Al Adl wal Ihsan : “This is our prime mission, reunite this Ummah (Muslim community) around one heart, one God, one common goal : welfare in this life and in the next, especially the next since it’s the raison d’être of the former. And education, discipline, commitment and -the cement of it all- love are what going to restore our long-lost Islamic dignity and identity”. For Nadia Yassine, in other words, Islam in Morocco illustrates a tool for the government to gain Moroccans’ legitimacy. Islamic identity is expressed only when a crisis appears ; religious identity as Muslims is private since it does not find the expression within the Moroccan society. To conclude, Nadia Yassine states that even if Muslims have positive “will” toward Islam since they are not united ; Muslims will never progress. There is for her only one group of people that can change religious identity in Morocco : her political party. This speech can be easily associated to propaganda. Additionally, the Moroccan political party of Justice and Development (PJD) proposes Islamic democracy to Moroccan government, and creates a polemic within Moroccan thinkers. The fear of many Moroccan was to notice that PJD leaded by Othmani be more represented in the Moroccan parliament at the end of legislatives elections of September7, 2007 because of Islamic rules on a mandatory veil for women, and destruction of pleasure places as nightclubs or bars. This Islamic party presents a contradiction by affirming that PJD’s members are going to establish a new version of democracy. Fortunately, it was not the case, since “the PJD won 46 out of 325 seats in Moroccan parliament” (Wikipedia website, 7 November 2007). In consequence, this political party shows that Moroccans should adopt a new religious identity by adopt PJD’s ideas. Thirdly, according to a telephonic interview on December 2007, Ismael Alaoui, (Party of Progress and socialism) PPS’ general secretary thinks that Muslims in Morocco should consider Islam as religion of understanding of human being, mutual respect, moral aspects, and a certain fraternity. Islam represents not only a primary dogmatism. For Alaoui one of the most important pillars is faith’s affirmation since the Koran does not state any precisions concerning the four other pillars. Tradition takes the power over written proofs. For instance, it is not written in the Koran that people should pray five times a day, so what does it mean prayer ? Request to God or grace action ? Alaoui expresses that prayer according to many dictionaries signifies “request to a superior power”. In the Koran, it is noticed that a person who drinks alcohol should not pray. It means that each person has the right to choose his or her religious affirmation and practices. In general, Alaoui says that Islam is human -accepts errors- and invites Muslims to be as moral as possible.

In conclusion, through a survey, Moroccans intellectuals’ points of view, famous figures in Islam World, feedback of a seminar organized in a scholar group HEM, and position of three Moroccan political parties, religious identity as Muslim in Morocco appears heterogeneous. However, a modern interpretation of the holy book, Koran is essential. Why ? This book is everlasting since it narrates followers’ history (Benzine, 2004, p.281). Besides, people presented in this back research live among amalgams aside of intellectuals, and are teased between morality, Islam and identity. Benzine (2004) said in The News thinkers of Islam that Muslims need places to debate Islam freely, without limits and judgments (…) These followers have to reach a clear clarification between Koran’ messages and historic laws (p.275, 276), since Islam is a human construction. Muslims’ educated followers are enough aware to strike a balance between rational Islam and others kinds. In contrary, illiterate Muslims represented by many Moroccans do not own the intellectual capacity to distinguish between rational Islam and extremisms since for them Muslims should act to satisfy God. There is definitely no homogeneous religious identity in Morocco.


Lamchichi, A. (1995). L’islamisme en question. L’Harmattan Edition. Collection Histoire perspectives méditerranéennes.
Yusuf D. Costa (1994). Muslim in greater Cape Town : a problem of Identity. The British journal of Sociology, from Lien1 Benzine, R. (2004). The News thinkers of Islam. Tarik Edition
D. Ksikes. Interview, Rachid Benzine : Il faut lire le Coran avec un esprit critique Issue number 128. Retrieved November 2007, from Lien2 L. Sebastiani. (April 18th 2006). The new paths of modern Islam. Retrieved November 2007, from Lien3
N.Szerman. (February 3, 2006). French Moroccan Progressive Author on ‘the New Islamic Thinkers’ Issue number 264.Retrieved November 2007, from Lien4
F.Faquihi, V.Pellegrin. (October 30th, 2007). Musulman de naissance ou de conscience ? Issue number 2641. Retrieved November 2007, from Lien5

A.Filali-Ansari. The Islam does not exist. Retrieved November 2007, from Lien6
B. Maddy-Weitzman. (Winter 2003). Islamism, Moroccan-Style : The Ideas of Sheikh Yassine. Middle East Quarterly. Retrieved November 2007, from Lien7
L. Jacinto. (June 18th, 2007).Elections Put Moroccan Women at Crossroads. Retrieved November 2007, from Lien8
A. Hackensberger. (June 6th, 2006). The System Is Blocked. Retrieved November 2007, from Lien 9
W. Kristianasen. (April 2004). Islam’s women fight for their rights. Retrieved November 2007, from Lien10

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Publié par : Malika Msefer

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