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About the Author

Hanna Clarys
Student (Antwerp, Belgium)

Current Study: Political Sciences at Antwerp University. Likes: reading, writing and drawing. Activities: discovering the world step by step. Dream: becoming a war journalist somewhere in the distant future...

Post

MOROCCO’S WAR ON TERROR: Female Preachers Spreading a Moderate Form of Islam

Published 26th June 2010 - 10 comments - 4547 views -

For centuries, women have been distanced from religion; female priests, rabbis or imams don’t fit in. But in Morocco this is slightly changing.

 

Following several terrorist attacks in the country (2006), Morocco started to realize that Al-Qaeda would love to make their mark in this nation of 34 million people. They see corruption, spreading slums and 15% unemployment as fertile ground to sow their extremism. In prisons and shantytowns the only escape from despair is through the fumes of glue or through DVDs of an Al-Qaeda sermon preaching about paradise. The battle with Islamic extremists is to be fought in those places above all.

That’s why the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic Affairs established a new training school where 200 women have recently graduated as murshidas, Muslim “guides” or preachers. They are a rarity in the Islamic world, in which religious instruction is usually the preserve of men. However, other countries like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have also expressed interest in using female preachers as an antidote to extremism.

 “Immunity to extremism needs the revival of the kindler, gentler form of Sufi Islam,” says Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq in TIME Magazine. “This kind of Islam stands in direct contrast to the puritanical version preached by today’s jihadis and is recreated in the training schools for women guides. Not only the Koran is taught, so are Greek philosophy, Christianity and Judaism.”

But the mission is not just a matter of combating extremism. The year-long training also teaches the women preachers how to deal with modern-day problems ranging from alcoholism to AIDS. The murshida’s role is in part to protect Moroccans from the moral dangers that modernity brings. And even that is not all:

The women from the training school for murshida also want to help restore what they see as women’s rightful place within Islam. Inspiration comes from the strong wives of the Prophet Muhammad; Khadija and Aisha influenced many of his sayings and deeds and were both trusted for their wisdom and integrity. This resulted in the female guides performing nearly all the same functions as male imams, except for the Friday sermon in mosques, which they are not allowed to deliver.

 

However, some organisations – like the Justice and Spirituality Movement – perceive the government’s efforts to combat religious radicalism by standardizing Koranic teaching and sending female guides into the slums as throwing powder in people’s eyes to distract them.  They argue that real changes are only possible when Morocco’s level of education is improved. Nevertheless they welcome the fact that women are now allowed to conduct religious activities and that a less machismo version of Islam is being restored.

Let's hope it becomes more widespread, better sooner than later!

 


Category: Equality | Tags:


Comments

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 26th June 2010:

    Great initiative smile I am sure this is a very good way to counter all kinds of extremism.

    I think there are lots of traditions of equality between the genders to build on in islam. I think also that more subtle forms of islam are much more widespread among muslims, than what mainstream western society thinks. Using


  • Lara Smallman on 26th June 2010:

    Very interesting. I was in Morocco recently and whilst I noticed signs of modernisation. there is still a big divide between men and women as well as a respect for the traditional roles. There are parts where seeing a woman in the street is a real rarity. Men fill the streets and you can count the females on one hand.

    In the tourist area of Marrakech, streams of fully veiled women passed by and I found myself being the only woman showing my face or hands.

    There is still a long way to go when it comes to women even coming close to achieving equality there…


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 27th June 2010:

    Really interesting, Hanna. I’m surprised the initiative came from the government - I suppose it’s not a very popular decision in a patriarchy? Anyways, it’s a good example for other countries to follow. Hope they’ll put their pride and machismo and insecurities aside and bring women back to public, one day. Especially in an institution as sensitive as religions tend to be.


  • Hanna Clarys on 27th June 2010:

    Giedre, Morocco’s government is actually quite progressive these days, mostly under pressure from the current king. Mohammed VI is strongly defending women’s rights and equality, and he was most enthousiastic about this initiative to train murshidas.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 27th June 2010:

    Well that’s just great! A progressive king is better than a medieval king. But what about the people? Do people support his reforms, Hanna?


  • Hanna Clarys on 28th June 2010:

    Indeed, Lara is also right when saying there still are lots of obstacles to overcome for Moroccan women wanting to achieve equality. The example she gives about Marrakech and the veiled women indicates that not all the reforms are supported/executed by the people.

    But in how far is that under pressure of men?


  • Andrea Arzaba on 28th June 2010:

    Religious radicalism is one of the biggest problems…and indeed becomes the root for a lot of conflicts (national and international). I am glad to read about initiatives like the one u talk about in this post! Thank you Hanna!!


  • Sylwia Presley on 03rd July 2010:

    It’s interesting you are mentioning that, as my experience and friendship with women from Kazakhstan was similar - their attitude towards Islam practiced in Hungary (that is where we became friends) was very interesting - they found the religious practices too strict to women.


  • Hanna Clarys on 15th July 2010:

    I think a huge amount of muslim women feel Islam is too strict to them, limiting them in their freedom and not representing what their faith is really all about. But they often don’t have the voice to actually say that.


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