The ‘heretic’ world of Moroccan writer Anouar Majid
A nouar Majid is a writer almost unknown in the Arab world due to his long stay in the United States, where he has been residing since the 1980s. Born in Tangier in 1960, he left for America to study cinema. He is the author of “Si Yussef,” published in two editions in 1992 and 2005, three other novels and five unpublished story collections. Majid has also written books on civilisation and philosophy in English.
Majid, 58, is professor of civilisations and literature and vice-president for global affairs at the University of New England in Maine. He is managing director of the University of New England’s Tangier Campus in Morocco, founding director of the Tangier Global Forum and co-founder of the magazine Tingis.
He said he loves his city, adding that the only thing he has lost in his life is Tangier. “I still feel lost there (in the United States), 35 years down the road. I feel that I have lost my soul. Has anyone ever succeeded in regaining their soul?” he asked during a recent visit to Tangier.
Majid took his first steps as a writer when he was a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, writing a script titled “The Long Trip” in 1983. The text revolves around the migration of a Moroccan citizen to Britain and the problems he faced.
“I went to the City University of New York to pursue a degree in literature. I wrote a short story titled ‘Mr Richard’ about an American citizen who came to live in Tangier. The novel presents life in the city through Mr Richard’s vision and thoughts,” Majid said.
Majid said he wrote spontaneously, with no preconceptions. “I was always preoccupied with my city, Tangier,” he said. “As I lived within New York’s skyscrapers and broad streets, Tangier occupied my mind, dispelling my concerns.”
Majid said that, following his first two books — “Unveiling Traditions: Postcolonial Islam in a Polycentric World” (2000) and “Freedom and Orthodoxy: Islam and Difference in the Post-Andalusian Age” (2004) — critics and other writers “classified me as a postcolonial writer and a defender of Islamic identity in its progressive and universal dimension.
“However, as soon as my book ‘Call to Heresy’ was published in 2007, that image was shattered and I was reclassified. Most readers and critics did not understand the purpose of that book, except for a few.
In my first and second books, I believed that reforming Islamic societies must be a gradual process. I gave it more thought after that and starting from ‘Call to Heresy,’ I advocated that there should be total break with tradition and urged readers and the general public to consider the other face of Islam, which is also part of Islam, and not remain at the mercy of the puritanical thinkers who think that they possess the only truth possible.
“In the book, I went back to periods in Islamic history where freedom of thought prevailed, albeit for a relatively short period, and I looked at the negative effects brought about by free thought, as well as by its absence and by the imposition of consensus. During this period, thought and discourse flourished. Thinkers freely discussed prophecy, prophetic signs and creation.”
“Every book is the fruit of continuous reading and meditation,” Majid added. “I deal with my readings with an open mind. I am not the type to hold on to unchanging convictions. Our readings change us. Observing people and the world changes some of our notions. Daily life is the best teacher. We should not read to confirm our convictions.”
“At that moment, reading opened up new perspectives in my research. In my next book, ‘Islam and America: Building a Future Without Prejudice,’ I asked this question: ‘Why do America and Islam need heretic thinking?’ It was because they both were repressive systems. The US is suffering from social and economic pressures caused by the capitalist paradigm, a repressive system par excellence that only seeks profit and suppresses the progressive concepts brought about by the American Revolution in the 18th century.
“Muslims, too, suffer from religious oppression, an oppression disguised by religion, which society is still unable to shake off. The capitalist oppression has done away with democratic principles and buried them. The Islamic oppression is born out of political Islam and traditional Islamism as they both impose a lifestyle that intellectually impoverishes individuals and societies.”
By heresy, Majid does not mean the traditional sense of apostasy but, rather, one that encourages people to deal with religions with an open and critical approach.
Majid surprised readers with his fourth book, “We are All Moors,” which was viewed as a defence of Muslims, especially because he had criticised some aspects of their lives, as well as America, in his previous book.
The book was published on the 400th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of the Moriscos minority from Andalusia in 1609 as Spain sought to build a nation and unify its population using Christianity and the Castilian language. This process necessitated the swift suppression of the “other” — Muslim and Jewish minorities — by considering them enemies.
It took Majid four years to finish “We are All Moors,” which combines history and contemporary issues such as migration, minorities and genocide.
The book points out that we are all, in one way or another, minorities in the end. In the preface, Majid wrote that “the book might surprise people but my ultimate goal is criticism and confronting every repressive thought system wherever it may be, whatever its colour or identity. Liberty is my grail because it has always been the Holy Grail of Man since the beginning of his journey on this Earth. Perhaps there is on this Earth something that is worth living for, thinking about and struggling for.”