The imam academy success story in Morocco
Rabat - Moroccan King Mohammed VI is quite taciturn in comparison to his late father Hassan II, an eloquent and keen public speaker who was happy giving interviews to foreign media. The son, unlike the father, apparently believes more in deeds than words and, since his accession to the throne, he has hardly given any interviews to the media, be they local or foreign.
The Moroccan monarchy, dating to the Idrisid dynasty (788-974), is one of the oldest in the world. It has striven to strike a balance between religious currents, social tendencies and economic interests and achieve equilibrium for the sake of stability. The task has been difficult, if not impossible, but this political system has been successful in keeping the country united and inclusive.
The monarch in Morocco is the head of the state but, more importantly, he is “Commander of the Faithful” — Amir al-Mu’minin — a religious office that gives him a quasi-sacrosanct status. People would often criticise his political actions or his decisions in running the affairs of the country but rarely his religious clout or actions.
In the 19th century, Morocco was divided into two political territories but it was one country. There was Bled al-Makhzen, land under control of the central government, and Bled as-Siba — land of dissidence — made up generally of mountains inhabited by Berbers, who recognised the religious authority of the sultan but not his temporal one and they often refused to pay taxes to him.
Despite this quiet and muted rebellion of the Berbers against the sultan and his power, his religious clout remained intact. Inhabitants of the mountains made Friday prayers and the ensuing sermon in his name, as well as all other prayers.
King Hassan II, ruling from 1961- 99, was a very conservative monarch. He made it a rule to start and end his numerous speeches with verses of the Quran and intersperse them with sayings of the Prophet Mohammad. That gave his words a sacredness and his message utmost importance, even though most people did not understand such speeches because they were delivered in classical Arabic, not in the local Arabic dialect.
Following the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the subsequent rise of political Islam, Islamists began to take a greater role in religious matters in many Muslim countries because the local political leadership had either secular inclinations or did not consider religion an important issue of daily life.
In Morocco, the Islamists were frustrated by the predominant role of the conservative monarchy in religious affairs. They took their frustrations out in May 2003, with bombings in Casablanca that killed 47 people. This served as a wake-up call to King Mohammed VI to review his management of the religious faith in Morocco.
In May 2005, he launched the National Human Development Initiative, a solidarity project aimed at empowering the needy and alleviating poverty.
This was followed by a rigorous programme for training imams in the moderate Malikite doctrine and school of thought. For the first time women were included as clergy and were trained to teach other women moderate Islam. They were called Morchidate and achieved success in counselling women in religious affairs.
However, the most important achievement in the present monarch’s progressive management of the faith was the opening in March 2015 of the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidine and Morchidate, slated to play a leading role in fighting religious radicalism and violence related to extremist interpretations of Islam.
The imam academy is probably the first organised reaction in religious preaching and education to the wave of Islamism sweeping the region. Until now, radical Islam has had the upper hand in religious education, or, rather, religious indoctrination, brainwashing the young people to hate anyone standing against their philosophy and teachings and especially the West for its secularism and democracy.
This institute is training Moroccan students as well as clergy from Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and France. Soon students from Tunisia and the Russian Federation will be enrolled.
The institute provides courses in Quranic interpretation, exegesis, the deeds and sayings of the Prophet, in addition to Islamic law. It also offers education in the humanities, such as history, geography, philosophy, psychology and sociology, lessons despised by the Islamists because they teach critical thinking.
The duration of the training is one year for Moroccan students and two years for most others. French students will be granted a degree to become official imams in their country after completing a three-year course.
King 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 he has successfully initiated a strategy to combat radical religious indoctrination that for the moment is available in Morocco but can be easily copied in other countries.
Not only has Morocco survived the Islamist undertow but it is leading the way towards a more moderate Islam, accepting of other faiths and cultures and respectful of their differences. It is about time Muslim moderates stood up to extremism in an orderly manner.