Moroccans reject Salafists’ ‘irresponsible’ attempt at assailing closure of mosques

The Salafists’ stance was vehemently denounced as “irresponsible” by much of Morocco.
Sunday 29/03/2020
A 2017 file picture shows a Salafist protester talking to a police officer during a demonstration against the ban on the sale and manufacturing of the burqa in Rabat. (Reuters)
“Irresponsible.” A 2017 file picture shows a Salafist protester talking to a police officer during a demonstration against the ban on the sale and manufacturing of the burqa in Rabat. (Reuters)

CASABLANCA-- Salafists tried to paint the closing of mosques, which was among measures taken by Moroccan authorities to contain the coronavirus outbreak, as an assault on faith and not as a precaution aimed at saving lives.

The Salafists’ stance was vehemently denounced as “irresponsible” by many Moroccans.

In a video on Facebook, Salafist Sheikh Abou Naim called on the High Council of Ulemas and the Rabita Mohammedia for Ulemas to worry more about places of gambling, selling alcohol and debauchery where deadly diseases spread instead of talking about mosques.

“It is a scandal! Considering that the epidemic has not reached a dangerous level that requires the closure of mosques. It is not necessary to close the mosques and I warn the ministry and the institutions against this measure,” said Abou Naim.

“The country that closes its mosques renounces its religion. Do not despise the mosque, otherwise God will punish you,” he warned authorities.

Abou Naim was arrested March 17 on charges of inciting hatred and making threatening statements.

“Abou Naim’s remarks contained threats of committing dangerous acts that would lead to disrupting general order,” a police statement said.

Observers saw Abou Naim’s declarations as undermining governmental efforts at preventing the spread of the coronavirus outbreak and seeking to sow discord regardless of the public interest during a critical period.

Mohammed Abdelouahab Rafiqui, a researcher in Islamic studies in Morocco, said Abou Naim’s declaration was out of context and not warranted, even if motivated by ignorance of facts about coronavirus

“The government took some drastic decisions for citizens’ safety, which is at the forefront of its concerns, even at the expense of performing group prayers,” said Rafiqui.

“We should back all the decisions and precautionary measures that seek to protect citizens. There is absolutely no place for such takfiri fatwas that are jeopardising the state’s efforts to combat the pandemic,” he added.

Hassan al-Kettani, another Salafist advocate, referred to the opinion of Kuwaiti Sheikh Hakem al-Mutairi, who criticised the closure of mosques and suspending Friday prayers because of COVID-19.

“It would have been possible to take precautions against the disease by imposing a curfew if necessary, and forcing people to stay home without closing mosques,” Mutairi said.”

Mutairi claimed there was “no evidence from the Quran or the Sunnah to ban Friday and group prayers as no one had dared before.” Kettani described Mutairi’s views, which he posted on Facebook, as a “great fatwa.”

Morocco’s High Council of Ulemas on March 16 advised closing mosques despite the clamour by Salafists to keep them open.

“Following a request for a fatwa addressed to the Supreme Council by Amir al-Mu’minin, the Scientific Authority for Fatwas of the Supreme Council advises to close the mosques, whether with regard to the five daily prayers or the Friday prayers,” said the Supreme Council of Ulemas in a statement, adding that the procedure was temporary.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI bears the title of Amir al-Mu’minin — Commander of the Faithful — in Morocco.

Rachid Benzine, a French-Moroccan Islamologist, said the state’s reasoning must absolutely prevail during this critical time.

“The state saw an interest in closing the mosques, which is entirely commendable considering the risks of contamination,” said Benzine.

“We came back to some kind of medieval theology, which thinks that diseases come from God. This leads some people to think that the diseases are the fruit of perversion in society, which undermines the scientific discourse.”

Dozens of people marched overnight March 22 in Tangier, Tetouan, Sale and Fez, to plead for God to defeat the coronavirus pandemic. The march was in defiance of a public health state of emergency declared March 20.

“God is great! God is great and alone to be able to help us defeat the coronavirus!” the crowds chanted, prompting condemnations on social media and calls for sanctions.

The council of the government adopted two decree-laws that would increase current penalties of up to three months in prison and a fine of up to 1,300 dirhams ($135) against anyone violating the state of emergency.

Morocco deployed armoured vehicles to enforce the state of emergency to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease. Images on social media showed heavy-handed arrests and reprimands of those not abiding orders.