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Morocco Week in Review 
August 8, 2015

Beach Library Sails to Moulay Bousselham, Morocco
Monday 3 August 2015- morocco world news By Bochra Laghssais

A beach library organized by Fernanda Sanchez, a current Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, has opened in Moulay Bousselham, a town 99 km (62 miles) north of Kénitra. Morocco World News interviewed her to learn more about her project.

MWN: How did you get the idea of doing this project?
Fernanda Sanchez: When I first moved to Moulay Bousselham, I was surprised to discover that there was no library or bookstore in my town. My neighbors told me that the nearest bookstore was many kilometers away and there were no free reading materials available. The lack of access and the desire for educational materials inspired me to create this library.

MWN: How can you describe your project?
Fernanda Sanchez: Last summer, I volunteered at a summer camp in El Jadida where the camp took the kids to their beach library for a day of reading. That is where I saw the boat bookcase that the Association Idriss Tachifini created. It was such an original idea. I spoke to the organizers of the project and asked them if they could send the boat to Moulay Bousselham, because I wanted to recreate a similar library. Currently we have set up a boat bookcase, a library bus, a tent with tables and chairs, and a reading space with parasols near the beach. We have many activities that target youth, such as, games, storytelling, and art projects. Our project is supported by a network that includes the local government, the Ministry of Culture and its regional director in Kenitra, Association Idriss Tachifini in El Jadida, many teachers who are active in the dar chabab, Association Al Amal, local volunteers, and Peace Corps volunteers.

MWN: What is your objective?
Fernanda Sanchez: The objective of this project is to encourage the youth in Moulay Bousselham to find inspiration in books and learning. I also hope that this project will influence the many tourists that visit from all over Morocco to take this idea back to their home and to ultimately create libraries in their communities if they do not have them. It is my goal that this library helps the youth of Moulay Bousselham and around Morocco to foster an environment where reading is fun and interesting.

MWN: We know there is a reading crisis in Morocco, do you think this project will encourage people to read?
Fernanda Sanchez: I believe that if you start teaching children at an early age that reading can be a magical and exciting experience, we can start to change this apathy towards literacy. We have already started to see the impact of this project. Some children who were not interested in reading at first have become enthusiastic readers because the beach library is a fun and comfortable place with many interesting books and educational games.

MWN: What dates is the library open?
Fernanda Sanchez: The beach library began on July 27th and will continue until August 11th. The reading materials will then be sent to different schools in Moulay Bousselham and in nearby communities.

Tinejdad hosts first Model UN camp in Morocco.
Sunday 2 August 2015 -morocco world news By Salah Eddine Salmi Rabat

Tinejdad, a small city in the province of Errachidia South East Morocco, hosted the first Model UN camp in the country from July 23rd to July 30th for 53 students from different villages in the region. The camp, whose theme was “today’s youth, tomorrow’s leaders,” was organized by Andrea Filzen, an American Peace Corps volunteer, in collaboration with Larbi Arbaoui, Morocco World News assistant editor and correspondent, and in partnership with the House of Culture “Dar Takafa” in Tinejdad.

The TinMUN camp was fully funded by Peace Corps, and it took place at both the House of Students “Dar Talib” and the House of Culture “Dar Takafa”.
It aimed to motivate the region’s youth to get to know the functions of the United Nations, and to have an idea about the international system and international relations.

The opening ceremony of Tinejdad MUN camp
During the camp, students attended workshops and training sessions that developed their skills in public speaking, debating, research and writing skills and resolution papers. The campers were able to experience the work that delegates do, debate and defend their countries’ positions at the Tinejdad MUN conference (TinMUN), whose topic was “Poverty and hunger in the world” The workshops and training sessions were facilitated and animated by various expert volunteers who came from all over Morocco.

Abaid Bousslam at his workshop about World geography
“The idea of organizing a Model United Nations conference in Tinejdad was challenging, and exciting at the same time,” Larbi Arbaoui said. “After a long process of preparation and hard work, the TinMUN 2015 overnight camp which lasted one week was successful thanks to the primary support of the Peace Corps, the House of Culture, Dar Talib, the expertise of Moroccan trainers and the logistic help provided by the local authorities and the community,” he added.
In parallel to the professional workshops that aimed to increase the participants’ interest in international issues and prepare them for the future MUN conferences, they enjoyed various activities such as games, competitions, and cultural evenings.

The participants also went on field trips to nearby villages and visited the fortresses in Tinejdad as a way of learning about the history of the region and its demographic, cultural, and architectural characteristics. One of the most interesting activities that took place during TinMUN camp was the cultural evening where students were able to learn about foreign cultures from volunteers who represented the US, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Japan.

Meriam Bentaleb teaching campers public speaking skills in the open air
Those volunteers presented their countries’ culture, cuisine, customs, and answered all the students’ questions. This was an opportunity for the campers to get to learn about those countries and to appreciate cultural diversity. “From camp songs to couscous lunch, a lesson on public speaking to a panel on cultural diversity, picnic hike to Tinejdad’s first Model UN conference, and from belting out “This Land is Your Land” sung by the group of Imenza n Tilleli, to dancing to indigenous Moroccan music, Tinejdad’s Model UN camp (TinMUN) was a roaring success,” Andrea Filzen, a Peace Corps volunteer, told Morocco World News.

A trip to a nearby village
The two days preceding the MUN conference, both the campers and their trainers were working very hard to prepare their speeches, their arguments for the debate and to submit their position papers. “I was enormously surprised about the cleverness and interest that the participants showed during the workshops through their active and fruitful discussions,”Ouiam Mellouk, a trainer in the MUN camp, said.

Lunch under palm trees where campers had a historical overview about the architectural richness of the oasis of Ferkla
This allowed them to appreciate team work and interdependence, while fostering a healthy competition amongst the campers. “TinMUN camp proved itself to be a success. It was not only an opportunity for entertainment but also a learning experience through a number of insightful and enlightening activities, workshops, and discussions/debates. It’s been rewarding seeing the campers develop that sense of autonomy, leadership, and willingness to try new things.” said Bouslam Abaid, one of the trainers.

A visit to Asrir, one of the oldest villages in the region
July 29th was the big day of the MUN conference. The main hall at the Tienjdad’s Municipal held TinMUN’s General Assembly and was under the chairmanship of Larbi Arbaoui. “Delegates did an excellent job in representing their countries, delivering their speeches and participating in the debate. The conference demonstrated their seriousness, hard work and commitment,” Aicha Bahou, director of the House of Culture, said. “Taking part in organizing a Model United Nations (MUN) week-long training camp for the youth of the small, rural town Tinejdad was rewarding, challenging, and a novel experience for myself and for the entire town” said Andrea Filzen.

Delegates during unmoderated caucus
“This camp could not have been successful without the many hands and heads that brought their enthusiasm and passion for community service to the camp. I am extremely thankful for the support of the whole community of Tinejdad and the support of the camp’s team leaders,” she added. The camp concluded with a social party entertained by the campers themselves; singing, acting, and dancing. Certificates were given to all the participants, who experienced a range of mixed feelings; feelings of happiness for their outstanding accomplishments and feelings of sadness because the camp came to an end. The campers were in tears while saying goodbye to their trainers, albeit hopeful to see such initiatives take place in the future.

Education, a shield against ignorance, poverty, fanaticism (Moroccan King).
Thursday, July 30th, 2015 by Jaber Ali

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI renewed his repeated calls for a deep reform of the educational system in his country, pointing out that the rehabilitation of education is crucial in achieving development and ensuring social openness and emancipation and most importantly, it is a shield against ignorance, poverty, fanaticism and reclusiveness. “The rehabilitation of education remains pivotal in achieving development and is key in ensuring social openness and emancipation. It shields both society and individuals from ignorance, poverty, fanaticism and reclusiveness.”

The king’s call came in the speech he delivered on Thursday on the occasion of the anniversary of his enthronement sixteen years ago. After he acknowledged the shortcomings of state-run schools and their inability to achieve their educational and development mission, King Mohammed VI recalled the attempts made to develop a comprehensive strategic vision to reform the education system in Morocco and insisted that “this reform should be formulated as a national, binding contract-based policy, by means of a framework law that sets out the long-term vision and puts an end to the vicious circle of reform for reform’s sake.”

Although Morocco devotes 5.4% of its GNP to the sector of education, results are very poor and the level of Moroccan pupils, compared to other developing countries, is relatively low. Despite efforts to improve the quality of learning, the results of international and national surveys indicate low levels of learning. A study conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2014 concluded that Moroccan students do not have the required level in science particularly mathematics.
King Mohammed VI who pointed out that Moroccans want for their kids an appropriate education, based on open-mindedness, critical analysis and foreign languages acquisition, rejected allegations that openness to foreign languages and cultures will undermine national identity.

“Moroccan identity, thank God, is deeply-rooted and diversified, with both European and African components,” he said, recalling that the Moroccan Constitution “advocates the learning and mastering of foreign languages as a tool for communication with the knowledge-based community and for interaction with modern civilization.”

“No selfish or politically-motivated considerations should be allowed to interfere with any education reform – under the pretext of safeguarding national identity – as that might jeopardize the future of the coming generations,” he said, insisting that “the education reform must be aimed primarily at enabling students to acquire knowledge, skills and national and foreign languages, particularly in scientific and technical curricula, in order to be active members of society.”

The King, insisting on the need to preserve authentic Moroccan identity, thereby implying the rejection of terrorism and religious extremism, deemed “it is a national duty and a religious obligation for you (Moroccans) to safeguard your identity and remain committed to the Sunni, Maliki rite that the Moroccan people have inherited from their forefathers.”

After he recalled the sacrifices made by Moroccans during the First and Second World Wars in several parts of the globe for the triumph of the universal, human values, the sovereign warned “today, in keeping with the same values, we are fighting against extremism and terrorism.” Moroccan traditions and cultural values are rooted in tolerance and moderation, he said, urging Moroccans not to let anyone from outside the country give them lessons on how to live their faith.

“And although I respect all revealed religions, let me say this: do not accept anyone’s invitation to embrace a different rite or faith, be it from East or West, North or South. I want you to reject any attempt to sow the seeds of division, and to remain – as always – deeply committed to the unity of your rite and to your sacred values, and to be proud of your faith and of belonging to this nation,” said the King.
Written by: Jaber Ali on July 30, 2015.

HOUSE OF LIFE is an innovative agricultural initiative whose implications are broad and resonate acutely with current world events; set in the specific context of Moroccan human development needs and cultural history, the model thus created could be replicated throughout North Africa, the Middle East and beyond.
The term HOUSE OF LIFE denotes a traditional name for a Jewish cemetery.  It was therefore particularly appropriate for the Governor of the Al Haouz Province, Younès Al Bathaoui, to employ the phrase in respect of the project, led by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in the Kingdom of Morocco and endorsed by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in three provinces.
The uniqueness of the scheme lies in its intercultural aspect.  HOUSE OF LIFE facilitates the free loan of land adjoining Jewish burial sites, in order to establish organic tree and medicinal nurseries for the benefit of neighboring Muslim farming communities.
Aided by the creation of HA3 (the High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal social enterprise), a complete process from farm to table is envisaged, thus addressing existing gaps in the organic agricultural entrepreneurial system.  Organic certification, fair trade prices and wider markets – national and international - are secured for local farmers, whose communities go on to benefit from reinvestment in further projects.
The initiative forms part of HAF’s One Billion Tree Campaign, itself one of several different human development schemes implemented by the foundation.  All HAF projects aim towards environmental consciousness, socio-economic self-sufficiency and sustainability.  They include organic agriculture, clean water and energy as well as programs addressing the particular vulnerability of women and youth and enhancing cultural diversity.
Evolution of an idea
The HOUSE OF LIFE pilot project was established at Akrich, Al Haouz province, a rural area outside Marrakesh, in 2012.  The locally-managed nursery was established by HAF on land lent by the Jewish community of Marrakesh-Essaouira, adjacent to the tomb of Rabbi Raphael HaCohen, one of over 600 Jewish burial sites dotted across the country, in rural as well as urban areas.
In February 2015, at a ceremony presided over by the Governor of Al Haouz, Mr. Younès Al Bathaoui, 30,000 seeds and saplings were planted and a further 30,000 two-year-old trees – olive, fig, pomegranate and lemon – were set aside for distribution to local farmers.
At the same time, the proposed extension of this scheme across the entire Kingdom was announced, five further contracts having been put in place.  Thereafter, in June, discussions were finalized resulting in the endorsement by the CGI of the project in Azilal, Essaouira and Ouarzazate provinces in the context of a proposal to plant a million organic fruit seeds at Jewish sacred sites.
“This initiative will give more life to these regions and will reinforce the hopes and perspectives of their inhabitants,” noted Governor Al Bathaoui.
The Moroccan context
Rural Moroccans comprise 43 per cent of the country’s 32 million population, with 75 per cent of rural households earning less than the national average (IFAD, 2013).  Currently, farmers rely primarily on revenue from barley and corn; while these staples are planted on more than 70 per cent of agricultural land, they account for only 10 to 15 per cent of agricultural revenue, according to Morocco’s Agency for Agricultural Development.  Farmers therefore are making the transition to planting cash crops, typically fruit trees and plants, to generate greater income.
One billion trees and medicinal plants are needed as part of the process of overcoming subsistence agriculture, which is at the root of rural poverty.  Their establishment would also help offset severe environmental challenges facing the Kingdom, particularly soil erosion, desertification and deforestation.
Modern Morocco is comprised of several cultures including its Jewish community, present in the region for two thousand years and possessing an important architectural legacy.  The Kingdom is committed to the celebration of this rich mosaic; cultural preservation initiatives (that could be viewed as something of a luxury in a developing country) are viewed as taking place ideally in the context of vital human development projects.
The High Atlas Foundation: for sustainable prosperity
A Moroccan-US non-governmental organization, HAF, based in Marrakesh, Morocco, was founded in 2000 by former Peace Corps Volunteers, including HAF President Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir.  
The foundation uses a democratic, participatory approach to enable marginalized, mostly rural, Moroccan communities to determine what they most need and to facilitate project success.
The broad goals are twofold: to cease subsistence agricultural practices that trap communities in a vicious cycle of rural poverty and to develop the local and national economy through a variety of green growth business initiatives, overseen initially by the foundation.
Rural cooperatives are created as a necessary mechanism for business activity; HAF - through HA3, its subsidiary corporate service - ensures a fair market price, enabling farmers to receive greater income.  A significant added value is achieved when the produce is marketed as organic, fair-trade and environmentally and socially responsible.
Profits are reinvested in further projects prioritized by the communities themselves, in education, health, water infrastructure and small business development particularly for women and young people.
All of this is conducted in the context of a zero waste strategy.  HAF anticipates using the walnut and almond shells and hulls to produce low emission fuel briquettes.  Ultimately, the aim is to export Moroccan fair-trade, organic produce to the US and EU markets.

Recently, HAF’s work has expanded beyond Morocco and its ethos and methodology hold the potential to benefit communities worldwide. 
In Moroccan terms, HAF’s sustainable development vision, as shared with CGI, mirrors the Kingdom’s vision for itself, with the HOUSE OF LIFE project, linking Morocco’s Muslim farming families and Jewish communities, ably embodying a multiplicity of goals.
Kati Roumani, based in Marrakesh, works in the field of intercultural understanding and Jewish history and assists the High Atlas Foundation in its communications.
Kati Roumani (Ms.)
Marrakesh, Morocco
+212 (0)620 17 37 07

Morocco’s Largest Art Canvas by Artist Fadoua Berrada.
Tuesday 4 August 2015 - Fatine Meziane Elotmani Casablanca

Fadoua Berrada, Moroccan designer and painter, unleashed her recent masterpiece on the largest canvas in Morocco’s history of art. At 50 meters by 2 meters, the work carries a clear message: hope for Morocco’s youth. On July 28, artist Fadoua Berrada unveiled her artwork to a variety of political and economic public figures and other artists during a ceremony in Casablanca. Dedicated to King Mohammed VI and to the future of Morocco: Morocco’s youth, her aim is to raise awareness and encourage talented Moroccans to use their gifts to their highest potential.

Berrada’s canvas, measuring 100 m2 (50m X 2m) is displayed on Casablanca’s Boulevard de la Corniche. The artist calls her work “square technique,” a method clearly seen throughout the whole canvas. She focuses on primary colors that harmonize the overall effect of the painting.

Through her art, the artist tells the story of the talented Moroccan youth that seems to be lost and desperate. In an interview with Moroccan French speaking website to H24, Berrada said that, “Moroccan youth has a lot of talent, but their talent needs to be given more recognition.” In this particular project, the artist spent a whole month and MAD 150,000 from her own savings in order to complete the work.

Art has been a part of Moroccan culture for a very long time. Morocco’s artistic scene is a popular draw for tourists as well as Moroccans. With the power of art, an artist can easily express herself through shape, color, and detail.

Art can turn an ugly corner into a beautiful one. It is hoped that more Moroccan artists will share their work in Casablanca and other cities to make the streets and buildings more enjoyable. Although talented artists pay most attention to their creations, having an audience to connect with can be for both very beneficial and motivating. The exposition runs from July 30 to August 30.

Reasons Why You Should Visit Morocco.
Tuesday 4 August 2015 - Daniela Frendo Malta

Morocco is a country that suits every type of traveller. There’s plenty to explore, learn and taste in this magical destination, whatever your interests.

Here are some of the reasons why you should put Morocco on your bucket list.

Morocco’s diverse landscapes are a paradise for trekkers and photographers alike. The High Atlas Mountains offer astounding views of Berber villages nestled among deep-red hills and lush green valleys. For the adventurous at heart, there’s Mount Toubkal, the highest point of the High Atlas Mountains at 4167m above sea level. However, you don’t need to be in tip-top shape to explore Morocco’s mountain terrain. Day trips to the Ourika Valley and the nearby Berber villages require less physical exertion and are equally breathtaking.
As you travel towards the desert region, the cultivated hills of the Atlas Mountains give way to rugged arid hills dotted with ruins of ancient kasbahs. From here you can travel along the old trading routes to get to the Saharan dunes of Erg Chebbi in Merzouga. Interesting sites along the way include Ait Benhaddou, the Todra Gorges, the Draa Valley and the Valley of Roses.
For the ultimate desert experience, join a camel trek at sunset and spend the night in a Bedouin tent. There’s nothing more inspiring than waking up to the sight of the sun’s first rays hitting the sea of dunes

The imperial cities of Fez, Meknes, Marrakech and Rabat are steeped in a wealth of history. Home to lavish palaces, vibrant souks and exceptional Islamic architecture, these cities will appeal to anyone with a keen interest in Moorish art and history.
Each of these majestic cities has its own charm. Get lost in Marrakech’s maze of bustling souks, visit the old tanneries of Fez, and explore the ancient medina of Meknes.

From the storytellers of Djema el Fnaa to the Berber drum circles in the Sahara, customs and traditions are still very much alive in both urban and rural Morocco. The strong presence of these traditions is mostly what makes Morocco such an intriguing destination.
Top cultural experiences in Morocco include spending a few days with a Berber family and visiting rural markets, where you get to explore the Amazigh culture through cooking, farming and music.

Moroccan cuisine is highly sought-after the world over, and rightly so. Most Moroccan delicacies are infused with a variety of spices, making dishes like the tajine and the harira remarkably flavoursome. Food is the heart of Moroccan culture, and meals are always bountiful.
For a genuine taste of Moroccan cuisine, have lunch in a Berber village, where traditional dishes are prepared with dedication. If you’re feeling adventurous, spend a night trying out different delicacies at the food market in Marrakech. Meanwhile, culinary tours give you the opportunity to learn the secret of preparing Moroccan dishes.

Moroccans are known for being a warm and welcoming people, and almost anyone who’s been to Morocco can attest to this. In fact, hospitality is an important principle in traditional Islamic teachings.

Some shopkeepers will ask you to sit down for a conversation over a pot of tea. Others might even invite you to their home for lunch. In Berber households, guests are provided with an abundance of food and treated as family.

Moroccan hospitality will leave an indelible mark on you. This alone makes Morocco a country worth visiting.

The Islam I Grew Up With
Tuesday 4 August 2015 - Abdellatif Zaki Rabat

I am a Muslim born Moroccan citizen. I was born in the early fifties to a family of devout parents and grand parents who were by all standards of the time particularly knowledgeable in scholarly religious matters. This is important to start with as it means that I have learnt the Koran and that I have been exposed to the founding texts of Islam as well as to the major issues related to interpretation and exegesis at a very early age. Furthermore, as far back as I can remember there was always a teacher of the Koran in my home whose sole responsibility was to teach the kids of the family the Holy Book. I grew up with teachers of the Koran living in my home and being highly respected. It was only when my family had to move to the inner city of Marrakech that teachers of the Koran stopped living in our house. I was about 12 years old. This, however, did not mean that my systematic contact with the Koran had also stopped. A tradition we had at home, was to read chapters of the Koran early in the morning before school and after supper before we went to bed. The evening reading was accompanied by readings from established ancient and contemporary scholars and often attended by relatives or friends of my father’s. This lasted to until I joined high school when I started working on different schedules and agendas.

In addition to these Koranic sessions, to which some non Muslim friends and colleagues[1] of my father’s took part on a few occasions, it was not rare for me to attend theological discussions especially when some priests and nuns visited the family. We addressed the priests and the nuns as “Mon père,” “Ma sœur” or “Ma mere”. I also remember discussions with a Jewish judge who used to visit my father. These discussions were not really theological. They were rather legal and were related to how Islamic and Hebraic laws compared especially in property laws, real estate tenure and family laws.

What Islam was for me
I remember mostly my parents warning me against injustice, pride and lack of humility, treachery, lying, hypocrisy, laziness, idleness, carelessness and selfishness more than remembering them warning me against what will happen to me if I missed a prayer. In fact, in my religious education, it was far more important to show solidarity to whoever was in need than to spend one’s whole life praying. Likewise, it was far more important to help whoever needed help, regardless of their religion, than to be idle[2]. The most precious prayer, I was taught, was work and doing good deeds to and for the community.
Of most recommendations I remember and that still echo in my ears all day long, commandments in the Koran to Mohamed not to oppress the orphan, not to drive away or ward off the beggar and to talk of and share the bounties God has bestowed upon him.

This, of course, did not mean that praying, fasting during the month of Ramadan, abstaining from consumption of alcohol and from indulging in prostitution were not part of the teachings. This only means that even these commandments were explained in social and cultural terms. Praying, for example, was an opportunity to meet with people, to get to know them and to be sensitive to the conditions of the community and to remain affiliated to the actions that aimed at furthering the wellbeing of all. Prostitution was talked of not as a moral vice but as an aspect of the social misery that results from poverty, ignorance and social injustice which had to be seen as the responsibility of all.

Never in my whole life with my parents have I heard them talk in derogatory terms of Judaism or Christianity or of the prophets, the saints or holy books of these religions. They were referred to as believers. In some cases, individual Jews and Christians were referred to as true believers[3]. Some Jewish saints were referred to as “Moulay”, a title reserved to descendents of the prophet and which meant literally “My lord”. Moreover, in the Islam we were taught at home as well as at school, you could not be a true Muslim unless your belief in God and his prophet Mohamed was part of your belief in the prophets and the books of Judaism and Christianity. Faith meant that you believed in God, His Books, His messengers and prophets and in the judgment’s day. Furthermore, Islam and the Koran, the revealed holy book for Muslims, were presented as a confirmation, a continuation and an extension of the teachings of these books and religions; at times a correction of what Muslims think may have been distorted in them[4]. In many verses of the Koran (ayat), commandments are made to confirm the same ones that had been made to past prophets, messengers and peoples. One case is the fasting during the month of Ramadan which the Koran stipulates had been commanded formerly to others.

Islamic theology aimed at bringing these religions closer to each other and not to set them further apart. Theological discrepancies are reduced through interpretations and readings of the Koran. Jesus Christ, for instance, is considered to be the word of God. To have him, a virgin, Mary his mother, had received a breath from the soul of God. All the prophets and the kings celebrated in the Torah and in the Bible are celebrated in the Koran and Muslims are ordered to believe in their messages.

We were taught that the values, the teachings and the principles on which Christianity and Islam were founded had more in them to bring Christians and Muslims closer to each other than to set them apart. The most frequent illustrations to support this argument included[5] (i) the worship of the same God that is almighty, merciful and compassionate, (ii) God is the creator of all the Universe including humans, animals, heaven and earth as well as a netherworld, (iii) God has spoken to men, (iv) Christians and Muslims believe in and honor the same prophets and messengers including Jesus Christ, who although Muslims do not acknowledge he partakes in deity they refer to as the word of God and describe his nativity as the result of God blowing of his soul into Mary, his mother, (v) the respect for life, which encompasses rejection of abortion and homicide, (vi) both Christians and Muslims submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as had done Abraham to whose faith Muslims adhere, (vii) both Muslims and Christians believe in the day of judgement and the resurrection of the dead, (viii) both religions denounce vanity and pride and (ix) both profess charity, pardon, conciliation, peace and love.

So many values in common could not be allowed to let politics and modern ideologies set the two religions apart. On many occasions, both religions were used to implement colonial plans and to alienate populations in the framework of global economic and strategic agendas. On each of these occasions, populations were set against each other on the basis of distorted religious designs and interpretations.

Likewise, the Islamic law I grew up with does not include the stoning of anyone nor does it give the father or the brother any extraordinary rights over their wives and their sisters. A girl is free to marry the man of her choice and should her father not agree to that, she can have a judge witness to her marriage provided the man she has elected can provide for her, is able to protect her, to honor her and is known to be just and honorable. A man can take only one wife because there is in the Koran a verse that stipulates that no man can meet all the conditions to take more than one wife. One of the conditions that no one can meet is that of justice and equality. A case frequently evoked in relation to this condition is that no man can have the same and equal feelings for two different women or look at them in the same and equal manner. This fact makes it impossible to take more than one wife. As far as I am concerned, the stipulation is direct and unequivocal.

While some women wore veils, many did not. In Moroccan mountains, women and men dance and sing together in chorus. Fathers, daughters, brothers and sisters as well as complete foreigners used to dance and sing during various celebrations. They also work in the fields side by side. Veils were worn neither while singing and dancing nor while working. The veil seemed to be more of a city – urban tradition than a religious one. Among my female schoolmates, none wore a veil. Very few covered their hair. The tradition grew much later starting the late eighties and early nineties. During the fifties and through the late eighties, the idea of women having to cover their hair or to wear a veil was alien in schools and at universities.

Many examples of what is taken to be Islamic law in the world have been for me, and for my generation and that of my parents and grand-parents as well as to all the teachers I can remember, but local adaptations of the Koran and other texts to specific cultural, economic, social and political conjunctures to comfort the interests of particular groups of the population. Recently, and under the pressure of the development of double standard values in international relations, the abundance of petrodollars and the sudden surge of new communication technologies, such local adaptations of Islamic laws to particular social and historical conditions started being exported as alternative responses to political, cultural and economic alienation of Arab countries and of countries of an Islamic tradition.

In my own Islamic culture, the Koran and the Hadith are sources of teachings of peaceful coexistence between all men and women regardless of their social or economic status, their race, their religion or political choices. In our family, meals were shared at the same table by all people present including helps, maids, chauffeurs, etc. I remember a Jew who came to our home from time to time. He made and repaired saddles. In his religious tradition, kosher food had to be cooked by Jews and in kitchenware used only by Jews. He lit his own fire and cooked his own food. But when it came to eating, we all ate at the same table whenever it was possible. We could eat his food but he could not eat ours. His tradition was not only respected, it was just taken for granted. His did not create any problem to anyone; neither to him and nor to my family. Furthermore, he used to bring to my mother dishes his wife knew she liked and my mother, who could not send her cooked food, returned the kindness by sending her eggs, hens, fruit or perfume. We were forbidden to use the Jew’s kitchenware and if by mistake anyone did, the Jew was told so as not to use them.

The man was Jewish and apparently poor. None of these qualities, however, made him live at the margin when he visited us. When we moved to the inner city, we lived in an area in which Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in the same apartment buildings or in neighboring town houses. We lived with the impression that everyone had to celebrate everyone’s holy days. Kids from all religions played football in the same teams. Cases of Jewish women breastfeeding Muslim born babies they were babysitting were not rare. The worst threat a Muslim kid could make to a Jewish kid was to report on him eating Muslim food. Muslim food was “haram” for them and everyone made sure Jewish kids did not break the laws of their own religion.

Respect of difference was at the core of Islamic teachings. A verse from the Koran that stipulates that God has created people different for the explicit purpose that they know and learn about each other was repeated to us perhaps more than any other one. In fact, this verse does not only teach and require respect of difference, but requires that men and women seek the knowledge of other people with different cultures, languages, etc. It is part of Islam to seek the knowledge of people of different habits, mores and traditions. In other words, we were taught not to expect everyone else to be like us or to have the same values as we do. Multiplicity of opinion, of beliefs and of religions was something we were taught not only to expect but seek to learn about, to understand and to live with peacefully.

These events attest to the kind of peaceful coexistence and mutual solidarity and good neighbor relationships that both Islamic and Jewish traditions allowed for in Morocco.

I can understand that this view of Islamic culture may not be shared by all Muslims everywhere in the world, perhaps not even in by all Moroccans. It is, however, a culture that is deeply rooted in Koranic teachings and in the Hadith. It is a socially intelligent and diversity sensitive culture that respects difference and accepts divergence of opinion.

What kids saw their parents and neighbors do was coherent with what they heard the Imams teach at the mosque and in conformity with what they were taught in Islamic studies classes. They all insisted on behavior. They insisted so much on the notion of religion being behavior to others as the prophet was reported saying, that you could not tell where religion started and where it ended. Very specific recommendations of what good behavior meant were taught with many illustrations from the Koran and the Hadith.

Among these behaviors the following seem to have marked the culture of my generation mostly:

Bad behavior was identified as:

These teachings were taught as the true values of Islam. Later, we were taught they were also the values of good citizenship. We had to abide by them regardless of the gender, age, religion or race of others. Every member of the community was responsible for the implementation of these values. Sin was evoked much more frequently to condemn inappropriate social behavior than to refer to breaches of commandments relating to religious rituals. A person you did not know would intervene to stop you doing anything that went against these values. Likewise, as you were expected to help anyone who needed your assistance, you were assisted with what you were doing without having to ask. It was a normal thing to ask – or to be asked – to help carry something heavy, for instance. It was also a normal thing for your neighbors to ask you to go on errands for them. A woman would open the door of her house and call on the first kid she laid eyes on and ask her/him to run errands for her. You just could not say no. It was part of being Muslim. The phrase that would be opposed to anyone who refused such assistance was inevitably “What kind of a Muslim are you?” or “What kind of Islam are you a follower of?”

Some traditions which I grew up with and which I have always taken to be teachings of Islam made it an obligation for you to offer help to your neighbors, relatives, friends and the needy in some specific occasions.

In funerals, the first thing you did as soon as you heard about the death of a person was to make sure that meals, coffee and some special kind of dishes would be fixed in your own home and delivered to the house in which the funeral was taking place because you knew the family would be too grievous to take care of themselves and of the mourners. Next, you offered to take care of the undertakers and coordinate with them. Next you offered to go inform the family and the friends – mobiles and cell phones are but a recent invention. You, of course, attended the burial and took any initiative you judged would help. Everybody wanted to help laying the dead person to his/her last resting place and to cover the tomb. You gave alms to the poor and to the readers of the Koran so that God received the dead person in his mercy.

Another tradition consisted of having the first two or three meals fixed for the family of new neighbors. Knowing that moving into a new house was always a burden to families, you always helped by offering the first meals so that the family could take care of unpacking and arranging the house. You did not care to know what color or what religion the neighbors were. I remember my mother asking me to take a dinner she had fixed to some new neighbors who were a couple of middle aged French teachers who did not happen to have heard of the tradition. The woman told me she thought there was a mistake somewhere as it was the third time someone had delivered meals. I explained what the tradition was about and she started practicing it, too.

Another tradition consisted of removing any hazardous object from the street and to make sure passersby noticed holes, trenches or any such danger in the streets. A tradition I have always loved consisted of houses having either faucets or clay water containers of water or water fountains in their front doors so as travelers and passersby could drink.

These were of course the values and the principles. These were the ideals which everyone had to endeavor to achieve and live by. Obviously, there were liars, hypocrites, misers, corrupt and selfish people. Obviously, there was cheating, cowardice, treachery and betrayal. Obviously not all rich people were generous and not all Muslims were as tolerant of cultural and religious diversity as it was thought they had to be. But these were considered to be devious behaviors and no one accepted or wanted to be taxed by any of them.

In this Islamic culture, we heard “the Soul is dear to God”. This meant that no soul, that is, no life, could be fiddled with. Life is a gift of God and only God can take it away. No person can take the life of another one unlawfully, un-rightly. One cannot take one’s own life and be a Muslim. Furthermore, the life and the physical integrity and wellbeing of animals were also to be respected[6]. No hunting could be done unless it was to satisfy the immediate needs for food. Hospitals were set up for animals and they were funded by donations of Muslims.

Under the law of this Islamic culture, no one can take the life of another person, be unjust to others, tell falsehoods, cheat, betray and breach the trust of others and be a Muslim. Likewise, no one can deny the truth of the messages and the teachings brought by Jesus Christ and laid down in the Torah and the Bible and pretend to be a Muslim.

What Islam is, just like what Christianity or Judaism are, is not necessarily what marginal clerics or self declared gatekeepers of religion say it is. It is certainly not to be taken from those whose agendas are essentially political and who use it to attain power. Islam is to be found in the Koran and in the Hadith which should not be taken in isolated chunks but as a whole in which each part finds its sense and its meaning in other parts. Furthermore, Islam is not the word or exclusive exegesis of a person whatever the degree of his/her scholarship or piety. Any person who can read, think soundly, meet the academic and linguistic competencies to approach ancient documents, take the necessary time to survey the founding texts and to understand them, whose ethical probity is beyond doubt and who does not have any hidden devious agenda is entitled to suggest interpretations of the texts.

The moment an interpretation is presented as the unique possible one, sound thinking is denied, ethical probity is sacrificed, pride takes over, hidden agendas are revealed, intolerance settles, fundamentalism takes place and the realm of Islam is left to that of politics and from there to violence and to terrorism. It is, however, not enough to acknowledge the difference between two versions of Islam, the one I have grown up in and that which is used to justify the use of violence for political purposes or as a protest strategy, one has, in fact, to stand against any form of abusive use of religion, be it that of Islam, Judaism or Christianity, to justify hatred and violence.

The religious education I have received, in which the eschatological and the theological dimensions are considered to be the personal responsibility of the individual, may not be identical to that which every other Moroccan youth of my generation had received. I know for sure, however, that youth of my generation longed for such an education to be given to their offspring. I also know for sure that because Islam is more about regulating the relationships among individuals, communities and the global environment, there is a lot of room in it for the practice of human intelligence, reason and thinking.

If, in the past, very few voices rose in Morocco and other Arab countries against the abusive use of Islam for political purposes, it was essentially, on the one hand, because no voices were allowed to express any political opinion at all, and on the other hand, because the political establishment in most Arab countries was too weak to oppose intellectual or ideological resistance to fundamentalism. In other words, the lack of resistance and of alternative propositions and interpretations of Islam was a consequence of the lack of democracy and of the limited freedom of speech that has characterized many Islamic countries, essentially Arab countries[7]. In fact, the debate of which role religion should have in public life being a political debate that touches on the foundations of power and of political rule in these countries, it could not have thrived among the political and intellectual elite as no real political debate was tolerated at all. It is only with the strengthening of the recent evolutions in the political scene towards democracy and freedom of speech in some countries, Morocco for one, that it is hoped that alternative voices will find the courage to make themselves heard. A coherent and credible discourse that can be opposed to the discourse of fundamentalism is yet to be constructed.

[1] My father had friends from all confessions. The priests of a mountain church were good friends of his. He visited them and they visited him whenever they were close to one another’s place. He was also a friend of the nuns who run schools in Marrakech whom he invited home several times. He also knew many Jews and kept with them rather cordial relationships. My father’s mastery of the French language and his rather exceptional familiarity with Western literature, philosophy and history and his great tolerance were critical assets that made these encounters as interesting as pleasant to all. As to my mother, she also knew some nuns who looked after a women’s centre and whom she assisted by organizing donation pools for them and/or by providing them with host families. These nuns visited our house when I was young and all I remember is that everyone respected them and appreciated their work.

[2] One adage we were frequently reminded of was “Help a non-Muslim but do not stay idle.”

[3] I have heard many people talk of the nuns in Tazert in such high esteem and deference that are traditionally reserved only to saints.

[4] This attitude of Islam towards Christianity and Judaism was much later adopted by the Church itself. In fact, in the introduction to the” Conciliar Document N° 4 on the revelation – Chapter IV, P 53, one can read “. . . the Books of the Old Testament enable everybody to know who is God and who is man, and also the way in which God, in his justice and mercy, behaves towards men. These books, even though they contain material which is imperfect and obsolete, nevertheless bear witness to truly divine teachings.” This judgment of the Vatican corresponds to the only reservation of Islam which was that some imperfections, whatever their origin, had affected the sacred teachings and texts.

Earlier, St Augustine had made the same reservations as to the authenticity of all the teachings in the Holy Scriptures. He had put forward the principle that “it was not possible for an affirmation contrary to the truth to be of a divine origin, and was prepared to exclude from all the sacred texts anything that appeared to him to merit exclusion on these grounds”. (Cf. Maurice Bucaille. 1979. The Bible, The Qur’an and Science. North American Trust Publications. Indianapolis ”

[5] Both the Christian and the Muslim readers will identify in these illustrations passages from their Holy books or religious teachings they grew up with.

[6] Among the many teachings concerning the respect of animals, kids are always told the Hadith reporting the story of the woman who was punished because she mistreated a cat. The Hadith goes as follows: “A woman was punished because she imprisoned a cat until it died. Because of this, she was doomed to Hell. While she imprisoned the cat, she did not give it food or drink, nor did she free it to find its food for itself” (literally to eat the insects of the earth). Another Hadith “There is a reward for kindness to every living animal or human”.

[7] It is important to highlight the role of the USA in supporting undemocratic regimes in the area. It seems that democratic governments would not have preserved the interests of the USA at the expense of the interests of the peoples of the region. A few weeks before the fall of the Shah, President Carter referred to Iran as “an Island of democracy.”

The book, Reflections on the formation of Western opinions, stereotypes and attitudes about Islam and Arabs, published in 2005 is based on a series of reports on Cross Culture seminars the author had conducted at LangCom during academic year 2004-2005. Over two hundred participants from various American universities and many Moroccan university students and English language teacher trainees from ENS Rabat took part in these seminars.

The seminars were a rare opportunity for both Moroccan and American participants to exchange ideas, opinions and attitudes about Islam, Arabism, and the various stereotypes that have come to be associated with them especially after the 9/11 aftermath and the two Gulf wars. They have also been an exceptional occasion for the participants to share thoughts and feelings about the various concepts associated with globalization, westernization and the new challenges of the communication era. The chapters are thus to be read as reports of these seminars.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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