Religious Policy: Revamping the Habous
My Contribution to the November Issue of Talk Morocco. The topic is quite interesting, but also potentially explosive: “State & Religion” From the initial feedbacks, my proposals were not met with hostility, though they were quick to point out that the present incumbents are certainly not going to tip-toe away obligingly.
What would be the impact of a policy that would ensure state neutrality in matters of religious nature? Apart from the deafening clamour of Al Adl and their moderate pals of PJD, nothing much. Apart from their activists’ ranting -which are not that numerous, or shall we say not that influential- there will certainly not be roadblocks, barricades and certainly no civil war over one of the so-called “fundamentals of our country”.
We have to assume beforehand that the monarchy no longer holds extra-constitutional powers from the spiritual title of our monarch -Commander of the Faithful-. It does not necessarily mean its abolition, but whatever powers that can be derived from it and that contradict positive law are no more. Indeed, an executive authority that wields such power is sheer contradiction with the essential axioms of democratic proceedings. In facts, It has to comply with one course of action: either the monarchy keeps the spiritual title but loses any direct authority over everyday politics, anything that can be derived from that title that is, or the Command of Faithful title is to be abolished so that the Monarchy can be a fully-fledged constitutional monarchy with dynastic continuity as the main -if not the sole- source of legitimacy, nothing more. I’ll elaborate later on why the first course is first-best option.
We also assume some sort of a constitutional shake-up that does away with the Sharia-based laws, mainly in the Penal Code: Art 220 on religious liberties, Art 222 on Ramada non-fasters, Art 483, 489, 490 and 496 on public behaviour -specifically on pre/non marital or homosexual intimate relationships, as well as the list of Sharia-based articles -and at the same time, effectively squeezing out individual and collective liberties to very narrow margins, nothing that fits the official claim of democracy. This, again, falls into the proposed set of strategies. Furthermore, these assumptions need to be buttressed by the idea of a Federal kingdom, where local democracies are given maximum levels of autonomy and self-government.
These are rooted in a two-fold strategy:
– First, one has to bear in mind the constraint any policy-maker has to keep constantly under watch. A previous policy of long-term islamization of our society since the late 1970’s has produced such stubborn results, and encouraged such rooted political movements that it is foolish not to take into account the possible pressure on public opinion they could put on, effectively describing the policies described below as a charge against Islam, or the fearful victory of islamophobics over what is perceived as the essential cornerstone of Morocco’s identity. Keeping the Command of the Faithful, as well as neutralizing the religious influence over public duties and institutions merely confines religion to an individual sphere and well out of politics.
– Second, if one is to implement policies on effective secular Morocco, one needs the proper institutions to oversee the process of putting these policies into practise. For instance, abolishing the Habous is counter-productive, while a substantial upgrade of its missions can be so much more promising, and provides the liberal government with a useful tool to make sure not to be too remote from the Moroccan people. Because let’s face it, occult lobbies in Morocco and outside are going to market the change as a “Rrida” (Apostate) as the work of patient heathens trying to sell Muslim souls to the devil. And it is the duty of that government to make sure the message gets through as clear as possible: a secularist Moroccan recognizes to all Moroccans the choice of religion (as well as non-belief) and provides institutional safeguards to make sure individual enjoy their rights responsibly without submitting others to their will. Private opinions are not a matter of majority rule, and certainly the fact that Moroccans are in their large majority Muslim (firm believers or not does not come to the point) is certainly not an argument to crush the dissident voices.
I. The Habous Ministry
There goes one of the less known albeit most powerful ministries in the post-1956 Moroccan governments. Why is it, alongside the interior office, no “partisan” politician can be in charge of it? (I refer to the classic dividing line of sovereignty ministries that no political party can pretend to get as a portfolio). My advice is to turn the Habous Ministry into an Interfaith and Religious Matters department: that is, the islamic nature of its dealings would be merged with other religion proceedings. The matter of Habous real estate and other donations is to be transferred to the Finance Ministry, where there already is a specific department that can oversee the bequests and donated wealth with equal if not superior efficiency. This Ministry has, among other things, the upper hand on all matters relating to Fatwas (thus absorbing or abolishing the autonomous Ulema councils) as well as Christian, Jewish and other religious representatives or regulations. Other tasks that are already devoted to the ministry include the investment, restoring and up keeping of religious buildings and their respective staffs. Finally the Ministry takes over religious education, as the Education ministry no longer offers the course as seen below.
In addition to that, the interfaith office acts as a joint-venture with the regal authority in Islamic matters. Indeed, since one has deferred to the option of keeping the title of Commander of the Faithful to His Majesty, the First Imam is therefore the only one qualified to direct the Muslim community, within the constitutional boundaries of such position. The government therefore enacts Islamic policy on behalf of His Majesty’s recommendations via a King’s Council on religious matters. Apart from that, Hebraic and Christians representatives have their own say on their respective communities. As for the non-believers, they have one less worry, and therefore observe only the positive law of the land.
Intolerance grows among Moroccans ever since primary school. One way of preventing Moroccan citizens from turning into reactionaries and narrow minded conservatives (as well as winning some long-term base voters for the liberals and radicals in the process) is simply to suppress the Islamic education course. That is, for state schools. If Moroccan households are not happy with it, all they have to do is to enrol their children into private schools that provide the service. (One does keep the private schools curriculum in religious matters well within the purview of the interfaith department, you never know…) After all, if they believe it to be paramount to any other taught subject, they will pay for it. If not, a child is not likely to turn into a godless freak if they are not taught right from the start about religion. Starting from secondary and high school however, the interfaith department’s special schools can offer, on voluntary basis, religious course (in the three broad monotheistic religions, as the need for those is the most important) while there is always a choice to double or chose instead philosophy and ethics course at high school.
Furthermore, the so-called “Chou’ab Al Assila” (as well as the Hebraic local school) are going to be abolished and changed into a higher education degrees. To be a good Islamic/Jewish scholar does not require one to start very early. A High education degree can do just as fine. The Islamic studies post-baccalaureate degrees are to be centralized into centres for religious students, alongside the other Monotheist religions at the same level as Christian and Jewish studies, and part of the Humanities curriculum. Indeed, one each university will therefore have a Humanities Department that encompasses Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, Religious Studies, etc… with no subject given a pre-eminence over the others (as it is the practise nowadays) Dar Al Hadit Al Hassannia will be merged with Institutes of Hebraic and Christian studies into a structure similar to the French EHESS (a Grande Ecole-like that will produce social scientists rather than sole narrow-minded scholars)
Since I am no lawyer, I should defer the matter to my much competent colleague on the matter. But I would like beforehand to state some broad principles on how secular laws can be implemented. Obviously a lot of people will be upset about the changes, and they should be given a chance to express their grieves, within the boundaries of freedom of religion as the new constitution guarantees. The federal option is, in that sense, a good compromise in the sensitive balance between rule by majority and cornerstone individual liberty of belief. The federal constitutions can state broad –but sufficiently well defined- principles on the need to keep religion and religious matters out of politics, and will guarantee so by means of federal court enforcement of the constitutional rule, but regional parliament, following the political tides, can implement laws and regulations –within their own competence- that can be religiously-inspired: they could allow for Islamic Banks for instance, or introduce longer breaks at school to allow for prayer time. They can even issue specific legislation on how discreet restaurant and food-serving businesses can be during Ramadan, but they cannot enforce laws that would undermine the constitutional freedom of individual belief. As far as their attributions are concerned, regional parliaments have a certain say in financial and legislative matters, and if they are controlled by “religious” parties, they can introduce some measures of moral-oriented laws in their own affairs. The essential axiom behind it all is that every one is treated as a grown-up, and is given a chance to prove themselves to be so when managing the public welfare.
Can these measures be implemented? They can, to the extent that the present conservatism among Moroccans is mainly due to economic and material conditions. Indeed, it has been the effect of an explicit policy to turn Moroccans into fanatics, and some are sensible enough to try and reverse these effects with well-meaning policies, yet ineffective and very feeble. But it also has to do with the fact that in troubled and difficult times, religion is the main exit route and is considered to bring hope, comfort and belief in better days –better after-life, one might say-. These policies are contingent on how good this government will manage to bring welfare, good standards of livings and equality among the denizens of this country.