The Moorish Wanderer

Religious Policy: Revamping the Habous

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Moroccanology, Polfiction by Zouhair ABH on November 15, 2010

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.

My Scheme would turn the Hassan II Mosque in a profitable scheme to the brand new Interfaith department.

– 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.

II. Education.

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)

III. Law

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.

Ramadan At The Gates

I don’t think this month is holy any more, nor does it still bear some genuine religious significance to the people. It is, I must point out, a subjective point of view. Indeed, Moroccans (at least those I saw in Casablanca or Rabat or today in Marrakesh) are ostensibly reading the Koran in public places. I noticed the mosques were never so full of faithful as they are this time of year. But on the whole, it does not feel like Moroccans get in touch with their spirituality. It does however look like more of a parade of spirituality, and it is going out of proportions. There is this stereotype I hold on my fellow citizens as being hypocritical, but surely it was nothing like that.

There is something I find quite strange, though: Every Ramadan, dissident voices claim their right to break it, and every time, the orthodox voices cry their shock and anger to that handful of Kuffar that have no respect for Islam or to anything this Umma holds dear to its heart. Some even get raving mad, fortunately only on Facebook walls or Hespress comments. Yet it remains so that Moroccan society is growing intolerant, or at least seems to be so. Last year MALI group tried a spectacular direct action but were prevented from doing so. Do we have some comprehensive explanation why some Moroccans feel very sensitive about this?

Let me just put it in simple terms: fasting Ramadan, just like praying are two rituals part of the five pillars of Islam. However, these pillars are ranked in order of precedence and it goes like this: 1. Faith, 2. Prayers, 3. Charity, 4. Ramadan, and last 5. Pilgrimage.

In other words, its is much much more serious breach of Muslim faith not to pray than not to fast Ramadan, and even more important to care about the needy than to fast during the holy month. Until now, I have never seen someone harassed by the crowd because they did not attend the Friday prayers, as far as I am concerned. There was this unfortunate occurrence when a particularly zealous member of my family tried to talk me into “mending my ways back”, but that was it (the person in question avoided me for the rest of the evening, and that was a relief).

Their reaction would have been quite different if I was not fasting, I can tell you that. While the last pillar (pilgrimage) is compulsory only to those able to go to Mecqua, Ramadan remains effectively the last pillar all Muslims should observe, and yet it is, according to some surveys I am going to discuss, the most important one.

The Moroccan Penal Code, Article 222, is quite clear about it: Muslim Moroccans are not prevented from not fasting Ramadan, they are forbidden to do so in public.

Celui qui, notoirement connu pour son appartenance à la religion musulmane, rompt ostensiblement le jeûne dans un lieu public pendant le temps du ramadan, sans motif admis par cette religion, est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à six mois et d’une amende de 12 à 120 dirhams

How could anyone -save for those of our fellow citizens with Jewish ascent- prove that they are not “notoriously known for their belonging to the Nuslim faith?” And what about a Moroccan that reverted their faith to Christianity? do they have to produce a baptism certificate? And what about the atheists or the non-believers? Do we need a paper stating our non-belief from Richard Dawkins? And why being so hypocritical about it? Why would the Moroccan judiciary punish anyone break-fasting in public, but turn the blind eye on those who do so but away from any public fuss? Doesn’t it encourage hypocrisy? or Doesn’t it simply give in to the fear of Fitna?

For Fitna here would be some Muslim fanatics taking on those they consider apostate. Article 222, just like Article 489 (on homosexuality), Article 490 (on illegal sex) and 496 (female adult with a tutor authority) reminds us that Morocco, for democratic and tolerant it boasts to be, remains handicapped with a reactionary set of laws as well as state of minds, and impaled in deep contradictions that cannot be explained but in sociological terms. I must point out that nowhere in the penal code an article punishes a Moroccan national for not going to the Mosque, or giving money to the poor, or even for lacking faith in Islam. Why do we focus on Ramadan, and not on the rest?

Let me be clear about it: I am a staunch supporter of secularism as a political solution for religious issues. The law of the land needs to be set up by men, and these held accountable to the nation. That also means that the His Majesty should not benefit from the extra-constitutional powers his status as “Commader of the Faithful” permits him. In other words, Islam, just like other religions, remains a private matter, thus effectively rendering the public sphere neutral to any spiritual lobby.

I cannot however understand the sheer contradiction of it all: it is fine not to pray (I mean, people do not necessarily see it as a blatant lack of faith) it is legal -within the boundaries of the law- to drink alcohol (bars are public places as far as I know), but jamais au grand jamais, one should break Ramadan fasting, especially not in public. At the best it is frown upon, at the worse you get caught up by the police. In the land of contradictions, one stands beyond bemusement.

Let us take a leaf from the RDH 50 report. The one about society, families and youth, and especially about religious values as seen by the Moroccan youth. According to the survey, and it seems to be the general case, the youth are longing for a change, compared to the previous generation (namely their parents) either by refusing the norms (no prayers, no Ramadan) or by accepting the norms as they were, but in a different way, so that the inter-generation differences remain seen.

By doing so, the Moroccan youth do no “invent” as it were, atheism or agnosticism, nor the “new wave” religious observance. They simply move within the social context they are living in, and the choice is then made accordingly. There was a time (1961) when agnosticism and atheism had the upper hand:

seuls 5% des enquêtés estimaient que la religion tenait une place plus grande que dans la génération précédente. La majorité (80 %) affirmait l’étiolement de la religion. Parmi les constatations recueillies : « les jeunes se détachent de la religion », « il y a un sur mille qui pratique », « plus de 50 % ne font ni ramadan ni prière », « autrefois un musulman était renié par sa famille s’il épousait une chrétienne, aujourd’hui non », « la religion est l’opium du peuple », « les questions économiques sont plus importantes1 ». Doit-on conclure au recul de la religion chez les élèves marocains d’après l’indépendance? En tout cas, quel que soit le rapport des élèves à la religion, les questions prioritaires de leur époque étaient politiques, économiques et sociales. La question de la sécularisation progressive des sociétés, du recul de la religion, doit être nuancée. Les processus de changement ne sont ni linéaires ni irréversibles. Les recherches récentes sur le rapport des jeunes à la religion vont dans ce sens”.

I like the last sentence because it is the adequate and informed answer to any of those making speeches about the irreversable victory of Islam over the unfaithful.

That happened some 50 years before. What about now?

“Selon une enquête menée par M. Tozy au début des années 1980, seuls 8 % font la prière régulièrement, 26 % occasionnellement et 49 % ne la font pas. L’enquête de 1992 révèle que 54% des étudiants font la prière. Alors faut-il conclure à l’absence du religieux lorsque seuls 8 % des étudiants font régulièrement la prière et au retour du religieux lorsque la proportion des pratiquants « augmente »? Ni l’un ni l’autre. Nous avons dit que le retour du religieux (si cette expression a un sens) n’est pas un processus irréversible. S’agissant toujours de la pratique de la prière, l’enquête de 1996 enregistre une « diminution » de 10 points par rapport à celle de 1992”.  That is quite odd, as pointed out later on: “Tozy remarque l’incohérence, voire le caractère contradictoire des réponses : 85 % des enquêtés avaient un rapport ambigu à la religion. Ceci montre qu’il est difficile de partir d’un seul aspect de la religion (la prière, le port du voile etc.) et d’affirmer soit la sécularisation soit le retour du religieux.

These are the conclusions the report reached on religious values and Moroccan youth:

– The present situation is neither that of secularism or mass-islamization. All that comes up from the finds is ambivalence, ambiguity and contradiction in the choice of religious symbols as well as individual and collective behaviour towards Islamic rituals. (including therefore Ramadan)

– The religious references are more and more of exogenous  nature. family no longer provides them, and the Youth are looking for them elsewhere (Satellite TV, Internet, University, etc….) thus proving a much more heterogeneous choice in terms of  “religious apparatus”

What about Ramadan then? It may be related to the kind of relationship we have with food and the ritual of eating.  The HCP studies still point out that Moroccans are still devoting an important part of their income on food and edible material.  Basically, Ramadan is considered to be the most visible aspect of religion one can display, and some sort of unhealthy consensus has been created on that.

It seems Ramadan created itself into a taboo, and those who dare challenge it must be punished, following this newly esablished norm. I consider it to be new because the non-faster were more visible say, 30 years ago than they are now. Can the Moroccan society live with a fraction of its population deviant from that norm? of course it can, it has proven to be easily adaptive. What lacks is the basic condition of an open debate, for a taboo is not subject of such talks, and it seems to me, the blame is on both sides.

Oh, and Ramadan Mabruk. May we all put on a bit of weight in the name of Allah.