Morocco leading religious harmony in MENA region – report

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Women walk past the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. Photo – Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Morocco is emerging as a beacon in the Arab world in terms of countering extremist ideology and promoting “tolerance, respect and dialogue among religious groups”, a newly published report said on Tuesday.

The US Department of State study on religious freedoms around the world noted that Moroccan law guarantees freedom of religion and praised the government for its efforts to encourage “tolerance, respect and dialogue among religious groups.”

The document also recognised the efforts made to promote moderate Islam and tolerance. Jewish Moroccans and Christian communities enjoy freedom of religion and are allowed to hold their religious services without restrictions.

“There are no prohibitions on religious clothing or symbols in either the public or the private sphere,” the report said.

It also highlighted that Jewish cultural heritage is taught at some Moroccan universities as part of efforts to spur interfaith dialogue. The Department of Islamic Studies at the University of Rabat, for example, offers classes in Hebrew and comparative religious studies.

Future Course

According to political analyst Abdelmalek Nafih, terrorist attacks that have beset Morocco since 2003 highlight the importance and necessity of reviewing the country’s policy on religion.

“At a time when the extremist media is constantly putting out fatwas left, right and centre, combating radical ideology will certainly not be an easy task for Morocco,” he told Magharebia, a web site for North Africa sponsored by the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), the military command responsible for supporting and enhancing US efforts to promote stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

“The slightest negligence in this regard could be costly,” the Moroccan academic added.

University researcher Mustafa Moulay El Mehdi stressed that Morocco has consistently shown that it wants to bring an end to the disorder in the religious sphere.

“The main goal of the religious reforms that Morocco has pursued since 2004 has been to safeguard the country against extremism and backward thinking,” he said.

To counter extremist ideology, Morocco also needs to open a dialogue with those who do not believe in the value of tolerance, said 52-year-old Abdelhadi, an Islamist campaigner and engineer.

“We need to inspire hope in them by explaining to them the virtues of dialogue and respect for others,” he said. “We must reach out to them, talk to them and get them on board, because it’s when they retreat into themselves that they become ready to do irreparable damage.”

The Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs confirmed that reform of religious affairs does not mean re-establishing control over religion.

King Mohammed VI stressed in his July 30th speech to mark Accession Day that Morocco espouses Sunni Islam, which advocates compromise and tolerance and outlaws extremism, fanaticism and ostracism.

“We have also created the High Council of Ulemas as a constitutional institution which fulfils its duties with regard to fatwas,” the king said in his landmark speech last week.

The Moroccan sovereign endorsed a new approach to promote a moderate, open and tolerant form of Islam eight years ago which, according to many political observers, has proved successful in countering religious extremism and Al Qaeda’s influence in the region.

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