Women in Morocco Fight Violent Extremism: Part One

With knowledge of Islam, women in Morocco are fighting the hateful ideology espoused by violent extremism. In this guest blog, Yasmeen Ally gives a first-hand account of women standing up for peace to save Morocco from intolerant ideas and the spread of religious perversion. The following piece is informed by Ally’s research and visits to Morocco. 

Brief Background

The Kingdom of Morocco is considered the model of coexistence and tolerance in the Middle East and the Islamic world. As both head of State and Commander of the Faithful (imarat al mu’minin), the Moroccan sovereign upholds an unparalleled duality in the Middle East as the protector of all religions. Tolerance and acceptance of the “other” is therein inscribed in the functions of the King himself. In fact, these values were underscored by King Mohammed VI upon His Holiness Pope Francis’s historic visit to the Kingdom in April 2019. He forcefully maintained that “religion should no longer be an alibi for ignorant people, for ignorance or for intolerance.”

The King stressed that “Religion is Peace” and “knowing one another eliminates radicalism.”

With the inauguration of the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates in 2015, Morocco uses the wastiyyah philosophy (moderate, middle ground, “juste milieu”) to counter violent extremist interpretations of Islam and inseminate values of not only tolerance and brotherhood, but also sisterhood. By training and empowering female clerics (morchidates) to reaffirm and export moderate Islamic thought in their respective communities, the Imam Academy promotes and leverages gendered and contextualized teachings of the Qur’an and hadith.

Understanding Wasatiyyah

In the Quranic verse. Surat al-Baqarah, Allah Almighty revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Thus, we have made of you a justly balanced (wastan) ummah (community) that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.”[i]

For Islamic scholars, the concept of “ummatan wastan” advances the conviction that Muslims as a community must be moderate and justly balanced. From this phrase, the concept of “wasatiyyah” emerges to urge Muslims to embody moderation in all dimensions of life. However, according to Professor Muhammed Kamal Hassan, Islamic scholar and former Rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia, the concept of wasatiyyah embraces moderation and the Islamic pillars of justice and excellence.[ii] He derives these attributes from both the Quran and Sunnah in which the Prophet attaches justice (al-‘adl) and “excellence” or “nobility” to the definition of wasatiyyah or wasat. I

Professor Hassan references a sunnah where the Prophet interpreted wasat—from which wasatiyyah derives, thus in Surat al Baqarah to mean adl (justice).[iii] Subsequently, he contextualizes the etymology of wasat to its origins in 7th century Arabia, emphasizing that during this period, Arabs understood wasat to mean ‘the best’ or ‘excellence’ too.” He further points to a sunnah which describes the Prophet as the “wasat among his people,” portraying the sense of nobility and excellency attached to the term wasat. Ultimately, wasatiyyah encourages Muslims to pursue a middle ground in place of the extremes of excessiveness (ifrat) and laxity (tafrit).[iv]

Principles of Openness

The Kingdom of Morocco deeply attaches this concept to both the Sufi and Moroccan principles of openness and tolerance.[v] In fact, Morocco leverages this cultural and historic attachment to the spiritual and mystical dimension of Islam, Sufism, to counter religiously motivated violence. This cocktail of religious and cultural values— wasatiyyah (moderation), openness, tolerance, and acceptance—together create an antidote to violent extremism that both draws legitimacy within Islam and reflects Moroccan culture. Thus, Morocco’s CVE model strategically revives forgotten verses within the Qur’an and echoes cultural norms and values to create an intersectional arsenal against radicalization.

Guest Post by Yasmeen Ally, a researcher and activist 


[i] The Qur’an, II, 143.

[ii] Muhammad Haniff Hassan, “Wasatiyyah as Explained by Prof. Muhammad Kamal Hassan: Justice, Excellence and Balance,” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses 6, no. 2 (2014): 26. 

[iii] Ibid., 27-28. 

[iv] Ibids., 29.

[v] Mohamed Chtatou, “Islam Is Couched in Sufism in Morocco,” Morocco World News, July 18, 2019.


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