Women in Morocco Fight Violent Extremism: Part Two

In this guest blog, Yasmeen Ally provides a first-hand account of women in Morocco, who fight violent extremism. With knowledge of Islam, these women are able to counter intolerant ideas and stop the spread of religious perversion. The following post is informed by Ally’s research and visits to Morocco. 

Women’s Religious Role in Islam

Women in the early centuries of Arabia and Persia distinguished themselves across scholarly establishments as renowned scholars and teachers. In fact, women were highly active, gaining a following of both male and female students.[i] Some women ranked among the most elite religious spheres—the ‘ulama class—as scholars of hadith, fiqh (juridical theology), and tasfir (interpretation).[ii] Ahmed discusses Umm Hani (d.1466), who became “one of the most distinguished scholars of her day.”

Another famous woman Bayram studied the Quran and shared her studies in Jerusalem where she “recited to the sheikhs there, and taught women of what she studied.” Additionally, she mentions Khadija bint Muhammad (d. 1389) and Bay Khatun (d. 1391) who played prominent roles as experts and teachers of hadith.[iv] The extensive scholarship and status of women as reputable scholars strikingly juxtaposes their position in contemporary Arab society.

Islamic Literacy: Morocco’s CVE Strategy           

In 2003, the resounding synchronization of suicide blasts across Morocco’s largest city— Casablanca—shattered the country’s self-image of being an exception to extremism in the Islamic world. In direct response to the attacks, the Kingdom and the newly ascended King Mohammed VI pledged to combat violent Islamic discourse by reframing and reviving Islamic values.

Consequently, King Mohammed VI inaugurated the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates in 2014 to promote religious moderation and counter violent extremist Islamic ideologies. With students hailing from Morocco, France, Senegal, Mali, Chad, Gabon, Nigeria, France, etc., the Institute trains and teaches students as well as current and future Imams practical and pertinent questions related to the Sharia, Qur’an, and Hadith. 

Religious Literacy

Traditionally, Imams were simply required to be masters of the Qur’an and providers of religious guidance. However, Morocco identifies the more contemporary role of the Imam and religious clerics as not only a leader of prayer, but a guide for Muslims through preventing extremist ideologies.Thus, the Institute, Imam, morchidines, and morchidates alike are charged with preserving the tradition of openness and tolerance as engrained in both Moroccan culture and Islam.

The most impressive achievement of this program is its leading role in fighting violent extremist interpretations of Islam by promoting religious literacy amongst Muslims. It directly combats extremism, radicalization, and indoctrination by equipping religious leaders who directly interact with their Muslim communities with humanitarian and moderate interpretations of sharia, hadith, Sunnah, and the Quran, Islam’s holy book.

The engagement of women in religious education distinguishes Morocco’s CVE strategy compared to its neighbors in the Middle East. Deriving from the Arabic word murshida meaning guide or leader, the morchidat hold religious legitimacy by drawing on the historic role of women in both the scholarly and religious sphere in Islam.

Through pursuing a CVE strategy that reflects the inclusivity of Islam, the morchidat break the prevailing patriarchal and exclusionary discourse employed by extremist groups like the Islamic State or AQIM.

Empowering Women

In this manner, the morchidat empower young Moroccan girls and women, and provide an example for Moroccan citizens of women as religious and community leaders and spiritual guides. This kind of example is particularly significant to Moroccan women as it empowers the current generation of Muslim girls and women to reclaim their roles in religious spaces, and therein emboldens the next generation who bear witness to this phenomenon.

With roughly 241 Moroccan women traveling to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State, Morocco’s CVE program—legitimized by Islam—inculcates inclusivity and counters gender inequality to combat ideology.

According to program director Abdeslam El-Azaar, female graduates have the greatest impact in their respective communities. “I’ll tell you frankly,” declared El-Azzar, “the women scholars here are even more important than men.” He continued, “women, just by virtue of their role in society, have so much contact with the people—children, young people, other women, even men. … it is natural for them to provide advice.”

Thus, the morchidat program operationalizes the eminence and influence of a woman’s cultural and familial role in Moroccan society as a means to combat violent and extremist interpretations of Islam.

By Guest Contributor Yasmeen Ally, a researcher and activist



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