Religious scholars are usually the ones entrusted with the protection of religious beliefs in their communities from any distortion or fraud. These scholars are also the only party that people resort to in order to learn about religion matters.
The role of religious scholars started to weaken gradually as political systems across the Arab world, including the Maghreb countries, started embracing religious trends that do not converge with the Maliki school, in order to face the nationalist and leftist organizations. Then, a new generation of Sheikhs and scholars started preaching in mosques, with a jurisprudence of Takfir and incitement to jihad, especially with the so-called Afghan jihad against the Soviets. Ancient religious institutions, in Tunisia and Morocco for example (Al-Karawiyin and Zaytuna), did not produce Takfiri scholars who are against democracy and modernity; instead, they contributed to the development of a national awareness that craves freedom and progress founded, on values of openness and tolerance instilled in the hearts of citizens.
These religious institutions have been keen on strengthening the bonds of brotherhood and unity among the Maghreb peoples. However, the approach adopted by the political systems between the 60s and 80s of the 20th century spoiled the purity of faith and the consciences of young people, who became victims of extremism and militancy, and turned into demolition shovels and exploding bombs.
The continuous terrorist incidents in the Maghreb region, especially in Algeria and on the Mauritanian-Malian borders, are an inevitable result of the spread of extremist jurisprudence. Political regimes are accountable for the deterioration of spiritual security in the region, but theologians and scholars have also their share of responsibility as they backed off regarding their role in protecting faith, and left behind an empty religious arena that was filled by extremists who corrupted religion and tore down the doctrinal unity of peoples.
Theologians are accountable for their silence regarding the Fatwas of atonement and incitement to kill innocents in the name of jihad. These Fatwas were promoted by extremists in their Friday sermons and preaching lessons, and through tapes, CDs and books invading bookstores, kiosks and markets. Wherever people turn, they find themselves surrounded by these Fatwas, even in public transportation. Over the last three decades, theologians did not attempt to activate their religious institutions and motivate them to face this jurisprudential and doctrinal invasion.
In Morocco, for instance, many religious institutions remained silent regarding the Salafi Takfiri invasion, and reacted only after the terrorist events of May 16, 2003 in Casablanca, and after the direct intervention of the king who decided to restructure the religious field and activate its institutions in order to protect the unity of the Maliki school. Extremist organizations, whether they belong to the al-Qaeda organization or sympathize with it, constitute a threat to the Maghreb countries, as they aim to turn the region into a background in which they can expand their operations targeting North Africa and Sahel countries. Therefore, the Maghreb countries need to intensify their efforts at various levels, especially in the security, military, intelligence and religious fields. Terrorism results from extremist doctrines; therefore, we won’t be able to successfully confront it by adopting a security approach only.
Doctrines cannot be arrested like their followers, so a security approach to face terrorism remains limited in time, hence the need to multiply efforts on this front.
The meeting that was held in Fez comes within the framework of establishing an institution for Arab Maghreb theologians, in order to coordinate and consolidate efforts directed at the confrontation of extremism and terrorism. However, the outputs of this body – if it is meant to be created – will remain limited, if not nonexistent, due to the political obstacles that hinder any common Maghreb project. The political conflict between Morocco and Algeria over the Moroccan Sahara casts its shadow on all other areas of cooperation. Even common religious bodies between Morocco and Algeria are paralyzed and subject to secession as is the case for the Tidjaniyah Tariqa, and the Alawiya Shadiliya Tariqa.
Consequently, we cannot have high hopes on a religious body whose work and activity will depend on the extent of understanding and coordination between Maghreb governments. Even if we assume that theologians are willing to work commonly in order to reform the religious discourse and modernize it to fulfill the needs of the Maghreb peoples, and provide them with the spiritual nourishment that fits their cultural and doctrinal identity; politics remain a decisive factor for success or failure. Politics are like a locomotive: when it moves, all other areas move; and when it stops, all joint bodies freeze, including the “Arab Maghreb Union” that has become a paralyzed frame with no soul or motion. Religion unifies, and politics divide.
The holy city of Kairouan, in Tunisia, hosted a Maghreb… more
The Maliki school has been the primary religious reference in… more
The attempt of achieving a doctrinal unity by a group… more