Since the early 1980s, Maghreb support for youth participation in jihad in Afghanistan has brought tremendous carelessness into the religious sphere.
Militant religious groups have been active in polarising young people who felt that their calls for employment and education were going unanswered.
Authorities also permitted the entry of thousands of books that allowed extremism and a culture of hatred to take root.
Maghreb governments did not anticipate that the “warrior” youths would escape death in Afghanistan only to return to their homelands with a strong desire to continue their “jihad”.
When the suicide attacks of Casablanca took place on May 16, 2003, Moroccan security forces were shocked and stunned, especially because officials had believed in the “Moroccan exception”.
In the wake of these terrorist incidents, Morocco decided to adopt a religious policy based on control of the religious sphere through widening the tutelage of the Ministry of Religious Endowment over mosques – especially those that were previously under the control of extremist groups. They also adopted a policy of rehabilitation of preachers, to retrain them in line with the cultural and democratic openness of Morocco.
Morocco engaged in this programme of training imams and preachers on two levels: the first began in 2005 and included the training of new imams; nominations were open for holders of bachelor’s degrees in various disciplines to take advantage of a year-long training. The program included training for imams and female assistants alike.
In this context, the Moroccan Minister of Religious Endowment emphasised the need for imams to accommodate knowledge and integration into the surrounding social, political and moral environment. This way the imam might contribute to the building and upkeep of the nation in order to keep it away from trouble that could affect its purity and tranquillity.
The second level concerns the training of 45,000 imams and preachers to be deployed to mosques engaged in harmonising religious discourse to the current situation, and keeping pace with developments in Morocco. This is important, as ministry statistics in 2006 revealed that 82% of imams were not qualified, and had not received formal education – only training with memorisers of the Koran.
Algeria followed the same strategy, deciding to double the number of positions allocated to trained imams. This programme would train 1,000 imams annually, instead of the previous 500, using an “Algerisation” curriculum on history and national values.
In Tunisia, the situation is slightly different, due to the chaos that allowed extremist groups to exploit local mosques and appoint their own imams.
This situation forced the Ministry in charge to issue a communiqué on March 6, 2012, stressing that “the appointment of religious officials in mosques and masjids is commissioned by the Ministry of Religious Affairs”, and that “no party but the ministry has the right to intervene in removal, installation or change in any form”.
However, what should be emphasised is that facing extremism is no longer the task of imams alone, but has become the responsibility of society in all its components: political, cultural, media, religious and civil society.
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