This is a translation of an article which first appeared in Arabic here.

Ayyad Ablal
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Moroccan researcher in sociology, Ayyad Ablal addresses Al-Sabah Newspaper:

Deviation from the Maliki School of Thought (Maliki Doctrine) threatens the ruling regime in Morocco

  • How do you explain the last “confrontation” between the state and the Baha’i Faith? Doesn’t it intervene in the freedom of belief?
  • The discourse about the incidents taking place today against the Baha’i Faith does not reach the level of confrontation because the term “confrontation” requires both parties to be equal, but the number of Baha’is in Morocco does not exceed 350 citizens. This being said, I do not much trust the recently issued American report, which I will be discussing later on, and which coincides with the dismissal of a Moroccan soldier who was given away by his friends because he embraced the Baha’i faith. Historically, the Baha’i faith emerged in Morocco through a few random cases back in the nineteen sixties of the past century, precisely in 1962, when strict provisions were issued for about 13 Moroccan citizens, in addition to a Syrian citizen, who announced their embracement of the Baha’i faith. This occurred during the same year when the Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Nasser shut down all the Baha’i shrines in Egypt. In spite of this, the number of Baha’is present in Iran, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Egypt is much more than that in Morocco. However, due to the fact that Morocco’s sovereign property adopts the Sunni Maliki School of Thought, and since the Islamic religion contains in its sovereign formulation the foundations of kingship and reign, every deviation from this doctrine, according to the state security approach, is considered a threat to the regime, especially since the monarch is the Commander of the Faithful. Based on this, freedom of religion and faith becomes only a slogan carried by modern nongovernmental organizations and associations, intellectuals, and sometimes even the state itself.

    In reality however, the situation is totally the opposite, especially since the Maliki Sunni Islam is constitutionally the religion of the state. In other words, on the constitutional level, there is no room for freedom of faith. By the very nature of the case, as long as free faith is among the constitutional taboos, freedom of thought becomes questionable. From a sociological point of view, the Baha’i faith is a socio-cultural phenomenon based on the belief in God in accordance with two separate fields: the holy one and the profane one. This phenomenon practices a social and cultural oppression against the Baha’is. The basis of the Baha’i faith is an individual worship rather than a collective one, and their prayer is practiced individually three times a day through three kneelings during prayer, whereby collective prayer is only practiced during funerals, where it appears as a mental individual event. Collective prayer is practiced in the same manner as in any other religion, whereby its members share the same emotions and a consolidated fate. The Baha’i faith is not different from the heavenly religions except that it believes that revelation is progressive and that the Prophet Mohammed is not the last prophet, and it opposes war and killing. The Baha’i faith has been from the onset a spiritual and ethical religion, as is the case in Buddhism. Baha’is believe in their religion that has norms for prayers, fasting and pilgrimage (Hajj), which is a pillar only allowed for men, and the city of Acre in Israel is home to this pilgrimage. Baha’is are not allowed to fight Israelis on the claim that they oppose jihad, fighting and war. However, going back to its establishment and history, it becomes clear that the Baha’i faith is a form of worship and not a religion, an earthly form of worship and not a heavenly one despite its belief in God, who is considered the basis and source of this faith. Baha’is do not believe in heaven and hell, and by this it becomes substantially different from the three monotheistic heavenly religions.

    This worship is derived from the frugal will of Mohammed Ali, who was nicknamed “Al-Bab”, one merchant who lived in Iran at the beginning of the nineteenth century, at a time when corruption and oppression were worse than ever, and where commendable manners had been wiped out. This merchant, who claimed he carried a message that prophesizes the coming of a new prophet at a time when awaiting the arrival of the Messiah was at its peak for those who believed in His return. It was also a time when the Shiites believed in the return of the awaited Mahdi and when the Shiites comprised over fifty groups and religious principles. This merchant strongly wished to unite the Shiites. At first, many Shiite scholars believed in the merchant who was a man of ascetics and piousness, and who began spreading his message of religious preaching that reached Shah Muhammed Al-Malik who imprisoned him and exiled him to Palestine. In exile, Sheikh Hussein Ali Al-Nuri was the closest person to “Al-Bab”, and prior to his death, Ali Al-Nuri, who was known as Baha’ullah, terminated his pledge of allegiance. However, following the death of “Al-Bab”, Mirza Baha’a Eddine said that Baha’ullah was the prophet whom Al-Bab was preaching his arrival. With this, the Baha’i Faith started to spread worldwide around the year 1844. From an anthropological point of view however, I believe that the Baha’i faith is a spiritual, moral and worldly faith. It is a collective phenomenon, even though it appears as an individual one on the level of applying worshipful rites and rituals. I went back to the origins of the Baha’i faith in history for a simple reason that arrest, exile, marginalization, exclusion and deprivation, which might be contained in the security approach of the Moroccan state, are all unavailing practices. Furthermore, through the implementation of these practices, the Moroccan government was encouraging this faith rather than banning it because if it were not for imprisonment and exile, “Al-Bab” would not have been able to spread his missionary message. In other words, the Baha’i faith was a belief, and if it were not for the imprisonment and exile of Sheikh Hussein Al-Nuri, the founder of the Baha’i faith and assumed prophet, the Baha’i faith would not have advanced from the state of belief to a faith. In addition, the Baha’i faith is an inconsistent faith that is tarnished with many deficiencies, even on the very sacred level. for that reason, dialogue is more appropriate than arrest and trial. Therefore, the state security approach towards the Baha’i faith and towards the Shiites and religious and sectarian pluralism in Morocco reflects the collapse of the state’s credentials and its fear from freedom of belief and thought, because as I mentioned earlier, the constitutional and popular basis of the Maliki regime is the Suni Maliki Islam, and this fear is unjustifiable.

    I do not believe that Moroccans, even if they were not that committed to religion, will leave Islam to embrace the Baha
    ’i faith or Shiite denomination for the simple reason that if Islam does not establish the religious and spiritual sanction among some people, these people will not find it in other religions, whether in the heavenly monotheistic ones, or in an earthly religion whose assumed prophet and messenger turned out to be a lunatic, and the leadership of the Baha’is was succeeded by his son Abbas. We are confronted with a pure earthly religion that can be represented in a corner to a certain extent, even if the referential background is different. This is the same fear that other Arab countries have, such as Egypt for example. And we all know Abdul Nasser’s position when it concerns the Baha’is, as well as the position of Husni Mubarak and even that of Al-Azhar, which considers the Baha’i faith heresy and Zionist, especially because it forbids the killing of Israelis and does not believe in jihad.

  • To which degree does this belief exist in Morocco?
  • As I said in the beginning, Baha’i Faith developed from the stage of belief to the stage of religion. It developed from the preparatory stage to the stage of expansion or the spread of it message. Of course, I discussed earlier the religious theoretical basis of the Baha’i faith, which is a disputable basis. We also agreed that the Baha’i faith is an earthly one that refers back to the ascetic will of Sheikh Muhammad Ali Al-Bab who wanted to spread love and morality among the people.

    From an anthropological point of view, it is a religion that does not believe in the heavenly world or heaven and hell. In other words, it lost its spiritual basis represented in justice, and with the absence of justice on earth, there is continuous thinking that the heavenly world will punish and penalize, and with the absence of punishment and penalization, every religion loses its basis and becomes only thoughts that mankind finds difficult to follow and strongly believe in. Certainly, there are always exceptions in sociological phenomena, but to say that the Baha’i faith is spreading in Morocco and causing danger is just inadmissible talk that lacks stern objectivity.

    In the absence of official statistics for the Moroccan state, which consider all things related to belief and thinking, apart from the paradigms that I provided, as state secrets, and based on the figures provided by the US Department of State that estimated the population of Baha’is in Morocco between 350 to 400 citizens, I think that even if we believed in those figures, this number does not represent any form of danger, not to mention that the basis should be freedom of belief, thinking and expression. In other words, whether this figure is big or small, it should not form a problem. Surely, this is the rightful basis, but as you know, on the popular and constitutional level, the matter is otherwise.

  • How can you mobilize militants?
  • Whether militants or citizens, members are considered equal since they are Moroccan citizens who belong to the same cultural and social echelon. In other words, a militant, even on the level of his rank, is not very different from a citizen, and the intellectual formation of a militant might be at the outreach of some who wish to spread their doctrines and beliefs, especially among low ranked militants or soldiers who live under extremely difficult and harsh circumstances. From this social starting point, and as a result of their devastating circumstances, it becomes easy for these militants to turn to all extremist groups on the financial and moral level, and it becomes easy to mobilize them. This is when it becomes important for the military institution to reexamine the mental and intellectual formation of Moroccan soldiers and tend to their socioeconomic needs. This however, does not form any danger, taking into consideration that the Baha’is do not believe in jihad and war in the first place, but it could be dangerous when it comes to descendants of jihad groups.

  • What are the ways to promote the Baha’i faith in Morocco?
  • The Baha’i concept has become widespread worldwide. It is enough to know that millions of people embrace this faith, which has semi-official presence on level of the United Nations, as well as presence in congregations and international religious conferences, and in several Internet sites and blogs. Therefore, the promotion of the Baha’i faith in Morocco either takes place directly through relations and direct contact between friends and companions, or through virtual promotion using the Internet, which is a decent form of promotion and a presence that does not form a manifestation in the deep sense of the word. In addition, the absence of extensive press related studies and investigations, places every discourse about the subject matter in a position of speculation. There is certainly a presence for Baha’is in Morocco as there is presence for many other beliefs and religions. But all this presence is natural due to the fact that Morocco is not disconnected or separated from the rest of the world. As for institutionalized and systematic promotion, it does not at all exist, and I can assure you that all channels of promotion in Morocco are until today virtual over the Internet, with the exception of direct encounters or hand to hand and mouth to ear promotions.

  • How credible is the American report?
  • A careful reading of the American report, which was issued by the US Department of State, calls for many questions, among them the Department’s method of collecting data about Baha’is at a time when figures are not available at the Moroccan Ministry of Interior. This is what seems official at least, especially since opinions and beliefs that fall outside the boundaries of Muslim consensus in Morocco are considered issues of major sensitivity and they remain under the seal of secrecy or undisclosed, and revealing the undisclosed requires extensive studying, research and fact finding. So how did the US Department of State come up with these figures? And although it was uncertain, it still claimed that the number of Baha’is in Morocco is between 350 and 400 citizens.

    By always referring to the report, we discover it mentioning that the Baha’is occupy public positions and they continue to fear for their lives. In the same report, we discover that the Baha’is do not declare their beliefs or disclose their Baha’i faith, and remains a confidential matter. Do you agree with me on the huge contradiction in the report? How did the intelligence pertaining to the US Department of State come up with these figures when it claims that Baha’is do not disclose their faith? In the same manner, the report stated that the Shiite presence is a form of danger on the stability of the country. I believe that the arrangements and agenda of the United States have nothing at all to do with objectivity, and they are political in the first degree.

    Debater: Jamal Al-Khanusi

    Al-Sabah Moroccan Newspaper, 18 April, 2009