In a fiery sermon last month, an influential state-appointed
cleric declared it a sin for women to work. He condemned the
"intermingling of sexes in civil services" and chastised the
"scantily dressed women" on Moroccan beaches.
The sermon at Morocco's largest and most prestigious mosque has
sparked a war of words between modernists and Islamists as Morocco
tries to modernize without isolating its conservative religious base
or emboldening a growing number of radical Islamists.
"The problem is that there is a discrepancy between the official
religious speech and the popular speech of the Islamists," says
Islam specialist Mohamed Darif, noting that Moroccan authorities
have vowed to rein in radical clerics and revise religious rhetoric
to spread a more moderate Islam.
The growing popularity of ultraconservative Islam has the
government worried that moderate Islam is slowly losing ground to
radical Wahhabism, which many fear could turn Morocco into a
breeding ground for terrorists.The spreadof radical Islam also makes
it more difficult to institute modern reforms, such as implementing
the country's relatively new women's rights law.
Last week in Spain, an antiterrorism judge testified that there
are more than 100 Al Qaeda links in Morocco that pose a profound
threat to Europe. Many of the suspects jailed in connection with the
March 11 train bombings in Madrid are Moroccan.
In recent years, the Internet and satellite TV have made it
possible to package and sell to a broader audience the austere
theories of foreign Wahhabi clerics like Hassan Yacoubi, Youssef al-
Qardawi, and Moroccan and Saudi-educated Omar al-Qazabri. In
response, Moroccan authorities are trying new tacks to clamp down on
The Ulema Councils, which have always been a tool to legitimize
the religious status of the king, have been reorganized to spread
the government-approved version of Islam among Moroccans and to put
the country's 32,000 mosques - which are both state-controlled and
privately funded - under tight scrutiny.
In a speech last April before the country's most renowned ulemas,
King Mohamed VI vowed to "revamp the domain of religious affairs in
order to shield Morocco against the perils of extremism and
The newly appointed Ulema Councils are expected "to protect
[Moroccans'] faith and minds against those who have strayed and
those who distort the truth," the king said. It will nonetheless
take years to educate the state's clerics to effectively counter the
rise of conservative clerics.
Indeed, "rebellious" clerics were drawing crowds, attracting
people away from state-controlled mosques. …