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Women inWomen in Morocco: Re-conceptualizing Religious Activism Morocco

Women inWomen in Morocco: Re-conceptualizing Religious Activism Morocco

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Published by Meriem El Haitami
Women, Morocco, Religious Activism
Women, Morocco, Religious Activism

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Published by: Meriem El Haitami on Jan 21, 2014
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ajiss304-special-issue_ajiss 8/7/2013 2:27 PM Page 128
Women in Morocco: Re-conceptualizing
 
Religious Activism
 Meriem El Haitami
Abstract
 The recent political upheavals in the Arab world were marked by women
s significant presence in struggling for democracy alongside men. Muslim women activists in Morocco have particularly gained legitimacy in the context of the Arab Spring, which has brought the Justice and Development conservative political party to power. This has contributed to a shift from the elite liberal state feminism to a more legitimate religious activism. This introduces new spaces for contention, taking into consideration that following the 2003 Casablanca bombings, Morocco has taken a series of measures to absorb the growing momentum of political Islam. One such meas- ure has been to restructure the religious field by means of reforming and controlling the dynamics of religion in Morocco; this was pri- marily marked by the significant entry and deployment of women in the religious field as religious leaders and scholars. These state- trained female religious authorities offer spiritual counseling and religious instruction to different social segments. Therefore, they redefine parameters of religious authority and define a new model of activism that seeks to cultivate collective pious conduct within society and thus contribute to a comprehensive social reform. Therefore, this article explores the dynamics of female religious authority in Morocco in light of the current social and political changes. I examine how these women construct authority as reli- gious leaders and how they endorse the state
s authority to control the dynamics of religion in Morocco and curb the voices of indi- viduals or groups that operate outside of official Islam. I argue that despite the fact that these female religious authorities are viewed as instruments of state propaganda, they are gaining wider legitimacy and contributing greatly to the social welfare of their communities, which makes their
“o
fficial
 entry into the religious domain a serious step toward democracy and positive change. 
Meriem El Haitami is a Ph.D. candidate, Moroccan Cultural Studies Centre, Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah University, Fez, Morocco, as well as a Fulbright Research Scholar (Joint Su-  pervision Program) 2012-2013 at SUNY Binghamton.
 
ajiss304-special-issue_ajiss 8/7/2013 2:27 PM Page 129
El Haitami: Women in Morocco 129 
Contextualizing Female Religious Activism in Morocco
 
The recent political upheavals in the Arab world have led to dramatic changes due to the great discontent of people with their authoritarian regimes. In the Middle East and North Africa, massive populations have chosen Islamic  parties as a substitute for the old corrupt systems. Although Morocco man- aged to survive the Arab Spring, it could not entirely avoid its turmoil. A number of angry protests took place in major cities and were led by the Feb- ruary 20 Movement,
1
which demanded the right to social equality and democracy and showed discontent with prevailing corruption. King Mo- hammed VI responded swiftly by drafting a modified constitution that gar- nered popular support by promising more democracy and the protection of human rights. As a consequence, the moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) won the November 2011 parliamentary elections. In an interview with the
 Jakarta Post 
, Moroccan Ambassador to Indonesia Mo- hamed Majdi said:
“Th
e new constitution enshrines the democratic values of the separation of powers, independent judiciary, freedom of expression, freedom of thought and respect for minorit
ies.”
2
He also added:
“Th
e new constitution also allows for [the] greater political representation of women, enhanced good governance, accountability, respect for human rights and morality in public
life.”
3 
This revolutionary change in Morocco was marked by women
s signifi- cant presence in struggling for democracy alongside men, especially among conservative political groups. For the first time in the country
s history a veiled  political figure, Bassima Hakkaoui, took over the Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family, and Social Development. Although the modified constitution recognizes gender equality and equal political representation for women, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane
s ministerial cabinet included only one female minister. This caused unease among the secular-liberal activists who viewed this as a decline in women
s rights. In an interview with PJD member Iman El-Yaacoubi, she said that the  party
“democraticall
y elects its ministers
and that
“th
e women of the party  participate in these procedures and the appointment of one female minister from our ranks was a democratic choice made by all the members of the party, regardless of gender.
 She added that
“[f]o
r years our party has had the most female representation in parliament which shows the explicit trust the party has in women, but choosing the ministers has to take into account the min- istries the party won and not their gender.
4
 
ajiss304-special-issue_ajiss 8/7/2013 2:27 PM Page 130
130 The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 30:4 
Undoubtedly, Morocco
s Islamist movement recognizes women as equal  political actors. This includes groups that operate within the political system, such as the political party of al-Adala wa Tanmiya (PJD), and others that op- erate outside of it, such as the al-Adl wa al-Ihsan (Justice and Charity) Islamist group. The PJD stems from the Unity and Reform movement, a party that was officially formed in 1998 and became a political force when it won 42 out of  295 seats in the 2002 national legislative elections.
5
The PJD accepts the monarchy
s legitimacy and acts within the state
s political framework. It steers clear of any criticism of the wider political system and focuses on such social issues as corruption, education, and the place of women within society. Al- Adl wa al-Ihsan, an Islamist movement that serves as the main oppositional group, advocates the Islamization of society and the political system and chal- lenges the monarchy
s legitimacy. It was established by Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine in 1987, who had been an active member of the Boutchichi Sufi order,
6
which he left in early 1970s. Both groups advocate gender equality and social justice within an Islamic  paradigm, which allows women greater opportunities for political participation and leadership. As a group that creates an independent religious space to re- define politics, al-Adl sa al-Ihsan considers women to be the cornerstone of any desired change or reform. Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine
s daughter Nadia Yassine exhibits the integral role women play within the group
 – 
 she is not only the spokesperson of the group to the western media, but also the founder and director of the women
s section, which attempts to revive the active role of women in society based on Islamic teachings and suggests re-readings of Islamic texts to counter misogynistic voices. Similarly, the PJD seeks to foster the image of a modern and democratic country based on an Islamic ideal. This is reinforced through women
s increased participation in politics not only as active members, but also as parliamentary representatives, seeking thereby to reflect the image of a modern and moderate Islamic party. But as a response to the growing momentum of political Islam, in its most recent and unprecedented measures the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has en- dorsed women
s presence and authority in the religious sphere through the training of female religious preachers (
murshidāt 
) and scholars (
‘ālimāt 
). Since 2003, women have been participating in the Hasaniyya Ramadan lecture series
7
; they have been assigned significant responsibilities within the Supreme Religious Council as well as local councils, among them offering spiritual counseling and religious instruction to different social segments. This shift to- ward their
“o
fficial
 participation within the religious sphere was prompted  by the May 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca. The tragic magnitude of the

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