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Sunday, February 22, 2015

A (Syrian) Shaykh in Exile in Morocco

Here is a piece that originally appeared in the French language magazine Tel Quel.  A translated English version appeared on the Sacred Knowledge website.  Its about Shaykh Mohamed Al-Yaqoubi a Syrian religious scholar who has sought refuge in Morocco during these tumultuous times.
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Mohamed Al Yaqoubi, un cheikh en exil

Umayyad mosque in pre-war Damascus, Syria
Original French article by Jules Crétois

Rabat has become home to a scholar from Syria who was forced to flee his country in 2011, following his opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And whilst he remains active and influential on the Syrian scene, this public personality from the Prophetic line, is a more discreet figure these days.


As soon as the door of the small villa opened, fashioned in a classic Rabatie style, the strong fragrance of Oud could be smelt. It emanated from Shaykh Muhammad Abu’l Huda Al-Yaqoubi, a major figure in the Sunni world. A spiritual guide and jurist, he heads the Syrian Shadhili Sufi Order - an order which is one of the largest and most influential in the world, both in terms of its size and with respect to its history. The Shaykh, with his smart turban, pale complexion, red-white beard, and blue eyes, alternates between “I” and “we” with majesty. Befitting for an order tracing its lineage directly to the Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him] through his grandson Hassan Ibn Ali. With absolutely exquisite politeness, he apologises for the thousands of religious books stacked from floor to ceiling: “I just had them delivered; I did not have time to put them in order.”


"I feel good here"

"I feel very good here, the country where I have roots. I am a descendant of Moulay Idris, founder of Fez”, clarifies this scholar, now in his early fifties, whose ancestors migrated some 150 years ago from Morocco to Algeria, eventually settling in Syria. He himself was forced to make a journey in the opposite direction in 2011, escaping the regime of Bashar al-Assad. With his newfound life in Morocco, he continues to devote his energies towards the religion. When we meet he had just returned from Taounate, where he had led an evening Mawlid gathering. His eyes light up at the mention of that night. As they do when he remembers some of the meetings he had with Ahmed Toufiq, Minister of Endowments; who is himself a Sufi; Shaykh Hamza, the Spiritual Master of the Boutchichi Order; but also King Mohammed VI, to whom he addressed on one Ramadan evening in 2012, the subject of differences between fatwa [legal opinion] and qada [law].
 
FULL ARTICLE
 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Islamic Geometric Design Heritage - Part of the Beauty of Morocco

Here is a piece from the Guardian on the geometric designs developed by Muslim artists/mathematicians and common in various forms throughout North Africa and the Middle East. These designs are part of  the beauty of Morocco. 
There is a step by step tutorial in the article if you're interested.

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credit: Fabos, wikimedia commons

Muslim rule and compass: the magic of Islamic geometric design





To paraphrase Monty Python, what has Islam ever done for us? You know, apart from the algebra, the trigonometry, the optics, the astronomy and the many other scientific advances and inventions of the Islamic Golden Age.

Well, if you like art and interiors, there’s always the stunning patterns that grace mosques, madrasas and palaces around the world.

Islamic craftsmen and artists – who were prohibited from making representations of people in holy sites – developed an instantly recognizable aesthetic based on repeated geometrical shapes.

The mathematical elegance of these designs is that no matter how elaborate they are, they are always based on grids constructed using only a ruler and a pair of compasses.

Islamic design is based on Greek geometry, which teaches us that starting with very basic assumptions, we can build up a remarkable number of proofs about shapes. Islamic patterns provide a visual confirmation of the complexity that can be achieved with such simple tools.
Dust off your old geometry set, and let’s see how.

FULL ARTICLE

Monday, January 12, 2015

Wonderful Moroccan Literature

We didn't notice this piece when it first appeared a few months ago in the Independent. But its not too late to appreciate now.
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The wonders
of Moroccan literature


Boyd Tonkin
Thursday 02 October 2014


Most visitors to Marrakesh know the name of the lovely 12th-century mosque whose minaret towers over the old city: Koutoubia.

Those with a smattering of Arabic, or the curiosity to ask, will be aware that – in honour of the dozens of stalls that once crowded around it – this is the Mosque of the Booksellers. And this most literary of minarets looks out over the glorious gardens of La Mamounia – the hotel where Winston Churchill, a regular guest, found his own kind of paradise.

In addition to its fame as a celebrity retreat, La Mamounia now sponsors a literary prize: not a ceremonial bauble, but a scrupulously judged award for Moroccan fiction in the French language that gives almost £15,000 to the winner. This year’s jury, headed by the Casablanca-born writer Christine Orban, included both the bestselling American in Paris (and Independent contributor) Douglas Kennedy, and that genial dynamo of the francophone literary scene in Africa: Alain Mabanckou, the French Congolese novelist whose Broken Glass was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

I thought of Mabanckou’s tragi-comic heroes – aspiring, educated Africans who still find doors slammed in their faces both at home and abroad – when I read the winner of the fifth La Mamounia prize. To readers who imagine that contemporary fiction from the Arab world must always dwell on the region’s intersecting crises of war, power and faith, Le Job by Réda Dalil might come as a jolt. Thrown out of work by the sub-prime meltdown of 2008, 30-year-old financial whizz-kid Ghali finds himself on the slide and on the skids in Casablanca – the sprawling metropolis whose stories fuel so much Moroccan fiction. In this teeming city of both “filth” and “brilliance”, Ghali the ejected ex-yuppie plunges fast into the abyss. Pretty soon he finds that “500 dirhams [£36] separated me from social euthanasia”.

We’re close here to the hectic mood, and style, of a Jay McInerney or a Bret Easton Ellis. British readers might catch a whiff of younger Martin Amis. In a series of comic but mortifying misadventures, downwardly-mobile Ghali faces “the extinction of dignity”. Meanwhile, the escape sought by best friend Ali – also out of work, but with a wife and daughter – highlights another aspect of the choices that ambitious but precarious young people face across the Arab lands. Despite his lack of any conspicuous piety, he opts to travel to Saudi Arabia to train as an imam: generous stipend guaranteed.
FULL ARTICLE 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Art Exhibits on Medieval and Contemporary Morocco in Paris

Here is a piece from  Al-Ahram on two exhibits, one on medieval Morocco at the Louvre and the other on contemporary Moroccan art and culture taking place at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris.
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Morocco comes to Paris

by David Tresilian

PARIS - The late king Hassan II of Morocco is reported to have said that his country was something like a tree “with its roots in Africa and its branches in Europe.” Visitors to the French capital will find that it is Morocco’s European branches that are in the spotlight this autumn, with a major show on the kingdom’s mediaeval history taking over the temporary exhibition spaces at the Louvre and an intriguing exhibition of contemporary Moroccan art and culture occupying most of the Institut du monde arabe a short distance away in the seventh arrondissement.

Both exhibitions are jointly sponsored by the French and Moroccan authorities, with king Mohammed VI of Morocco giving his patronage to both. While the Louvre show is an ideal opportunity for visitors to remind themselves of Morocco’s sometimes complicated mediaeval history, presented with the museum’s customary curatorial scholarship and savoir-faire, the exhibition at the Institut du monde arabe is more surprising, perhaps even edgy in its choice of works on show. Both have been drawing large and appreciative audiences, raising Morocco’s European profile and contributing to knowledge of the country abroad.

The Louvre show, opening on 17 October, presents visitors with artifacts illustrating Morocco’s early history from the conversion of the country to Islam in the 8th century CE to the fall of the ruling Marinid Dynasty some seven centuries later. It is the first major exhibition on the Muslim world to have been held at the Louvre since the opening of the museum’s department of Islamic art two years ago (reviewed in the Weekly in September 2012), and according to curators Yannick Lintz, Claire Delery and Bulle Tuil-Leonetti it is intended to serve as a manifesto piece for other exhibitions to follow.

The idea behind the show, the curators comment, is to allow visitors to “find out more about the art and culture that a particular area was producing during a specific period of time, in this case the area between Africa and Europe over a period of five centuries from the 10th to the 15th centuries CE. This period corresponds to the Middle Ages in western Europe, and the centre of this area was Morocco and the great cities of Fes, Marrakech and Rabat that were founded at this time along with the Spanish cities of Cordoba and Seville that were embellished by the Moroccan ruling dynasties.”


FULL ARTICLE

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Moor's Account - a new book about a Moroccan explorer of the Americas

Lala Laila Lalami has penned a new piece of historical fiction. Her new book is entitled The Moor's Account and deals with the story of the life of a Moroccan Berber who visited America in the 1500s  (We've mentioned him earlier on this blog - see the tag "Esteban of Azemmour.")
Here is a link to her discussing the book on NPR.  And here is a New York Times article about the book.

Happy Reading!
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His Manifest Destiny
‘The Moor’s Account,’ by Laila Lalami

By JEFFERY RENARD ALLEN SEPT. 5, 2014
credit: cmems.stanford.edu

In 1527, the Castilian conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez and a crew of 600 men sailed from Spain to the Gulf Coast of the United States to claim “La Florida” for the Spanish crown. Laila Lalami recounts the voyage — and its brutal aftermath — in her new novel, “The Moor’s Account,” from the perspective of Estebanico, a ­Moroccan slave of one of the explorers. It’s a fictional memoir, told in a controlled voice that feels at once historical and contemporary, that seeks to offer a truer account of the expedition than the official (and hopelessly biased) version of events provided by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of the other three survivors.

It quickly becomes apparent that a strong moralistic impulse drives the story. Crossing “the Ocean of Fog and Darkness” and arriving in America, the conquistadors suffer biblical afflictions in the form of unbearable heat and hordes of mosquitoes. Disease does away with a good number of them, as do the Indians, who take the remaining men captive.

But Lalami is far more interested in what happens to the men after they escape and make their way from Florida to Mexico, bearing witness to wondrous terrain and tribal people. Here we see the previously untold history of the black man as explorer, and an explorer cut from a different cloth.

FULL ARTICLE 


Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 Population Census Underway in Morocco

There is a lot of energy around the national census in Morocco which began a few days ago. The government has said that they will release the results by the end of the year. Moroccotribune.com reports that the ads encouraging participation began early. The motto is "the value of our country is in its people." 
Here
 is part of what the High Commissioner of Planning has to say about the census (in French) in an interview with the periodical Finances News Hebdo:
There aren't many write-ups in English yet.
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Finances News Hebdo : Quel est le rôle assigné au HCP dans cette opération de grande envergure qu’est le recensement ?


Ahmed Lahlimi Alami : En vertu du décret du 30 août 2004, la réalisation du Recensement général de la population et de l’habitat (RGPH) relève conjointement du ministère de l’Intérieur et du Haut commissariat au plan (HCP). En fait, la définition du cadre conceptuel, méthodologique et technique de la préparation et de l’exécution du recensement ainsi que l’exploitation et la diffusion de ses optimale des ressources humaines dans le délai des 20 jours prévus de l’opération stricto sensu de recensement. Par ailleurs, le HCP doit assurer la conception et la mise en oeuvre des modules de formation du personnel chargé de la collecte des données auprès des ménages ainsi que celle des contrôleurs et des superviseurs qui auront à en assurer l’encadrement technique. Lors de la dernière phase du RGPH, le HCP aura diffusion des résultats.

Bien entendu, le recensement est une opération qui se déroule sur le terrain et implique d’identifier et de mobiliser non seulement les moyens humains mais aussi matériels et logistiques en termes de transport, de stockage et de sécurité des question­naires, etc. Dans l’exécution concrète du recense­ment, le rôle des autorités relevant du ministère de l’Intérieur, au niveau de toutes les unités territo­riales, revêt, comme vous pouvez l’imaginer, une dimension essentielle. Aussi, procède-t-on par la mise en place, sous la responsabilité conjointe des walis et gouverneurs et des directeurs régionaux du HCP, d’une unité opérationnelle de gestion et de suivi dont dépend, en définitive, la bonne conduite sur le terrain du RGPH, dans les délais requis.


F.N.H. : Quels sont les moyens techniques et logistiques qui seront mobilisés par le HCP pour une exploitation des données en un temps record ?

A. L. A. : Dans la phase préparatoire, entre juin 2012 et le 31 décembre 2013, les travaux cartographiques avaient pour but de délimiter les unités de base de collecte des données du recensement, dites «districts», au nombre, faut-il le rappeler, de 48.000. A cet effet, les cartes numériques établies grâce au Système d’information géogra­phique (SIG) en usage au HCP depuis une dizaine d’années déjà, ont été couplées d'images satellitaires de très haute résolution donnant de chaque district une image fidèle de sa consistance en termes de géographie physique, éco­nomique et humaine. Ceci va permettre aux recenseurs chargés de la collecte de l’information auprès des populations, quelle que soit la localisation des lieux de résidence de ces dernières et des difficultés d’y accéder, d’opérer, sans oubli ni débordement, dans les strictes limites du district dont ils ont la charge.


Par ailleurs, pour l’exploitation des données collectées au cours du recensement, nous recourrons à nouveau, comme en 2004, à la Lecture auto­matique des documents (LAD). Cette technique, comme vous le savez, a permis, pour la première fois au Maroc, d’exploiter d’une façon exhaustive tous les questionnaires, de publier en moins de 2 mois la population légale et de disposer, dans un délai de l’ordre de 6 mois, des principales informa­tions sur les niveaux de développement humain et les conditions de vie de la population marocaine.
 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Morocco' s new vocational high school degrees (baccalaureate)

Here is a piece from Magharebia on the new vocational baccalaureates launched in Morocco.
Its too bad, information science  or library science wasn't considered because there is definitely a need for it.
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Morocco launches vocational baccalaureate

By Siham Ali in Rabat for Magharebia – 23/07/2014

Beginning this September, Moroccan high school students will be able to choose a baccalaureate tailored to the job market.

Degrees will be offered in industrial maintenance, mechanical and industrial engineering, the aircraft industry and agricultural management.

The new school year will also see a bac in Spanish, and three schools in Rabat, Casablanca and Tangier will also offer accredited classes for a baccalaureate in English.

The new degrees are designed to deliver employment options and open up Morocco to the global economy, according to Education and Vocational Training Minister Rachid Belmokhtar.

The training aims to ease young peoples' transition from school to work, "especially as the business areas covered by the degrees are growth areas for Morocco", Belmokhtar said July 3rd at the programme's launch event in Rabat.

It will also ease future baccalaureate holders’ integration into the labour market, while still offering them the possibility of pursuing higher level studies, he told government officials and representatives from the General Confederation of Moroccan Businesses (CGEM).

The minister pointed out that the training was set up in response to a request by industries for candidates with a clearly defined set of skills, Belkmokhtar said.
FULL ARTICLE

Friday, May 9, 2014

Journal d’un Prince Banni or Diary of a Banished Prince - A Critical Look at the Moroccan Monarchy

Here is a piece from the NYTimes about the latest book by Prince Moulay Hicham which gives some insight into palace politics and makes a call for real political change in Morocco.
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Morocco’s Rebel Prince Shines Harsh Light on the Kingdom

credit: http://www.my-world-travelguides.com
by Aida Alami

PARIS — He sat in the car, frozen with fear, as gunmen pointed rifles at his pregnant mother in the driver’s seat beside him. They were rushing to the king’s birthday party because they had heard there was a commotion. It was the summer of 1971, and the Moroccan Army killed over 100 party guests in its attempt to overthrow the monarchy. The gunmen spared the pregnant woman and her 7-year-old son. Later that day, the coup failed.

With his monarchy preserved, King Hassan II sharply tightened his grip on his subjects, including his own family.

It was a shift that the 7-year-old, Prince Moulay Hicham El Alaoui, still remembers well. The eldest son of the late King Hassan’s only brother, Moulay Abdellah, he is also the first cousin of King Mohammed VI — making him third in line to the Moroccan throne.

Nicknamed “the Red Prince,” he grew up to become a political activist whose public support for democracy has put him at odds with his family in Morocco. He exiled himself to America and was banned from the presence of the king for advocating a constitutional monarchy, like that in England or Spain.

In a culture where princes are expected to hold their tongues and where family affairs do not leave the palace walls, Prince Moulay Hicham isn’t welcome.

“It’s been traumatizing. I have seen a father destroyed. It is a world where everything is artificial and nothing is genuine,” the prince, now 50, said during an interview at his hotel in Paris. “I am happy to live far away. Instead of having 100 friends, you have five friends, but at least you know that they are here for you.”

In April, he published a new autobiography, “Journal d’un Prince Banni,” or Diary of a Banished Prince, that weaves together a series of vignettes and anecdotes to give readers a rare glimpse into Morocco’s royal family. But it also serves as a harsh political critique of the kingdom from an insider.

The book, which will be translated into English in a few months, details how King Hassan, who died in 1999, constructed an opaque system of rule in which an elite could flout the law with impunity. Though he celebrates the late king’s undeniable grandeur, the prince describes him as an evil genius who brought Morocco onto the world stage. He also gives an intimate view of life inside the palace, growing up among the intrigues, and the mind games between him and his uncle.

FULL ARTICLE

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me, an Award nominated novel by Moroccan writer Youssef Fadel

Here is an article from al-Sharq al-Awsat on the novel  A Rare Blue Bird tht Flies with Me by  Youssef Fadel that was nominated for the 2014 Internationl Prize for Arabic Fiction . It is an interview with the author.
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North African author exposes a dark spot in Morocco’s history

by al-Mustafa Najjar

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—In his latest book, A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me, Moroccan writer Youssef Fadel takes the reader on a vividly imaginative odyssey through a dreary period of Morocco’s history. Fadel’s ninth novel is a fictional testament to the Years of Lead in the 1970s and 1980s, which saw unprecedented levels of government violence against the opposition in Morocco.

Fadel’s handling of this period, on which much ink has already been spilled, is novel in the sense that he employs elements of fantasy and the supernatural. While it is true that it sheds light on government violations in Morocco’s secret prisons, A Rare Blue Bird is awash with what Fadel calls “patriarchal violence”: the “ordinary injustice” practiced outside prison, on the streets, at schools and in families. For Fadel, systematic violence in prison is nothing but an “echo” of that which is perpetrated outside.
Considered by critics as a sequel to A Beautiful White Cat that Walks with Me—a claim Fadel disputes in this interview—Fadel’s most recent novel traces a complex narrative network consisting of six voices. Each of which recounts a different side of the story of Aziz, a pilot whose passion for the open, blue sky lands him in an abysmal jail. Ignorant of Aziz’s whereabouts, his wife, Zina, embarks on an 18-year quest to find the husband she was separated from on her wedding day.
Asharq Al-AwsatA Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me is a delicate title whose poetic aestheticism stands in stark contrast with the cruelty and brutality we see in the novel. What is the relationship between the title and the content of the novel?
Youssef Fadel: The relationship between the title and the novel is similar to that between the protagonist, his past and his future: the pilot, the plane and the bird. [The protagonist] plunges to the bottom, to the nadir of the inferno—the bottom that opens into space. One has no choice but to spread your their and fly; whether in reality or fiction, it makes no difference.
Q: You had a personal experience in prison. Could you tell us about this experience and how it impacted your work as a novelist?
Imprisonment is always a tough experience, particularly at the beginning. Torture and interrogation could take place at any time, day or night. While your body refuses food, your inmate, who happens to come before you, devours your meal ravenously. You do not know where you are or how long you are going to stay, until one day you do not remember when you entered prison. You share with your jailor a mouthful of bread and some passing jokes.
Later, within the extreme confines of the most barbaric manifestations of this human experience, you find out that you can get used to it, and this is the most terrible aspect of the experience. Later on, following your release—having passed all this time—the experience would undoubtedly have an impact somehow. I have never wondered—nor do I find it necessary to—about the way in which my experience in prison has infiltrated my literary career.
FULL ARTICLE