Monday, March 30, 2009

A Visit to Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains

I know that the latest news out of Morocco is the expulsion of five Christian missionaries from the country. But anyone who has lived in Morocco with their eyes open knows that this is not news. On a good day, I could round up fifty Christian missionaries studying Arabic in Fes alone. This latest hubbub is just a way to justify cracking down on Shia missionaries, the Moroccan government has to look "fair."

Anyway, how about a little trip to the Atlas Mountains? This link is to a short, well done video article about a trip to Toubkal that was done for the New York Times a few years ago but is worth the watch.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

May God Have Mercy on AbdelKebir Khatibi: The Passing of a Great Moroccan Intellectual

I know that I am late with this news, but it still touched me and I wanted to acknowledge the passing of AbdelKebir Khatibi more than a week ago in Morocco.
I first read his book, Love in Two Languages, more than ten years ago while living in Rabat.

Here are a few links to the news about his life and death. This one is about the royal condolence Khatibi's family received from the king of Morocco.

The following is from the Maghreb Arab Presse, the official Moroccan news agency:

Abdelkebir Khatibi dies at 71

Rabat - Moroccan writer, sociologist, and university scholar, Abdelkebir Khatibi, died early Monday at the age of 71 from heart complications in a Rabat hospital.

Born in the Atlantic city of el-Jadida in 1938, Khatibi studied sociology in Sorbonne University, France.

He held a number of academic positions including professor in the University of Mohammed V, Rabat, director of the former “sociology institute of Rabat”, and director of the University Institute of Scientific Research.

Khatibi was also a novelist and poet, with special focus on Maghreban literature. He wrote a number of books, notably "La Mémoire tatouée",1971 (Tattooed Memory), "L'Art calligraphique arabe", 1976 (The Arab Calligraphic Art) and "Le Roman maghrébin", 1979 (Maghreban Novel).

Late Khatibi was awarded several international prizes, including the "Grand Printemps" by the l'Association française "hommes de letters", and the award of literature by the second Lazio Festival for Europe and the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Morocco Therapy - the Cure for the Economy's Effect on Tourism

First, I must just say that this website is hilarious:

Second, if you want to read about how the site is part of a plan by the Moroccan government to recover slacking tourist dollars, read this article that appeared in the Times Online:

March 18, 2009
Travel crisis 2009: Morocco launches late deals website
The North African country is the first to respond to the downturn in travel with deals and offers in a new campaign
This picture was taken on holiday in Morocco in September of this year
Steve Keenan

Morocco has become the first country to face up to the collapse in travel bookings and launch a website aimed at reviving its tourism economy.

The country's tourism bosses have collected deals and offers from 30 holiday companies and will launch its new website later today.

It is a mix of discounts and offers, including free spa treatments, transfers and hotel nights. But headline offers include a week in Agadir for £419, or three nights in a five-star hotel in Marrakesh for £359.

The move comes after Morocco reported a decline of 15 per cent in British travellers in January over the same month last year.

While bad, the figure is less significant than Spain, which reported a drop of 20 per cent - or 148,000 - British travellers in the same month.

It is a story being repeated throughout the Mediterranean as Britons save their money or resist booking a summer holiday until much closer their departure date.

This week the CAA reported that the number of Britons taking flights fell last year for the first time since 1991 - a trend that sharply accelerated in the last three months of 2008.

This year is set to be even worse for overseas travel, prompting the move by Morocco - an initiative sure to be followed by other countries in the next few weeks.

The Moroccan Tourist Board is spending £2m on an advertising campaign in Britain as well as launching the website. "No-one can tell what the future is looking like - it is very hard to predict," said Aziz Mnii, deputy director of the UK office.

"This is a crisis campaign - we want to put Morocco upfront of people thinking of which destination to visit."

Morocco will be boosted by the launch next month of a new airline operating flights from Gatwick, Times Online can reveal. Air Arabia Morocco will start five flights a week to Casablanca, with plans to operate to Marrekesh later this year.

The country's state airline, Royal Air Maroc, will also create a new premium economy class on its flights from Gatwick to Marrakesh next month.

The need for new air services is imperative after the sale of GB Airways to easyJet last year, and a subsequent scaling back of flights.

The crisis is hightened further by the planned opening of a series of new top-end resorts in Morocco in 2009, the first of which open on the Med coast and south of Casablanca in June.

Ali El Kasmi, director of the UK tourist office, said Morocco hoped to pick up British tourists who might otherwise head for long-haul destinations such as the Caribbean or Indian Ocean.

"We will change the offers and deals every week," he told Times Online. "We will start with 15 tour operators but can put up to 300 deals on the website. We plan the site to run for six months but can also extend it if necessary."

The initiative won support from Doug Mathieson, who runs the Morocco programme for Cadogan Holidays, a long-time supporter of the country. "Morocco is leading the way - it would be good for others to respond in the same vein, particularly the Spanish islands."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Morocco and Iran, Politics and Sunni/Shia Tug of Faith

There seems to be a lot of chatter out there about the recent political developments between Morocco and Iran. The following is an article by Reuters Africa, it seems as if an underlying issue to the political war of words is the reality of Iranian backed Shi'ite proselytization in Morocco. I don't understand why this would bother the Moroccan government so much when it is virtually silent about Christian proselytization in the country which is certainly more intense.


Morocco cuts ties with Iran over Bahrain

By Lamine Ghanmi

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco has cut diplomatic links with Iran, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said Friday, after an outcry in the Sunni Muslim world over a statement by an Iranian official questioning Sunni-ruled Bahrain's sovereignty.

Rabat also criticized Iran for its efforts to spread its Shi'ite brand of Islam in Morocco, a move the ministry said it saw as threat to the North African country's moderate Sunni religious identity.

"The Kingdom of Morocco has decided to break its diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran beginning this Friday," the ministry said.

Sunni scholars in Morocco and elsewhere have denounced what they see as Iran's efforts to convert Sunni Muslims to Shi'ism, arguing the drive would create strife similar to the often bloody Shi'ite-Sunni divides in Iraq and Pakistan.

According to media reports, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said last month Shi'ite Iran had sovereignty over Bahrain.

In response Morocco's King Mohammed sent the Bahraini monarch, King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, a message of support, calling the Iranian remarks "absurd" and a contradiction of international law.

Iran says its relations with Bahrain are based on mutual respect and denies having claims over the island, which has a sizeable Shi'ite population.

On February 25, Rabat recalled its envoy to Iran to protest what Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri said was "inappropriate language" directed against Morocco in a communique reported by the Iranian news agency IRNA.

Morocco had asked Tehran for an explanation as to why it had singled out Rabat in the statement but Iran ignored the request made one week ago, the ministry added in a statement.

The foreign ministry said this was "unacceptable" and accused Iranian representatives in Morocco of seeking to alter "the kingdom's religious fundamentals," it said in reference to Iran's alleged state-backed drive to expand Shi'ism in Morocco.


Religion is a highly sensitive issue in Morocco because King Mohamed is the only Islamic leader who jointly holds the title of Amir al Mouminine (Commander of the Faithful) and head of the state.

The ministry said efforts by Iran to spread Shi'ite Islam threatened Morocco's Islamic unity and its identity built from the foundations of the moderate Sunni Malekite faith.

"This kind of organised and sustained actions constitute an intolerable interference in the kingdom's domestic affairs and are contrary to the rules and ethics of diplomatic action," the ministry said.

Morocco, which enjoyed warm ties with Iran under the Shah until he was deposed in 1979, only normalised its relations with Iran by exchanging envoys in the late 1990s.

The government has always been concerned over Iran's role in the Sunni world since its Shi'ite Islamic revolution toppled the monarchy in Tehran.

Religious figures have warned of what they call the menace against the country's spiritual security by Shi'ite conversion among Morocco's 30 million people.

Political sources in Morocco say Shi'ite activists numbered several hundreds but they were making steady progress because of the popularity of radical Islamic groups backed by Iran like Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

(Editing by Dominic Evans)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sufism as Youth Culture in Morocco

This is an interesting commentary on Sufism amongst Moroccan youth from The Washington Post/Newsweek On Faith Blog, I think that it may go a little to far in trying to make everything seem so "peaceful" and " progressive." As in Sufi = Good Muslim and non-Sufi = Better watch out. But it is a good read none the less.

Sufism as Youth Culture in Morocco

Morocco owes its image of a modern Muslim nation to Sufism, a spiritual and tolerant Islamic tradition that goes back to the first generations of Muslims and has sustained the religious, social and cultural cohesion of Moroccan society for centuries. Sufism provides answers to some of the most complex issues in the contemporary Muslim world, where youth comprise the majority of the population.

Most Moroccans, young or old, practice one form of Sufism or another. As a deep component of the Moroccan identity, Sufism absorbs all members of society, regardless of age, gender, social status or political orientation.

Moroccan youth are increasingly drawn to Sufism because of its tolerance, its fluid interpretation of the Qur'an, its rejection of fanaticism and its embrace of modernity. Young men and women find in the Sufi principles of "beauty" and "humanity" a balanced lifestyle that allows them to enjoy arts, music and love without having to abandon their spiritual and religious obligations.

Sufi orders exist throughout Morocco. They organize regular gatherings to pray, chant and debate timely topics of social and political importance, ranging from the protection of the environment and social charity to the war on drugs and the threat of terrorism.

Moreover, Sufi gatherings inspire young people to engage in interfaith dialogue, highlighting the universal values Islam shares with Christianity and Judaism - such as the pursuit of happiness, love of one's family, tolerance of racial and religious differences, and the promotion of peace.

Combined, Sufi seminars, chants and trances provide millions of Moroccans with a social medium where the fusion of the sacred and the secular, the soul and the body, and the local and the universal is both possible and enjoyable.

I recently asked Ahmed Kostas, an expert on Sufism and director at the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs in Rabat, why this old spiritual tradition is so popular among modern youth.

"Progress and change," he noted, "are basic tenets of Sufi philosophy."

Sufis distance themselves from fundamentalists, whose vision of Islam is a strict and Utopian emulation of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, by placing great emphasis on the community's adaptation to the concerns and priorities of modern times. Sufis neither condemn unveiled women nor censure modern means of entertainment. For them, the difference between virtue and vice is determined on the basis of intent, not appearances.

Sufism is so diffuse in Moroccan culture that its role cannot be properly understood if reduced to a sect or shrine; it pervades even those musical trends labeled as "modern" or "Western." Rai, as well as Moroccan versions of hip hop and rap, may seem too earthly or too sensual to be associated with Sufism, yet they draw on Sufi poetry to sing the primordial essence of the human body, the virtues of simplicity, and the healing gifts of Sufi saints, such as Sidi Abderrahman Majdub, Sidi Ahmed Tijani, and Sidi Boumediene-spiritual masters revered by their peers and disciples for having attained spiritual union with God during their earthly lives.

The impact of Sufism on youth culture is more explicit in the lyrics of the urban band Nass Al Ghiwan and the Saharan Gnawa musicians. These two groups have profoundly shaped Moroccan popular music since the 1970s. Ghiwan songs, informed by the hippie style of bands like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, inspire many listeners to a physical response called shatha, a Sufi word that Moroccans use for modern dance.

Gnawa musicians, the descendants of African slaves brought to Morocco between the 12th and 17th centuries, produce a similar effect. Their music is a mix of religious lyrics deeply rooted in the oral tradition of sub-Saharan Africa and melancholic melodies reminiscent of American jazz and blues. The Gnawa performance centers on a spinning body and a high-pitched voice, rhyming poetic verses with Sufi chants in Arabic such as "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger." These same words are terrifying when they come from the mouth of the terrorist, but lift the soul when they are sung by pious Muslims, Gnawa and other Sufi-inspired musicians.

Even Fnaire, the most recent hip hop band from Marrakech, identifies itself as a blend of Moroccan Sufi tradition and American rap.

In addition to Moroccans, thousands of young men and women from Europe, America and Africa flock to sacred music festivals organized every summer by Sufi movements throughout Morocco, to sing and celebrate their enthusiasm for life and their commitment to the universal values of peace. The scene at these festivals completely refutes the kind of image that extremists seek to convey to Muslim youth.

It is this fusion of Sufism and modernity that produces a unique aesthetic experience, which is attractive to Moroccan youth who reject extremism and uphold values of a shared humanity.

Mokhtar Ghambou is professor of Postcolonial Studies at Yale University. He is also the founder and president of the American Moroccan Institute (AMI). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).