Saturday, January 26, 2013

The New Leader of Morocco's Justice & Spirituality Party

Here is an article, originally from TelQuel that has been translated and republished by alMonitor. It gives an interesting glimpse into the life of Mohamed Abbadi, the new leader of the banned Justice and Spirituality Party,Adl wal Ihsaan(translated as Justice and Charity in the article below) ; although as usual in the media, the language used when discussing "Islamists" is a bit patronizing.

Morocco’s Banned Islamist Party Gets New Leader

By: Mohammed Boudarham Translated from TelQuel (Morocco)
Before Mohamed Abbadi succeeded Abdesslam Yassine as head of the Justice and Charity Association (JCA), he endured extensive trials and tribulations. But who is he? And how much influence does he have within the movement?

On Jan. 1, Abbadi, who is in his sixties, moved out of his home in Oujda’s ​​Beni Khairane neighborhood. He bid farewell to his neighbors and to the huge crowd that came to greet him. This iconic Islamic jurist from Morocco’s Oriental region moved to Rabat to perform his new duties.

A week earlier, JCA’s consultative council had elected Abbadi, who hails from the Moroccan Rif area, as leader. But he did not inherit the title of “supreme guide” from his predecessor Yassine. Instead, Abbadi fills the newly created position of secretary-general. Fathallah Arsalan, JCA's spokesperson, was appointed second-in-command.

“That was done for the sake of continuity, but it also shows that JCA wishes to dissociate preaching from political action,” explains Mohamed Darif, a political scientist and an expert on the movement. JCA’s new chief will follow in Yassine’s footsteps in regards to spiritual affairs, while leaving civilian matters to the political wing. Abbadi fits that profile: he has always been immersed in religion and spirituality.

An encounter with destiny

Abbadi was born in 1949 in a village called Beni Houdayfa in the Al-Hoceima region. His family was of modest means, like most Riffian people at the time. His family moved to Oujda, where the young Abbadi excelled at school. He had the Quran memorized by age 12. He received his baccalaureate in 1970 and followed that with five years of religious studies under the guidance of scholar Benseddik Abdellah, the alter ego of Mokhtar Soussi in the north. Soussi was Yassine’s teacher.

The first shock of Abbadi’s life came while teaching at an institute under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Azemmour. By then he had become an Islamic jurist. The ascetic Abbadi was shocked by how the youth of the city lived. He thought their lifestyle was far removed from Islam. So he turned more radical in his quest to reform the ummah through education and by the words of God and his prophet. After a stint in Safi, where he joined the Ecole Normale Supérieure, he started teaching Arabic and Islam at schools throughout the country at Settat, El-Jadida and Tangier, before returning to Oujda.

In the 1970s, he joined Tariqa Boutchichiya, where he met Yassine, the man who would change his life. “It happened in Marrakech with two other founding members of JCA, Mohamed El-Mellakh and Alaoui Slimani (both deceased),” said a young JCA member. Abbadi and Yassine began an unshakable relationship based on friendship and loyalty. JCA members would describe that relationship as “sohba” — or companionship at the time of the prophet. When Ousrat al-Jamaa (JCA’s name before 1987) was created in 1981, Abbadi was one of its founding members.

The ascetic of Oujda

After his family moved to Oujda, Abbadi earned the respect of all those who knew him. “This is a great man. At Assalam school, even the most difficult students respected him,” recalls one of his former students.

Many townspeople used to come and pray with him at the Tafoghalt mosque, or assist in the conferences he gave at schools and places of worship at Oriental’s capital Oujda. After retiring in the late 1990s, Abbadi was not seen very often. But his home on Zerktouni Avenue (one of Oujda’s main roads) remained open to anyone seeking a religious opinion, especially JCA followers, who used to gather for long sessions reciting the Quran and Awrad (poems praising the prophet).

“He is a man of science who is extremely modest. He immediately puts you at ease. His everyday life does not differ from that of the overwhelming majority of Moroccans,” said Abdelaziz Aftati, deputy from Oujda in parliament and Justice and Development Party (PJD) leader.

“He is a man of great honesty. He is frank and bold,” added Mohamed El-Herd, longtime director of the local newspaper Al-Sharq.

“Like Yassine, he has chosen to live in austerity like the ‘men of science.’ He does not complicate his life nor that of those around him,” said Omar Iharchane, member of the JCA political circle. Men of science is Islamist jargon for those who devote their lives to religious studies and eschew worldly pleasures.

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