Friday, December 18, 2015

"Gradual Kingdom:" NYC Art Exhibit by Meriem Bennani

Here is a piece from the New York Times about an exhibition by Moroccan artist, Meriem Bennani at  Signal gallery entitled Gradual Kingdom.

Credit: Dan McMahon

Meriem Bennani’s ‘Gradual Kingdom’ Focuses on Morocco

DEC. 3, 2015

Meriem Bennani’s first show at Signal, “Gradual Kingdom,” might not be as funny as her other projects, which have appeared on sites like Instagram and included a reality show parody (now under actual development) about a hijab designer whose zany head scarves function as purses or Carmen Miranda-like apparatuses. Instead, this exhibition focuses on her hometown, Rabat, Morocco, and how it fits, sometimes depressingly, into global networks of commerce and real estate.

Near the gallery’s entrance are three rudimentary hologram machines — made out of televisions, glass panels and LEDs — displaying images of filtering sand, drifting rose petals and shattering glass. A narrow, floating staircase attached to one wall is coated with sand and leads nowhere. More sand is in the rear of the gallery, this time a pile with an elongated iPhone sculpture lying on it. Ms. Bennani’s home region has nearly been depleted of sand, which has been exported to build artificial islands in the Middle East and offset erosion at luxury beaches around the world. (The sand here comes from an industrial supplier across the street from the gallery.)


Monday, November 30, 2015

Moroccan cab driver shot in Pittsburgh in Anti-Muslim Hate Crime

Unfortunately, these events are becoming more common. Here is a Washington Post article on the shooting of a Moroccan cab driver in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving day by a man who asked him a lot of questions about his background and disparaged the Prophet Muhammad before shooting the cab driver in the back.

Passenger rants about Islamic State before shooting Muslim taxi driver in back

credit: wikitravel

It began as an ordinary cab ride.

But by the time it was over, the Pittsburgh taxi driver — a 38-year-old Muslim man from Morocco — had a bullet wound in his upper back and was lucky to be alive, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pittsburgh police are investigating the Thanksgiving Day shooting, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is asking for more help: CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has called on the Justice Department to investigate the incident as a hate crime — which, it said, was “similar to a growing number of attacks targeting the nation’s Muslim community following the recent terror attacks in Paris.”

The passenger, according to CAIR, “reportedly began asking the driver about his background, including asking whether he was a ‘Pakistani guy.'” CAIR says the passenger also asked the driver “about the terror group ISIS” and mocked the prophet Muhammad.

The driver, who moved to Pittsburgh from Morocco five years ago, told the Post-Gazette that he is three months away from becoming a U.S. citizen. His plan is to bring his wife to the United States and start a family in the country he considers home.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hikayat Morocco - The Craft of Moroccan Storytelling

Here is an interesting piece from the New Statesman on a master Moroccan storyteller,  Ahmed Ezzarghani and the group of young Moroccans he trains to keep the tradition going.  They are called Hikayat Morocco and their site is here.
Meet the master storyteller keeping Morocco's
oral tradition alive in the internet age

by Lauren Razavi
30 September 2015 

The art of storytelling has been an integral part of Marrakech’s culture for generations. One of the most recognisable symbols of Djemaa el-Fnaa Square, the city’s main thoroughfare, is of animated men performing folk tales; stories about kings, families, lovers and beasts, each one meticulously crafted to educate, entertain and inspire.

But over the past decade, the number of storytellers present in the city has declined significantly. With the advent of new technologies and more lucrative revenue streams, many storytellers have retired from their profession or moved onto something new. For a while, it has seemed as if Moroccan storytelling may be lost completely. One man, however, has been fighting to keep this distinctive tradition alive in the modern world. Hajj Ahmed Ezzarghani is a master storyteller who has spent more than 60 years sharing folk tales as his profession. Now in his seventies, he’s training a new generation – a mix of university students and young professionals – in the skills of the ancient art form.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Letting North Africa be African

The Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and sometimes Mauritania and Libya) doesn't seem to belong anywhere. Instead of celebrating its invigorating mix of peoples and languages, and the heterogeneity of its cultures, it gets penalized for not being Arab enough, or Middle Eastern enough or in the case of the situation discussed in the article we excerpt below, it's not African enough, an accusation tinged with racial and religious biases. Here is a piece from the Guardian by Iman Amrani on the topic. Enjoy!

Why don’t we think of north Africa as part of Africa?

by Iman Amrani
September 9, 2015

When a Guardian article stated that Chigozie Obioma was the “sole African writer” to be longlisted for the 2015 Booker prize, the journalist in question had clearly forgotten there was life north of the Sahara. Thankfully, the Moroccan-born writer Laila Lalami, who was also longlisted, was quick to remind him, tweeting: “I am African. It’s an identity I’m often denied but that I will always insist upon”.

I know Lalami’s frustration well. Every time I have to declare my ethnicity I am reminded that “black African” is seemingly the only category that exists. Being both Algerian and British, I am constantly explaining why I identify as European and African – as though I’m “choosing” to be African, rather than it simply being a fact.

In politics and academia, north African countries are commonly grouped with the Middle East under the umbrella of MENA. In conferences I have been to on “African” issues, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have often had tokenistic representation, if any at all.

But the identity equation isn’t as simple as Arabic speakers equal Arab people. There are still communities across the Maghreb that speak Berber or Amazigh and a dialect called darija that heavily features French and Spanish phrases. Besides, being Arab isn’t an alternative to being African, or even black. Mauritanians and Sudanese can identify as all three at once.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Nuances of Women and Religion in Morocco

Here is an interesting article on women and religion ( i.e. Islam) in Morocco from Open Democracy.


Partners in prayer: women's rights and religion in Morocco

Meriem El Haitami, Shannon Golden, and James Ron
7 July 2015

Human rights ideas are often seen as highly secularized. For many, they are in direct conflict with religion, while for others they are, at best, “awkward bedfellows”. Over the past year, openGlobalRights has run a series of articles on religion and human rights, highlighting these points of convergence and divergence.

Some critics point to alleged Islamic positions on women as particularly problematic, and they portray women as victims of oppressive religious structures or as indoctrinated political subjects. Others point to Islam’s grounding in sacred texts, rather than universal secular humanism, as the problem.

At first glance, the women’s rights movement in Morocco, a highly devout and observant country, seems to highlight this tension. Both Moroccan women’s rights activists and their opponents have framed their debate in “secular versus religious” terms, and both have successfully mobilized widespread public action.

However, our Moroccan Human Rights Perception Polls, based on a 2012 survey of 1,100 adults residing in Rabat, Casablanca and their rural surroundings, suggest that this secular-religious polarization may be an elite-level artifact. Among ordinary people, the issue is more nuanced.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Morocco Says Goodbye to Author and Historian Abdelhadi Tazi 1921-2015

Inna lilahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.
On April 2nd, Si Abdelhadi Tazi (almarhum) returned to his Lord.
He was a prolific Moroccan author and historian. There are few articles about him in English, but  here is a link to his English language wiki.  We still hope to get a copy of his three volume set on the history of the Qarawiyyin mosque-university one day.

The ISESCO website writes:
Dr Abdelhadi Tazi  was described was one of the Muslim world’s eminent historians and academics who maintained a close interest in Morocco’s diplomatic history, publishing a master reference book on this matter. He was also particularly interested in Ibn Battuta’s journey and produced a critical edition offering new and corrected readings in this explorer’s extensive travels. “With the death of Dr Abdelhadi Tazi, the academic community lost one of its prominent figures and a historian who greatly contributed through his scholarly works to the sphere of knowledge,” added Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, the Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO).

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Reconquest of the Mosque of Cordoba - a part of Moroccan Cultural History

 Here is a well written piece on the mosque-cathedral of Cordoba and the tension around Muslims and Islamic history in Spain.  We generally put the opening paragraphs of an article below, but due to the sensitivities of the parent publication, you will have to follow the links for the article. Its well worth it.
credit: Peter Millett

The Reconquista of the Mosque of Córdoba

By Eric Calderwood

Spain’s most famous mosque is at the center of a dispute between activists seeking to preserve its Muslim heritage, and the Catholic Church, which has claimed it as its own. The result could determine the future of Islam in Europe.

Friday, March 20, 2015

WeloveBuzz - The Moroccan Verion of Buzzfeed

Here is an article from Wamda, about a unique website providing content geared towards Moroccan youth called welovebuzz.

A Moroccan answer to BuzzFeed is expanding into the Arab world

by Aline Mayard
March 5, 2015

Young Arabs never cease to amaze us. After Ouedkniss in Algeria, EMC in Morocco and Saily in Lebanon, it’s now Welovebuzz, a Moroccan version of Buzzfeed created by teenagers that shows the early signs of a success story.

Welovebuzz began in August 2010 as simple blog in which Driss Slaoui and his friends shared videos they would have otherwise posted on Facebook. Now, they have 30,000 fans on Facebook, a freshly launched Arabic version and a monetization strategy unique in North Africa.

We met with Welovebuzz’s two cofounders Driss Slaoui and Youcef Es-skouri.

The secrets to buzz
“WLB has been existing since 2010,” explains Youcef Es-skouri, “but it really started to become a well-known brand--with real potential--this year. We became the reference media for trendy and connected 18-25 years-old.” Numbers don’t lie; Les 10 endroits à absolument visiter au Maroc article (the top 10 places to visit in Morocco in English) has been shared over 40,000 times and the website gets between 30,000 and 200,000 shares every month, without doing any advertising. This success is due to four pilars, according to Slaoui and Es-skouri:

Unique positioning: “We’re the only ones who target the 18-25 year-olds, we offer content that’s different, articles that buzz, far from classical news, with a good dose of humor,” Slaoui said.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Woman's Back, Donkey's Back by Hicham Houdaifa - A Book Review from The Arabist

There is a lot of good content already on the Internet. Today, we want to draw your attention to a Morocco-related book review done by our friends at The Arabist on Dos De Femmes, Dos de Mulet by Hicham Houdaifa. 

Also if you have a second,  check out another review of  the graphic novel Amazigh, itineraire d'hommes libres, by  Moroccan artist Mohamed Arejdal and Cedric Liano on the  The Arabist site.

Arabist Book Review: Women's Burdens in Morocco

by Ursula Lindsey

“Dos De Femmes, Dos de Mulet” (“Woman's Back, Donkey’s Back”) is a proverb in the mountain villages of Morocco. The Moroccan journalist Hicham Houdaifa chose it as a title for his first book of reportage, which focuses on the most vulnerable of Moroccan women — women who are illiterate, legally non-existent (because their births were never registered), single mothers (with no rights because their marriages were never registered) or vulnerable seasonal workers. 

With the help of some of Morocco’s impressive NGOs, Houdaifa criss-crossed the country last Fall interviewing underage brides; waitresses in Casablanca bars; some of the tens of thousands of women who pick the fruit that is exported to Europe (and are sexually exploited by their male superiors and the wealthy families that own farms)'; and others.

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.

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].

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.

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.


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.

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.