by Greta Riemersma and Martijn van Tol
A Muslim man can renounce his wife if she does not pray five times a day and he can hit her if she rejects his sexual advances. But he is not allowed to hit her hard, just enough to break her resistance. A recent spate of fatwas has brought embarrassment on Morocco. With Ramadan due to begin next week, it is raining fatwas.
Every day, the conservative newspaper Attajdid prints a new fatwa. Fatwas are nothing more than religious proclamations. Nevertheless, they irritate liberal Muslims because, in their eyes, each fatwa is more absurd than the last. For instance, the Wahhabist mufti Al-Maghraoui claimed, in a different publication, that 9-year-old girls are allowed to marry, because “some girls of nine are better in bed than women of 20 and over”. Fatwas often contradict one another and there are also foreign fatwas, which find their way into Morocco via the internet and Arabic TV channels.
Sadoua Amezian, who grew up in Morocco, lives in the Netherlands. She is currently on holiday in her country of birth. She is not impressed by the constant flow of fatwas.
”We think it is normal to discuss these things, that various scholars have different opinions. I choose my own path. But people who are not educated depend on them. If you are illiterate like our parents, the fatwas influence you more. Even if there is a fatwa and there are different views about the subject, you think logically what suits you best, but to my parents it is just a matter of: that’s the way things are. A scholar said it, so that is all there is to it.”
The Moroccan socialist Party, the PSU, wants to put an end to “ridiculous fatwas which go against common sense, logic and the law”. One fatwa in Attajdid said unemployed people were allowed to pay bribes to get jobs, if all other avenues had been exhausted. That is going too far, says the PSU.
Ahmed Toufiq, Moroccan Minister van Islamic Affairs has had enough. “It’s ridiculous that everyone can say anything without knowing anything about a matter”. He recently called together the High Council of Oulema, Morocco’s highest Islamic scholars, to do something about the “chaos”. As a result, only fatwas issued by the High Council have to be obeyed.
Is the Moroccan debate also influencing Muslims outside Morocco? Sadoua Amezian does not think so.
“Most Moroccans get their sense of norms and values from home. There are fatwas, but ... it’s something that is close to home, via friends and internet. I don’t think people will look to what is happening in Morocco. The imam in our mosque does has influence, but not the imams from Morocco. Even if more fatwas are on television, it will not have any influence on my behaviour.”
Mustapha Khalfi director general of Attajdid says his newspaper prints fatwas to stimulate religious reform in Morocco. “We want Islam to be dynamic, he says. There are also liberal Muslims who agree with him, such as Islamic scholar Abdelbari Zemzemi. He does not agree with most of the fatwas, but: “Everything is discussed and slowly taboos are disappearing.”
In any case, the wave of fatwas has not made Morocco more conservative, thinks Ms Amezian on holiday.
'What I see happening in Morocco, is actually the contrary. It is very modern, it is not the case that fatwas are making people more orthodox. There is actually more freedom than before. We weren’t allowed out in the old days. Now you see men and women walking down the street together. Just enjoying music. And the beach is full, it never used to be like that. And really not everybody is wearing a long dress and headscarf. I think it has become more open, you are allowed to do a lot more now. I was surprised how much has changed.”
Drops in the ocean
Will the fatwas awaken the old Morocco? The modern, educated generation of Muslims isn’t likely to let itself be bossed around. To them the rain of fatwas are drops in the ocean during a hot Moroccan summer.