Moreover Monday- “Spiritual Security”

http://www.trust.org/item/20131212010325-jkva6/

Women provide “spiritual security” in Morocco

Thu, 12 Dec 2013 Samantha Harrington

RABAT (Thomson Reuters Foundation)—Boots on the ground, drones in the skies, and government surveillance of electronic communications have become standard American tools for warding off extremist violence. The Kingdom of Morocco has armed itself with a dramatically different weapon: using the soft power of religious women to quell violence before it happens. They call it “spiritual security.”

After 9/11 shook the world, Moroccan leaders began to think, “It could happen here,” and it did. In 2003, a dozen suicide bombers with ties to al-Qaida blew themselves up in Casablanca, Morocco’s economic center. Now the country knew firsthand the trauma of terrorism.

In response, Moroccan leaders came up with an idea dedicated to foiling religion-based violence by using religion itself. In 2006, under the leadership of the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the mourchidat program was born.

Sanae Elmarouani, 23, already holds a Master’s degree in Islamic studies.  But she’s happy being back in class at Dar al Hadith al Hassania, studying in a prestigious program to prepare her for a vocation in religious service as a spiritual guide.  Her school is a small, ornately decorated building in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat where men train to become imams, Islamic priests, and now ––since 2006 –– women prepare to become their female counterparts, mourchidat.

The setting for this unique school, its high ceilings intricately carved and tiled, is rich in Moroccan tradition.  The goal of the program is similar. When asked how women with religion as their only weapon can possibly expect to beat back the forces of radicalism, Sanae is confident.

“Our religion in general forbids extremism. So the program is like a representation of Islam. The role of mourchidat is to unify the constants of the Moroccan nation.” She cites the guiding principles as honoring the King, who is commander of the faithful, and adherence to the Maliki doctrine and Ashaarit creed, approved by the Islamic Ministry and taught at her school.

The daughter of an imam, Sanae was a teacher in a mosque when she heard of the mourchidat program. She moved quickly to get her application in and felt lucky when she was accepted.

The program is meant to promote women’s rights, giving Moroccan women unprecedented opportunity and authority.  Their work takes them to all parts of the community.

“We work in mosques,” Sanae says.  “We work in prisons, hospitals, and we teach and lead women in all parts of their lives.”

A SELECTIVE PROGRAM

She and her peers at Dar al Hadith were selected from a large applicant pool. The program is selective. In order to be admitted, women must hold university degrees and be able to recite sections of the Qur’an from memory. Students take a variety of courses, with the main focus on religious training. But in the real world, helping people deal with anger, disappointment and pain, their classes in communication and psychology will be useful. “I’ll use body language first,” Sanae says.

After graduating, Sanae will likely be placed in one of the many mosques that dot Morocco’s cities and countryside. She will use the Islam that she has learned at Dar al Hadith in all aspects of her work, teaching values of respect and tolerance and diffusing extremist thought.  She will lead circle discussions and answer questions about faith but she will not be allowed to lead men in prayer.

In some ways, mourchidat can be compared to Catholic nuns. Both are religious women connected to organized groups. Both start from a place of personal spiritual commitment and apply their advanced studies to the needs of their faith communities.  But since they are women practicing in male-dominated cultures both have limits to their religious leadership. Religious orders of nuns are subject to Church hierarchy and Catholic women are denied access to the priesthood. Mourchidat –– although trained to perform the same duties as imams –– are not allowed to lead men in prayer.

Sanae Elmarouani is one of 50 women in her program. Another 150 participants are men studying to be imams in a parallel program.  Mourchidat take an additional course which focuses on women’s issues like marriage and dress. Using this broad portfolio, the mourchidat bring traditional Islamic values to their duties at the mosque. Program creators see their presence as a way of keeping radical forces at bay and providing “spiritual security.”

“[Spiritual security] simply refers to saving people from the different currents that may end up…throwing them into the hands of the people they’re not supposed to deal with,” says Khalid Saqi, Assistant Director of Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania.

The extremists Saqi speaks of, the ones that people are “not supposed to deal with,” are those whose unbending ideologies morph into social destruction and who bring others along with them. Before the 2003 suicide bombings, religious extremism wasn’t a prominent cause for concern in Morocco. But after Casablanca, the government began to take preventive action.

“We were dealing with a kind of people, a kind of ideology …that in some cases we were not even aware of and then all of a sudden they surged out of nowhere and we were facing a phenomenon that had to be dealt with,” said Saqi.

Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, Founder and Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, says that the program is effective in promoting the “spiritual security” Saqi speaks of and directing ideological power away from fundamentalist sects.

“I think it’s filling that gap that only Wahhabis and Salafis were filling—the gap that people needed someone to explain religion to them –– especially in a country with so much illiteracy and where religion is such an important part of culture. In the past you either had to follow the Wahhabis or Salafis or you were not Islamic,” said Cherif.

Both the Wahhabi and Salafi movements practice strict, uncompromising forms of Islam which have often brought them into conflict with Western values. While these strands of Islam are not always violent, the intolerance they practice can lead in that direction. The 2003 Casablanca suicide bombers were self-procalimed Salafis linked to al-Qaida. Another violent attack, this one in 2011 in Marrakech, “was not connected to any organized terrorist groups,” the US State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Terror states, but the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior described [the bomber] as a Salafist and an admirer of al-Qa’ida.”

In the official Islam of Morocco, the King is the commander of the faithful and moderation is the style of religious expression. The preferred religious code is the Maliki School of Jurisprudence which is also practiced in many nearby countries with positive relationships with Europe and the US. The Maliki school takes a traditional approach to Islam and is heavily based in the lives and actions of those who lived close to the Prophet Muhammad. The mourchidat are trained to use the official Maliki Islam.

MOURCHIDAT PROGRAM DRAWS SOME CRITICISM

While the mourchidat program is well liked, it does have critics. Skeptics of the counterterrorism aspects of the program point out that the 2011 bombing in Marrakech occurred well after this program had been established. Other critics are women’s rights proponents who claim that the mourchidat program hasn’t fulfilled its promise of improving the lot of women—that it doesn’t go far enough.

Asmae Lamrabet, one of Morocco’s leading female Islamic scholars, voices those concerns. She is the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Islam in Rabat which is associated with the Rabita Mohammadia, Morocco’s main organization of Islamic scholars. Lamrabet recognizes that the program has benefits, but has not yet seen real gains being made for women in Moroccan society.  Islamic tradition holds that men and women are equal, she says. But where is the equality in Morocco today?

To make her point, Lamrabet cites a seventh century Islamic scholar— Aisha, the Prophet Muhammad’s youngest wife –– one of the most respected Islamic scholars in the years following Muhammad’s death. Aisha was integral in spreading Islamic thought and unafraid to speak out.  She publicly disagreed with misogynistic teachings of the powerful Calif Omar. Her example endures to this day. Lamrabet says Aisha’s courageous voice is heard as a powerful call to  Islamic feminists across the world.

Lamrabet calls the Islam that mourchidat are taught at Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania “very official, traditional, classical and orthodox, there is no progressive ideal in this kind of speech.” To achieve its goal of expanding women’s rights, Lamrabet wants the program to encourage women to think independently rather than strictly follow government teachings.

“[The mourchidat] are going to transmit all the patriarchal messages –– the same message, the same traditionalist message. Yes, we have women in the mosque now, but it’s not a very big deal. We have to do more.”

While its achievements may not seem enough to Lamrabet and other critics, the program is popular. It provides a way for educated women to contribute to social change, for themselves and the communities they serve. Although only 50 women are admitted each year, applications have increased dramatically. In 2009, according to the US Embassy in Rabat, 800 women applied for the 50 seats.

PROGRAM SPREADING TO OTHER ARAB COUNTRIES

Other Arab countries are getting interested as well. Moroccan mourchidat have traveled to the United Arab Emirates to help train Emirati mourchidat, and Saqi has heard reports that an Algerian mourchidat program is in the works.

Even as the model it provides is being replicated elsewhere, the effectiveness of the mourchidat program has not yet been documented.  No research has been conducted to collect data on its real impact.  The US State Department, however, has bought into its anecdotal success, using supportive language in its 2009 Country Report on Terrorism. In that document, Morocco was commended for continuing, “the pioneering experiment…of training and using women as spiritual guides.”

Sanae Elmarouani, looking at the upheaval in the world, particularly in nearby countries of the Middle East, understands the expectations that she and other mourchidat will carry on their shoulders. But she has faith, education, and the role model of her late father, the imam, to guide her. She is optimistic and self-assured.

“I adore my job because it has two gains: one for life and one for an afterlife with God,” she says.

Samantha Harrington spent several months in Morocco on a SIT Study Abroad program and produced this story in association with Round Earth Media, a non-profit organization that mentors the next generation of international journalists.   Khadija Boukharfane contributed reporting.

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Moreover Monday-Violence Bill proposed

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131204/morocco-islamists-under-fire-over-women-abuse-bill

Morocco Islamists under fire over women abuse bill

A long-awaited law to combat violence against women is currently under study in Morocco, but the Islamist-led government has had to revise its proposals after sharp criticism from rights groups.

A preliminary version of the bill, which is still in the drafting stage, threatens prison sentences of up to 25 years for perpetrators of violence against women.

In addition, the bill would take unprecedented steps towards criminalising sexual harassment, with those convicted risking possible three-year jail terms.

As in numerous other Arab countries, sexual harassment of women is commonplace in Morocco, despite the adoption of a new constitution in 2011 that enshrines gender equality and urges the state to promote it.

But despite the progress that this new law would represent, women’s associations have strongly criticised the proposed legislation.

In particular, they accuse Bassima Hakkaoui, the minister for women’s affairs — herself a member of the ruling Islamist Party of Justice and Development — of excluding them from the drafting of the bill.

“We have waited for years for this law and we are now very disappointed by its content,” said Najat Errazi, who heads the Moroccan Association for Women’s Rights, speaking in Casablanca at a meeting to discuss the bill.

According to a study published by the state planning commission (HCP) this week, nearly nine percent of women in Morocco have been physically subjected to sexual violence at least once.

Sexual violence of a physical or psychological nature has affected some 25 percent of women overall, and a startling 40 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Last year, Hakkaoui acknowledged the problem by stating that six million women have suffered physical or verbal violence, more than half inflicted by their husbands.

Sara Soujar, another activist speaking at the meeting in Casablanca, argued that the bill fails to include provisions relating to single women.

“This category is totally absent… Reading the text, you get the impression that violence basically only affects married or divorced women, even though others may be more exposed,” she said.

Her concerns resonate with the findings of the HCP study, that around one in every two unmarried women in Morocco was subjected to sexual violence — whether physical or verbal — during the year that it was carried out.

“Young women who work in factories or as housemaids, many of whom are minors, are no less exposed,” Soujar said.

Others criticise the draft law for lacking clarity, noting that it deals with sexual violence against women and children in the same clauses.

In the face of these objections, the government has been forced to set up a committee, headed by Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, to review the draft law and demonstrate its willingness to cooperate.

Progress is being closely followed in Morocco, where many have had traumatic personal experiences of a kind that the proposed legislation is designed to deter.

Last weekend, dozens of people gathered outside parliament in Rabat to denounce “all forms of violence against women”, among them members of civil society groups as well as relatives of the victims.

“The ex-husband of my daughter used to beat her every day. It was like torture,” one victim’s father told AFP with tears in his eyes.

“On the day that he learnt she was going to ask for a divorce he killed her,” the man added, holding close to him pictures of the injuries inflicted on his daughter.

On Monday, two teenage girls who were sexually assaulted in Rabat finally saw their aggressors jailed for four years for attempting to drug and rape them.

Many considered the verdict too lenient.

Moreover Monday- A Day in the Life

This video this is a heart-wrenching video that is incredibly difficult for me to watch. For me, this reflects parts of my life in Morocco. Although, I never allow myself to get that close to a group of boys / men nor do I venture out at night by myself- parts of this video feel familiar. I won’t say that, for me, Morocco has been this difficult or suffocating but the parts that feel familiar leave my a pain in my heart for these women who experience this type of invasive and horrible treatment every day.

Powerful Sexual Harassment PSA Puts You in an Egyptian Woman’s Shoes

In a powerful PSA by United Nations Women, viewers are put in the position of an Egyptian woman as she experiences terrible sexual harassment everywhere she goes.

Though not a new issue, sexual harassment in Egypt has come under recent international scrutiny following the many horrifying accounts of sexual assaults that came out of the Tahrir Square protests of dictator Hosni Mubarak and then of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. 91.5% of Egyptian women say that they’ve been groped by strangers in public and 99.3% say that they’ve encountered some form of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, these women are often victim blamed and their complaints are rarely taken seriously.

“When we try to complain, even to friends or family but especially to authorities, they say we are to blame because of the way we dress, the way we act, where we were walking,” May Iskander, a student women’s rights activist at Cairo University, told Buzzfeed. “And you can be a full women in a full niqab [headscarf] and still be harassed. Whoever doesn’t know this doesn’t live in Egypt.”

The United Nations Women PSA attempts to make men better understand the daily plight of Egyptian women, stating “Every day she faces humiliation, anger, she lives in fear, and she experiences violence… put yourself in her shoes, instead of finding ways to blame her.”

In watching the PSA, it becomes clear that this kind of sexual harassment is not a specifically Egyptian problem. Women all over the world face unwanted touching, comments and seedy behavior from men in a variety of circumstances, whether it be riding the bus, walking down the street or simply attempting to exist in the public sphere.

Moroccan Livin and Wearin {2}- Rif Mountain Style

One of the most important facts about Morocco is its’ climate is diverse as its’ people. Contrary to popular belief during the winter months it gets cold, the country is not all desert. By cold, I mean 40’s at night most places around the country and 50’s during the day. This is not even mentioning those sites that get snow…

Keep in mind that it is very rare for any* Morocco homes to have heating. There is no form of central heating, that I have seen at least. Where it snows, some families are lucky to have a wood-burning heater or a heater that uses butane gas.

So when I mean 40’s, I mean I am under a 2-3 blankets with fleece pajamas. In my site, I am sure I really don’t know what it means to be cold, all I can do is reminisce about during my training when it snowed. I feel for those that live in the mountains.

This lovely volunteer lives in a very small village named Moukrissat near Chefchaouen, which is in the beautiful Northern Rif Mountains. Her village has about 300 people, recently numbered at 301 with the birth of a neighbor baby!

Last year, a volunteer had a SIDA (AIDS) event near there in December and I remember it being one of the coldest I have ever felt.

Marshall’s jeggings : $14.99
A tank underneath to cover quote “her shameful areas”
Wool long sleeve: souk (market in site)
Long sleeve : H&M
Peacoat: souk 20dirhams ~$2.60
Scarf: Fes Medina 40 dirhams ~$5.00

This is just another way that a volunteer is culturally appropriate, comfortable in her clothing for a good price and most of all…. warm (note*she is wearing 4 layers) in her mountainous village where it can get snowy white during the winter months!

Moreover Monday- I wasn’t always dressed like this

An amazing article and more amazing documentary…

“I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This”: A Documentary Exploring Hijab as a Choice

November 11, 2013 By

The concept of wearing hijab tends to stir controversy around the world, especially in the media. For some, hijab may be a piece of cloth that women wear as part of social traditions; for some others, it is a form of religious devoutness; yet, for others, it is a symbol of oppression and injustice towards Muslim women.

While some women are forced to wear hijab by their husbands, brothers, or fathers, others do it voluntarily. This is the central theme of the documentary I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This. Aiming to convey this notion of free choice, the documentary explores the experiences of three UK Muslim women who have chosen to put on hijab.

Director Betty Martins interviews three women in the 33-minute documentary, addressing mainly three themes: first, the journey that these three women have had to go through to make decisions on hijab; second, what hijab means personally for each one of them; and finally, how the surrounding community views those women as they opt to cover their hair, and in one case, her face.

The first lady is a French convert, who was raised accepting the mainstream French discourse about the hijab. She visited Palestine, and felt a need to answer the call to prayer in Jerusalem. That was when she decided to convert, and the idea of hijab became more appealing.

The second lady is a Syrian, who comes from an artistic family. Her father was not keen on his daughter wearing the headscarf, because “it will limit her choices,” especially that she was attending a music school.

The third is a British woman who was born Muslim, but knew nothing about Islam. Her interactions with people surrounding her, including an incident at school when she was 13, led her to ask questions about Islam and hijab in particular. Studying feminism led her to believe in the need to wear niqab as a way of hiding her face and body from the “unnecessary” glances of men around her.

The film takes an interesting approach, presenting stories of Muslim women who were free to make the choice to cover their heads. Putting on a headscarf was a way for these women to define their appearance in public, and try to change other people’s perspectives on hijab.

Scene from I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This. [Source].

The film does not go into the concept of wearing hijab as a way of hiding beauty; it presents it as part of the beauty these women have. For example, the first lady admits to trying the hijab on before putting it on. She took time picking colors and designs that match her style, which, in return, adds up to her natural beauty.  She even mentioned the idea that in France black hijab is always associated with fundamentalists; this is why she refrains from wearing headscarves with dark colors. In her case, the color and style of her hijab is not just for beauty purposes, but it is also meant to defeat any preconceived ideas of fundamentalism and extremism.

The three women concur that people should not be judging them on their looks; instead, people should get to know them better, because hijab is part of the identity they hold, and part of the choice they made. In an interview she gave to the University of East Angalia, Norwich, UK, Betty Martins said:

“In this film, we hear first-hand about their experiences as women, discover what freedom is to them and what beauty is for them. I want people to see these women as they want to be seen, not as people would like to see them.”

I was deeply touched by the three stories.  The strength and resilience demonstrated by each one of these women as they face a community with little knowledge about or appreciation for hijab is quite inspiring. In some way, however, I found that the first two stories did not present a compelling turning point, as I had expected, to explain what drove the two women to embark on the hijab-wearing journey.  For both women, it was more about “answering a spiritual call” than reacting to an incident or a series of incidents that brought forth curiosity about Islam and hijab. I had always thought that a woman who decides to cover her hair must have gone through an incident that is a life changer. I have seen many women in my life whose loved ones passed away, for example, and as a result of such incidents, they would put on hijab. But listening to those stories in the film, I was surprised to see women who could just put on hijab because of an inner call, or a different feeling they had.

The documentary has attracted much attention in the locations in which it was screened. In an interview she gave to the Emirati newspaper The National, Martins recalls someone making a comment about the film.  She notes that “someone who saw (the documentary) told me that before she never agreed with the hijab. Now, after hearing the narratives in the film, she at least respected their choices as women.”

I believe the film’s message is incredibly powerful in these critical times where hijab has been at the center of clash of civilization debates around the world. If some women make the choice not to cover their hair, that free choice principle should equally apply to those who are willing to do it. That was what the three women in the film did, and they could still go on with their lives normally like any other person. At the end of the day, a woman wearing hijab should not be labelled in any ways; she is just a person who made a choice like any other choice in our lives.

Moroccan Livin’ and Wearin’ – {1}

As a Peace Corps volunteer coming to Morocco, there is so much to think about! And it is so difficult because it is hard to find any information about what to expect. Yeah, you can read blogs and do research on the internet but the experiences vary so* much that it is hard to get a grasp on what might be to come! I remember feeling so overwhelmed especially with clothing choices. I knew that I didn’t have to wear a Hijab… but* what could I wear? Before I left, I finally felt like I was getting into my groove with professional dress and of course, like the Emperor, I wanted to threaten anyone who was going to throw that off.Thinking about dressing drably for two years was a terrible thought to me… I know, I know… how you dress does not reflect the person that you are etc. etc. but* it does sometimes have an effect on how you feel* about yourself. And in the turmoil of being thrown into another country, another language, another culture- feeling weird about what you are wearing is really not something that you need to worry about!!!!

It also depends on the site you are in, my site which is about 200,000 people, the women dress fabulously ALL* the time! I wish I could take pictures of their outfits, they truly are amazing! In smaller sites, I am not sure if this is the case but Moroccan women are very stylish as a whole, so sometimes this can leave volunteers feeling a little mesqina (poor).

I will be debuting one volunteer per week. These volunteers are very* into their own groove and wear appropriate but fabulous clothing!

This volunteer is in a larger site close to Casablanca. Her site has about 100,000+ people. Keep in mind this might not be something she wears everyday but it is* something she could wear everyday if she wanted! She is a particularly fabulous volunteer with her style staying chic but very much on the edge of funky/cool!!!

 Dress: Thrifted from Goodwill
Boots: Old from Target
Belt: Old from Buffalo Exchange
 
 
 

Isn’t she fabulous? Love it! One of the best things that you can do is shop at Goodwill… there is no need to spend a lot of money on your clothes before you come! Next week, I will show you some fabulous volunteers that keep up their style with secondhand souk shopping here in Morocco! So, know whatever you don’t want to bring or can’t find at home… you will have opportunities to find things here in Morocco!!!!

Here is another example of how to turn a fabulous Maxi dress into a Morocco-appropriate outfit!
MoroccanoutfitCollagePS. I bought the jean jacket I am wearing at the secondhand souk here for about 15 dirhams, which is a little under $2.00.

Moreover Monday- Conditions Improving

http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/generalnews/2013/11/15/Morocco-female-condition-improving-says-Minister-Benkhaldoun_9623250.html

Morocco:female condition improving says Minister Benkhaldoun

Step by step, long road ahead, says scientific research minister

Delegate Minister for Higher Education Soumia Benkhaldoun Delegate Minister for Higher Education Soumia Benkhaldoun

(by Cristiana Missori) (ANSAmed) – Rome, November 15 – The situation of women in Morocco is improving, Delegate Minister for Higher Education Soumia Benkhaldoun said Friday.

”The condition of women in our country is improving step by step: since 2011, the number of female ministers rose from 1 to 6 on a total of 39, while the percentage of women in key positions rose from 5% to 16%”, Benkhaldoun said ahead of a meeting of the cultural commission of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) Parliamentary Assembly at Italy’s Lower House.

”And that’s not bad at all”, said the engineer, university professor, and founding member of the Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party, who was appointed minister in October this year. ”Things are improving, but there is still a lot to be done.

We took several steps forward in terms of legislation in 2003, 2006 and 2011”, she told ANSAmed on the sidelines of an crafts exhibit opening at the second Morocco-Italy Intercultural Day, which is ongoing through November 16. ”In Parliament, there are 67 women out of 393 MPs. That’s approximately 17.8%, slightly under the European average of 22%.

We need more women in all key roles in society”, Benkhaldoun went on, adding that women as well as men must change their mentality. ”This is an old story, which all Mediterranean women share”.

In the case of Morocco, a more integrated family policy is needed. ”We still need to put in place policies that favor part-time work, telecommuting, and state-run kindergartens”, the minister pointed out. ”We are still far from the family policies adopted by Scandinavian countries”.

Benkhaldoun, whose ministry is also in charge of scientific research and executive training, wants to develop that sector through international cooperation: ”Moroccan budget, international expertise – such as Italy’s, for example”, she explained. ”We need to develop our energy and geophysics sectors. Also, our country is rich in medicinal herbs, which could have many applications in the health care field”.

Her government, she said, needs to increase its scientific research budget, which is currently 0.8% of national GDP .

”In developed countries, that number is 2.3%”, she pointed out. International cooperation is the key. ”We just obtained 30-million-euro extra-budget financing to field projects that will be open to foreign research labs as well”, said Benkhaldoun ahead of a meeting with Italian Undersecretary for Education and Scientific Research Marco Rossi Doria.

”I will ask him officially for Italy to take on one of the deputy presidencies of the Fez Euro-Mediterranean University”, the minister said. ”We want Italian professors and researchers on hand by the time the first academic year starts in 2014”.