Morocco’s Shia IdentityApril 6, 2008
Pre-islamic Moroccan Berber tribes were mostly Jewish with a few minorities of Christians. It was very difficult to impose Islam on these tribes, and the fights took many centuries before Islam was completely settled in this land. Popular culture in Morocco believes that if the tribes were ruled by Cherifs (I mean people from the tree of the Prophet Mohamed a.s) the land would be fertile, as they carry a sort of Baraka (Blessing) wherever they go. These tribes start welcoming Alaouits who were escaping from the Umayyad and the Abbasids and making them the kings of Morocco. The first king of Morocco was Molay Idriss. He is a Hassanit who escaped from the Khilafa of the East and established his kingdom here. Molay Idriss married the daughter of the chief of the Berbers, as a symbol of blood alliance between the two. Since then, all the Moroccan dynasties are from Ali & Fatima, because only an Alaouit can unite the multiple conflictual Moroccan tribes & the incoming Arab tribes fleeing drought and political injustice as well as the Jewish & Arab communities who escaped from Andalusia throughout the centuries. Nowadays, our ruling King Mohammed V is him-self an Alaouit & an offspring of Hassan a.s. And believe it or not, The king still carrys that symbolic charisma of a Cherif.
After Khomeini’s revolution in Iran in 1979, security measures were taken to stop the spread of such an ideology among young Moroccans in universities and Islamic parties. But in the 1996 Moroccan reformed Constitution, it was mentioned that Morocco is an Islamic country without focusing on the Maliki doctrine as it was the case before. This means that being Shia in Morocco is not against the Constitution, as long as it’s an individual practice not a political stream!
Anyway, Moroccan Shia today are a bunch of intellectuals, not more that 50 persons. Most of them received their education in Lebanon or Iraq or were influenced by the writings of the French thinker Henry Corbin or of Khomeini’s Political Islam’s ideology. Moroccan Shia are mostly located in Rabat, Marrakech, Fez and Northern Regions, but they have no spiritual leader (Marji Ataklid). They follow Iraqian or Iranian Spiritual guides most of the time, as I deduced from my discussion with many of them.
According to my sources, Moroccan Shia tempted to organise them-selves in a regular theopolitical movement during a meeting in Tanger. However, they had different interests and perspectives about that movement so it failed. But obviously, many members of some new Islamic Parties are Shia like Al Badil Al Hadari, and many educational and cultural associations are funded by Shia in Morocco like Al Ghadir association in Meknes and many others in the North.
During the celebration of the sad memory Ashurae in Morocco, we notice the persistence of many ancient symbols taken from both Shia and Jewish traditions. Moroccans fast during Ashurae and they bay dolls and games for children to stop them from crying the death of Hussein a.s. In some regions they even settle places for the ceremony of Azae. These are somehow Shia traditions. Yet, these symbols are mixed with others, borrowed from the Jewish celebration called Haylula, like lighting a big fire in each street and turning around it while playing on some leather instruments and using this fire for black magic.
When I saw Moroccan people crying Saddam’s death and accusing Shia in Iraq of being the allies of American forces, I feel a sort of bitterness inside. These people unfortunately ignore everything of their Shia religious identity, and Islamic education in the Moroccan educational system as well as media; don’t help at all in informing them about the subject. But when I see the support Moroccans owe to Hezbollah or Iran, I think that the traces of their Shia past can’t be erased by the wind of Sunna centuries.
I still need to clarify one more thing. Moroccan religious identity as I see it today is changing in a tremendous way towards a non-doctrinal sort of Islam. This is due to many reasons like: The huge luck in education, weakness of national media, the chock of modernity and the fragilazing hits it’s experiencing : Extremism, New Sufism trends (Adl Wa Lihsaan & Tarika Boutchichia) and Christian Missionaries… My personal prediction about the future evolution of the Moroccan religious identity is that; if Shia elite can emerge in this sensitive & particular moment of Moroccan history, the Shia doctrine can be resurrected as a major religious identity in Morocco.