Morocco: Islamist party's call for ulema quota in Moroccan Parliament sparks debate

A major debate has sparked in Morocco following a call for ulemas to be given a political role. Some say a proposed parliamentary quota indicates respect, while others say the religious scholars should remain neutral and not carry political labels.
A call by a Moroccan Islamist party to set a quota for ulemas (religious scholars) in Parliament has sparked a debate on their role in politics.
Initiated by the Party of Renaissance and Virtue (PRV) during the 2007 electoral campaign, the recently renewed proposal calls on the Moroccan state to "give greater importance to Islamic doctrine and ulemas, and to show how much they are valued by giving them the place they deserve."

A document distributed during a March 1st party meeting called for granting scholars "a set quota in parliament, like the quota reserved for women."

Not all the religious scholars present at the meeting spoke in favour of the quota. Among the theologians invited to the discussion were Brahim Kamal and Mohamed Zohal, viewed as founding figures of the Chabiba Islamiya (Islamic Youth) movement, established in Morocco in the early 1970s.

"I’m astonished to hear such a proposal, because I feel that ulemas should follow the same route to parliament as everyone else," said Zohal.

Meanwhile, Kamal said he was in favour of the PRV proposal. "Ulemas have been the people’s guides throughout history," he said. "They must take on their responsibilities by getting involved in public affairs."

PRV Secretary-General Mohamed Khalidi explained his group's motivation: "In no way do we want to take the place of the Upper Council of Ulemas. What we want is to train ulemas and encourage them to become involved in public affairs. We are simply opening up the debate on the issue. We will then organise a national conference on the subject, to which we shall invite researchers, decision-makers, ulemas and so on."

The party stated in its printed materials that "Ulemas must play their full role, putting forward the true Islamic viewpoint, which preaches tolerance and rejects all forms of violence, whatever the reasons for this violence may be."

Supporters of secular government have demonstrated their opposition to the proposal. Speaking to Magharebia, Khadija Rouissi, president of the Bayt Al Hikma (House of Wisdom) association said, "We have enough complications blurring the line between politics and religion. We really have no need to add further complications. Rather we should be aiming for a separation of political and religious affairs."

"If a quota is set aside for ulemas within parliament," Rouissi continued, "we should expect these ulemas to ban women from speaking out, because it is forbidden in Sharia law. I feel that the Imarat Al Mouminine institution is sufficient, and confusion between politics and religion will only be perilous to Morocco’s future," she concluded.

Lahcen Daoudi of the Justice and Development Party also voiced his opposition to the proposal. He said ulemas should remain neutral, and should not carry political labels. "Ulemas are like the mosque: they belong to all Muslims. Added to which, if ulemas sit in parliament, this risks causing problems between them and the public, because the public will constantly ask them to solve their problems," he declared.

By: Imrane Binoual for Magharebia

12 March 2008