The Royal Initiative to Create the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema

The Royal Initiative to Create the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema

Amir Al Mouminine, His Majesty King Mohammed VI, may God glorify him, decided to create the “Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema”. The Sharifian Dahir, which creates this foundation, was promulgated in the Official Gazette of the Kingdom of Morocco, No. 6372, dated June 25, 2015. The reasons behind this establishment are set out in its preamble, based on the religious and cultural ties that bind together the Kingdom of Morocco and those of the African countries, and by virtue of what the current circumstances require in terms of finding a scope for cooperation between the Islamic scholars of Morocco and those of the African countries. These bonds serve to protect religion from distortion and extremism, and to put its tolerant values in the service of stability and development in these countries.

Establishment of the Mohammed VI foundation of African Oulema
Establishment of the Mohammed VI foundation of African Oulema

To enlighten public opinion on this historical, scientific and religious event, the following points need to be underscored:

The Historical Background of this Cooperation

Based on geographical data and historical facts, ties and relations were forged between the Kingdom of Morocco and a number of African countries. This has made the kingdom keen on perpetuating special relations with these countries on the basis of shared constants unaffected by obstacles in the recent and distant past, whether as a result of foreign invasion since the beginning of the modern era up to mid-twentieth century, or the ensuing quest for ideological references from outside the continent. Those constants have indeed yielded common interest in renewing this cooperation, especially in the religious and spiritual fields.

In addition to human contact and ethnic intermixing across the Sahara, bonds between Morocco and other African countries strengthened through recognizable activities, such as:

  • Trade: it developed actively since the early days of Islam between Morocco and many parts of the African continent, starting from the region of Tafilalet;
  • Diplomacy: history books mention aspects of relations and contacts of a diplomatic nature between Morocco and sub-Saharan kingdoms, from Ghana to Chad, and Nigeria since the days of the Idrisids all the way up to the Alaouite dynasty.
  • Sufi tariqa-s (schools): many Sufi schools witnessed wide dissemination across Africa starting from Morocco. Qadiri and Tijani Tariqa-s are the most important and the most widespread; the Qadiri Tariqa originated in the Mashriq, but it spread across the regions of Africa through Morocco.

Founded in Fez, the Tijani Tariqa spread to many a region in Africa to the point that its followers were counted by the millions, all of whose hearts yearned for Fez. They considered their Sheikh Sidi Ahmed al-Tijani’s swearing allegiance to Sultan Moulay Ismail a binding allegiance on the part of his followers to the Sharifian dynasty. They would address the successive kings of Morocco as Commander of the Faithful”.

  • Sources of religious knowledge: These contacts have yielded a tremendous activity in the field of Islamic knowledge, for the sheikhs who spread Islam in the various African regions took with them knowledge closely related to the teachings of Islamic law; this knowledge, the cradle and pendant of which was al-Quaraouiyine Mosque, was governed by constants that were so widespread among Moroccans. In large regions of Africa, religiosity was thus marked by this heritage shared by Moroccans and the rest of their brothers throughout Africa. This religiosity is represented by four constants : Ash‘ari doctrine, Maliki school, Sufism and the Warsh reading of the Qur’an from Nafi‘, and by other aspects pertaining to religious culture.

The Role of the Shared Religious, Doctrinal and Spiritual Heritage in Overcoming the Threat to Religious, Doctrinal and Spiritual Stability

Throughout its long history, this shared religious, doctrinal and spiritual heritage was marked by tolerance and moderation and was thus able to conquer the hearts and minds of people, and was adopted by generations and peoples over many centuries. This heritage is now facing a challenge that constitutes a threat to the religious, doctrinal and spiritual stability that stems from expansionist materialistic and ideological ambitions.  The goal of this threat is to disseminate in these countries an ideology that is alien to them, and which behaves as if this land were empty and all in ruins. Such behavior emanates from total ignorance of the religious and spiritual references that have accumulated in these countries, and which constituted the choices of wise ancestors who passed it on to true-hearted descendants. These references have become an important component of the fabric of these nations’ conscience and a sanctuary for their traditions of worship, peace and coexistence.

Oulema Need to Hasten their Religious, Intellectual and Educational Mobilization

In light of these challenges, it has become abundantly clear that no one is more capable and more worthy of assuming the task of protecting this faith and this moderate, tolerant thinking than the Oulema (Muslim scholars). As is well known, the task to offer advice to the Ummah is incumbent upon the Ulema. Because they are the guardians, they are the first to be targeted by the invasion of extremism. This is why their mission requires of them total vigilance and appropriate initiatives.

They are the ones who spread, forged and reinforced these constants; it is not a secret to say that violence and extremism can be the result of their destabilization. Therefore, it has become necessary for Oulemato hasten once again to discharge their duty and to perform the role assigned to them in marshaling a religious, intellectual and educational mobilization that would be a strong lifting apparatus in the service of two desperately needed things: security and development. What development is greater and more beneficial than human resources?

Creation of the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema under the Guidance of Imarat al-Mu’minin

This is the context in which the initiative of the Commander of the Faithful, His Majesty King Mohammed VI, May God glorify him, to create the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema is to be placed. It serves as an institutional framework in which religious scholars take their responsibility and discharge the duty entrusted to them, knowing that what concerns one African country in matters related to peace also concerns the other countries of the continent.

In addition to this historically, religiously and civilizationally natural context, there is yet another element that sheds light on this noble royal initiative. It is the Moroccan practice, led by the office of Imarat al-Mu’minin (Commandery of the Faithful), of managing religious affairs in accordance with authentic religious and cultural constants which frame modern choices in the fields of development, freedom and rights, thus safeguarding the values of citizenship. This reality is crystal clear. Scholarly and political African circles have expressed their deep appreciation of, and yearning for the Moroccan model, especially for the common religious, intellectual and civilizational heritage. Sharing the wisdom of management in this field is more valuable than sharing experience in any other field as the matter is not about exporting a merchandise or importing ideas, for this sharing is, in the language of the Qur’an, part of “righteousness” and “piety”; God has ordered us to help one another in righteousness and piety, not in sin and rancor.

Morocco’s Management of Religious Affairs and Creation of the Institution of Muslim Scholars

One of the major milestones of Morocco’s management of religious affairs is the creation of the institution of Muslim scholars represented by the High Council of Oulema (al-majlis al-‘ilmī al-a ‘lā)  which is an extension of what used to be known in the history of every Islamic country as “chiefdom of Muslim scholars” (mashiyakhat al-‘ulmā’), because the religious scholars (Oulema) who wish to discharge their religious duty can do so as a group (jamā‘a), not as individuals, and within an institutional scope whose structure and regulations are in compliance with the rules and laws in force in every country, offering Muslim scholars a systematic opportunity to render a service that is a fundamental requirement of the Ummah.

Morocco’s Pro-Activity to Include African Muslim Scholars in Managing Religious Affairs

Association of the Muslim Scholars of Morocco and Senegal

The numerous benefits of being in touch with the Muslim scholars of African countries are thus clear. Morocco is proactive and supports all that is required and expected of it and which it is able to do. No one can replace the Muslim scholars of a given country in discharging their duty towards their country.

This initiative has become necessary due to objective facts that have always existed. This presence and sentiment are evidenced by the establishment thirty years ago of the Association of the Muslim Scholars of Morocco and Senegal. In addition, African Muslim scholars have always taken an active part in the field of managing religious affairs in Morocco through their strong permanent presence in the Hassanian lectures of Ramadan for over half a century. Muslim scholars from sub-Saharan African countries have attended many religious and Sufi forums.

The Process of Training Spiritual Guides (Morchidines and Morchidates)

Based on the same facts and considerations, a fresh, unique experience has come to be added to this cooperation, namely the process of training spiritual guides (morchidines), both men and women, from African countries in Morocco in the Mohammed VI Institute for training Imams Morchidines and Morchidates. This pioneering and ambitious experience came as a result of an African request. Because Muslim scholars are the Ummah’s natural mentors, establishing contacts and coordination between them is of paramount importance, the purpose of which is to shield people’s religiosity from distortion, ignorance and tampering, and to benefit from the true values of religion in spreading security and peace and in achieving development.

Consultations before the Creation of the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema

It is in this context and for these goals that the Royal decision came to set up the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema that would enable African Muslim scholars to coordinate efforts, design programs, hold consultations, and exchange views and experiences.

The creation of the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema was preceded by consultations with a select number of concerned Muslim scholars; a preliminary meeting was also held in Rabat in June 2015, attended by scholars from nineteen African countries. The Moroccan side proposed to the attendees the idea of setting up the Foundation, its goals and the features of its regulatory structure. The participants expressed approval and appreciation, and welcomed the idea; some of them formulated proposals. It is on this basis that the final draft of the institutional Sharifian Dahir was prepared.

The Nature of Attendance in the Preliminary Meeting and in the Announcement Meeting

The scholars, men and women, who attended the announcement meeting are the cream of Muslim scholars in African countries, but they are not all concerned and they are not necessarily more deserving attendees than a large number of scholars who were not present on the two occasions, and who are expected to adhere to this foundation and to work within its scope.

The Participation of Muslim Women Scholars

The Participation and presence of women scholars in the announcement meeting is natural, despite the fact that religious supervision by women is uncommon in many African countries. It is a well-known fact that the religiosity of women in African countries is very strong, and that their spirituality is very deep. The African woman inculcates in today’s generations lofty values in silence and self-denial, a role for which she deserves to be recognized and honored. The participation of women scholars alongside the men means two things:

  1. the need to institutionalize this female participation in effective religious supervision, and to enhance the appearance and visibility of the female religious supervisor in the field of religious scholarship;
  2. the will to share the Moroccan achievement in this field where the women’s participation in religious coaching is very strong.

The Goals of the Foundation as set by the Institutional Sharifian Dahir

  • To unify and coordinate the efforts of Muslim religious scholars in Morocco and the rest of African states, the purpose of which is to introduce the tolerant values of Islam and to disseminate and consolidate them;
  • To launch initiatives within the scope of activating the tolerant values of Islam in any reform on which depends the development process in Africa whether  at the level of the continent or at that of every country.
  • To activate the intellectual, scientific and cultural movement in the Islamic field;
  • To foster the historical ties between Morocco and the countries of Africa;
  • To encourage the creation of religious, scientific and cultural centers;
  • To revive the Islamic African cultural heritage through spreading, protecting and preserving it;
  • To establish ties and cultivate relations of cooperation with associations, organizations with common interest.

Branches of the Foundation outside Morocco

The Sharifian Dahir which has created the Foundation provides for the possibility of setting up branches in various countries, and emphasizes that the creation of such branches must take into consideration the laws and the situation of the country. What ought to be understood from this is that the branch of the Foundation cannot be an alternative to any national, local or government organization, and that if it can cooperate with the sides that have similar goals, it should work with them in ways that are best and in all sincerity, patience and vigilance.

Next Organizational Steps

  1. The meeting next September 2015 will select executives for the various tasks in the Foundation, set up work mechanisms provided for in the Sharifian Dahir that established the Foundation, and produce a short and medium-term strategy paper;
  2. The meeting next November of the local bureaus, which will have fixed their legal status, will design preliminary work programs for the following year.