I am so incredibly excited: tonight, one of the instructors at the American Language Center (ALC) here in Marrakech here has organized for a Murshida to come speak our group.
I wrote here about the Wash Post article about the Murshida here in Morocco about a month ago. Murshida are basically religious social workers/ preachers, female imams, who counsel troubled women - those abused or imprisoned, for example. They are schooled in Islam as well as social work.
An article in Time magazine framed the Murshida as a tool against terror. That's one way of looking at it. The instructor here at the ALC also informed me that that the Moroccan government developed the Murshida in response to the Casablanca bombings and their subsequent realization that an 'extemist' 'radical' element of Islam was entering Morocco, that included the spread of Wahhabism. Those familiar with the terrorist scene know that there exists Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb ('Maghreb' refers to Morocco but also to North Africa as a whole, as it does here), and that yes, some suicide bombers and resistance fighters that have popped up in Afghanistan and Iraq have Moroccan passports. So here we see something extremely important, Muslims, and governments in Muslim countries, taking responsiblilty for 'taking back their religion' from those who pervert and corrupt it.
(Sidenote: Any of you who know me or read this blog, know that I am of the school that thinks that Islam, religion in general play little role in violence and terrorism. Yes Islam serves to legitimize acts, but it surely does not motivate them. it is not a root cause of these acts.)
When you take away all the terrorist talk, these women are also, and maybe most importantly, helping women in need in Morocco. And, it is a government funded, governemtn legislated, program. They are also doing inside, rather than outside of Islam. That Murshida are indigenous and associated with Islam gives them and the program legitimacy in the eyes of the people, the women it helps and those around them. A husband, for example, might be more willing to allow a Murshida, a religious scholar, into his home rather than a woman known to be from a NGO that receives foreign funding. (No offense, NGOs do great work, but we all know how they are perceived in the eyes of local population, especially in the eyes of men when they deal with women’s rights issues.)
This kind of program represents the kind of steps governments in the region need to take to provide their populations with social services. It is the government (with hopefully eventually some wholesome help from a private sector) that needs to initiate these programs, not international NGOs with a USAID grant.
Here is the Wash Post article on Murshida.
Here is another recent article in Wash Post about social and political developments in Morocco.
I am planning on applying for a Fulbright in the Fall to study Murshida. If any of you have ideas or suggestions please let me know.