What would be the impact of a policy that would ensure state neutrality in matters of religious nature? Apart from the deafening clamour of Al Adl (radical Islamist party) and their moderate pals of PJD (Muslim democrats), nothing much. Apart from their activists’ ranting -which are not that numerous, or shall we say not that influential- there will certainly not be roadblocks, barricades and certainly no civil war over one of the so-called “fundamentals of our country”.
We have to assume beforehand that the monarchy no longer holds extra-constitutional powers provided by the spiritual title of our monarch[Fr], Commander of the Faithful. It does not necessarily mean its abolition, but whatever powers that can be derived from it and that contradict positive law, no more. Indeed, an executive authority that wields such power is in sheer contradiction [Fr] with the essential axioms of democratic proceedings. In facts, the monarchy has to comply with one course of action: either the monarchy keeps the spiritual title but loses any direct authority over everyday politics (or anything that can be derived from that title) or the Commandership of the Faithful is to be abolished altogether so that the monarchy can be fully-fledged constitutional with dynastic continuity as the main -if not the sole- source of legitimacy, nothing more. I’ll elaborate later on why the first course is first-best option.
We also assume some sort of a constitutional shake-up that does away with the Sharia-based laws, mainly in the Penal Code [Fr] (Art 220 on religious liberties, Art 222 on Ramadan non-fasters, Art 483, 489, 490 and 496 on public behaviour -specifically on pre/non marital or homosexual intimate relationships, as well as the list of Sharia-based articles) and that, in its current form, effectively squeezes out individual and collective liberties to very narrow margins. Nothing that fits the official claim of democracy. This, again, falls into the proposed set of strategies. Furthermore, these assumptions need to be buttressed by the idea of a federal kingdom [Fr], where local democracies are given maximum levels of autonomy and self-government.
These are rooted in a two-fold strategy:
– The first is one that any policy-maker has to keep constantly in mind. The previous policy of long-term islamization of our society, which started since the late 1970s, has produced such stubborn results, and encouraged such rooted political movements that in turn produced tremendous pressure on public opinion, effectively charging any progressive policy of working against Islam. It created fear over the possible victory of perceived islamophobes over what is considered the essential cornerstone of Morocco’s identity: Islam. Preserving the Commandership of the Faithful, as well as the neutralization of the influence of religion over public spheres and institutions confines religion to an individual sphere and keeps it well out of politics.
– Second, if one is to implement policies to build a secular Morocco, one needs to wisely reform institutions to oversee the process of putting these same policies into practice. For instance, abolishing the Habous [Fr] (land property in Islamic legislation) is counter-productive, while a substantial upgrading of its missions can be much more productive, and provides a liberal government with a useful tool to make sure it doesn’t stay remote from the Moroccan people. Because, let’s face it, occult lobbies in Morocco and outside are going to market the change as a “‘Ridda” (Apostate) and the work of patient heathens trying to sell Muslim souls to the devil. And it is the duty of that government to make sure the message gets through as clear as possible: a secularist Moroccan government that recognizes to all Moroccans the right to choose their religion (as well as non-belief) and provides institutional safeguards to make sure individuals enjoy their rights responsibly without submitting others to their will. Private opinions are not a matter for majority rule, and certainly the fact that Moroccans are in their large majority Muslims (firm believers or not, does not come to the point) is certainly not an excuse to crush dissident voices.
I. The Habous Ministry
There goes one of the less known albeit most powerful ministries [Fr] in the post-1956 (post-independence) Moroccan governments. Why is it that, alongside the Interior Office, no “partisan” politician can be in charge of it? (I refer to the standard distinction given to so-called ministries of sovereignty, that no political party can pretend to get as a portfolio [and that are reserved for the monarch’s discretion]). My advice is to turn the Habous Ministry into an Interfaith and Religious Matters department: that is, the islamic nature of its dealings would be merged with other religion proceedings. The matter of Habous real estate and other donations is to be transferred to the Finance Ministry, where there already is a specific department [Fr] that can oversee the bequests and donated wealth with equal if not superior efficiency. This Ministry would have, among other things, the upper hand on all matters relating to Fatwas or religious edicts (thus absorbing or abolishing the autonomous Ulema Councils -the council of religious clerics) as well as Christian, Jewish and other religious representatives or regulations. Other tasks that would be attributed (and that are already devoted) to the ministry would include the investment, restoration and preservation of religious buildings and the task of looking after their respective staffs. Finally the Ministry would take over religious education, as the Education ministry would no longer offer these courses as seen below.
In addition to that, the interfaith office would act as a joint-venture with a regal authority in Islamic matters. Indeed, since one has deferred to the option of keeping the title of Commander of the Faithful to His Majesty, the First Imam is therefore the only one qualified to direct the Muslim community, within the constitutional boundaries of such position. The government therefore enacts Islamic policy on behalf of His Majesty’s recommendations via a King’s Council on religious matters. Apart from that, Hebraic and Christian representatives have their own say on their respective communities. As for the non-believers, they have one less worry, and therefore observe only the positive law of the land.
Intolerance grows among Moroccans from primary school onward. One way of preventing Moroccan citizens from turning into reactionaries and narrow minded conservatives (as well as winning some long-term base voters for the liberals and radicals in the process) is simply to suppress the Islamic education course. That is, for state schools. If Moroccan households are not happy with it, all they have to do is to enrol their children into private schools that provide the service. (One however needs to keep the private schools’ curriculum in religious matters well within the purview of the interfaith department, you never know…) After all, if they believe it to be paramount to any other teaching subject, they will pay for it. If not, a child is not likely to turn into a godless freak if they are not taught right from the start about religion. Starting from secondary and high school however, the interfaith department’s special schools can offer, on voluntary basis, religious course (in the three broad monotheistic religions, as the need for those is the most important) while there is always a choice to double or chose instead philosophy and ethics course at high school.
Furthermore, the so-called “Chou’ab Al Assila” (as well as the Hebraic local school) are going to be abolished and changed into higher education degrees. In order to become a good Islamic/Jewish scholar one will not be required to start very early. A High education degree can do just as fine.
The post-baccalaureate degrees in Islamic Studies are to be centralized, alongside other Monotheist religions (at the same level as Christian and Jewish studies), and be part of the Humanities curriculum. Each university will therefore have a Humanities Department that encompasses Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, Religious Studies, etc… With no subject given a pre-eminence over the others (as it is the practise nowadays).
Dar Al Hadit Al Hassannia [Fr] (the royal institute that specializes in training scholars in the Hadith and Islamic sciences) will be merged along with Institutes of Hebraic and Christian studies into one structure similar to the French EHESS [Fr] (a Grande-Ecole-like institution that would produce social scientists rather than narrow-minded scholars).
Since I am no lawyer, I should defer the matter to my much competent colleague on the matter. But I would like beforehand to state some broad principles on how secular laws can be implemented. Obviously a lot of people will be upset about the changes, and they should be given a chance to express their grievances, within the boundaries of freedom of religion as the new constitution will guarantee. The federal option will, in that sense,be a good compromise, balancing between rule by majority and cornerstone individual liberty of belief. The federal constitutions can state broad –but sufficiently well defined- principles on the need to keep religion and religious matters out of politics, and will guarantee so by means of federal court enforcement of the constitutional rule, but regional parliaments, following the political tides, can implement laws and regulations –within their own competence- that can be religiously inspired: they could allow for Islamic Banks for instance, or introduce longer breaks at school to allow for prayer time. They can even issue specific legislation on how discreet restaurant and food-serving businesses can be run during Ramadan, but they cannot enforce laws that would undermine the constitutional freedom of individual belief. As far as their attributions are concerned, regional parliaments will have a certain say in financial and legislative matters, and if they were controlled by “religious” parties, they can introduce some measures of moral-oriented laws in their own affairs. The essential axiom behind it all is that every one is treated as a grown-up, and is given a chance to prove him- or herself worthy of that when managing the public welfare.
Can these measures be implemented? They can, to the extent that the present conservatism among Moroccans is mainly due to economic and material conditions. Indeed, it has been the effect of an explicit policy to turn Moroccans into fanatics, and some are sensible enough to try and reverse these effects with well-meaning policies, albeit ineffective and very feeble. But it also has to do with the fact that in troubled and difficult times, religion is the main exit route and is considered to bring hope, comfort and belief in better days –better after-life, one might say. These policies are contingent on how good this desired government will manage to bring welfare, good standards of livings and equality among the denizens of this country.