Sunday, September 18, 2011

Salafist rethink - are they coming in from the cold?

Imrane Binoual, for the online journal Magharebia in Casablanca, has written a very interesting article about the fundamentalist Salafist movement in Morocco. Salafism has, in contemporary times, become associated with literalist and puritanical approaches to Islamic theology. In the West the term "Salafi" has become particularly associated with the small minority of Muslims that espouse violent jihad against civilians as a legitimate expression of Islam, the so-called Salafi Jihadis constitute less than 1 percent of the world's 1.9 billion Muslims.

Moroccan Salafists marched for the first time with February 20th Movement protestors on March 17th

In his article in Magharebia, Imrane Binoual argues that Moroccan Salafists have embarked on a total rethink about their role in Morocco and are looking for ways to assist the Arab Spring reforms. It is a difficult task as they have so little support among the general population. In Fez, for example, they are referred to by the derogatory term "the bearded ones". Another factor that is an obstacle to their wider acceptance is their active dislike of all Sufi movements. As Sufism has such wide support in Morocco, it is hard to see how they can overcome this obstacle.

Imrane Binoual writes that the Arab Spring reform movements are prompting Salafist jihadists to join in the sweeping changes. He says that many of those now voicing loyalty to the monarch and commitment to dialogue are also the most notorious terrorists.

"Jihadist Salafist current has realised the clear mistakes and deviations that it has been involved in as a result of lack of knowledge" - Salafist, Hassan Khattab

Hassan Khattab is among the prisoners and freed Salafist inmates at the heart of the movement. He is serving a 30-year prison term for leading the "Ansar al-Mahdi" terror cell, which included security officials, an imam, and two wives of Royal Air Maroc pilots. The cell members were convicted in 2008 of funding terrorist operations and planning a terror campaign against the Moroccan regime.

In an online letter to King Mohammed VI published in early September, the Salafist presented his renunciation of violence as part of what he described as a "re-evaluation". Hassan Khattab issued "revisions", in which he said that he adopted an initiative entitled "Munasaha and Reconciliation."

Moroccan writer Mountassir Hamada
A highly-anticipated new book by Moroccan writer Mountassir Hamada, the author of "Nous et l'organisation d'Al Qaida" (al-Qaeda and Us) and "De la critique de l'organisation al-Qaida" (A Critique of al-Qaeda) looks at the trend. In "Salafia Al Wahabiya in Morocco", which will be published within the next few weeks, Hamada explains that signatories to Khattab's proposal vowed not to "accuse society or Muslims of kufr without a Sharia-sanctioned basis".

"The purpose of this letter is to brief you on the shifts that have taken place within the Jihadist Salafist current in Morocco, which is now going through a stage of evaluation and revision that would produce elites of preachers, scholars and science-seekers capable of keeping pace with political developments in our beloved country under your wise leadership," Khattab wrote to the Moroccan monarch.

Khattab praised the constitutional reforms proposed by King Mohammed VI and said that he and his fellow prisoners in Morocco were willing to take part in social movements.

"We are with the monarchy institution and its rulers. We're prepared to help build a new Morocco that would be run with multiple visions and creative Islamic and political identities that would promote national constants to the level of creative and effective citizenship."

The imprisoned extremist also voiced his rejection of the movement's extremist tendencies. "The Jihadist Salafist current today truly believes in the importance of realising dialogue and debate with open-mindedness and an understanding of other cultures.  It also believes in the need…to combat the wrong habits and concepts, extremism, and close-mindedness that have been practised within the current for decades," Khattab wrote and concluded by saying that the "Jihadist Salafist current has realised the clear mistakes and deviations that it has been involved in as a result of lack of knowledge.It was so swept away with its whims that some of its members failed to deepen our constants; something that would totally undermine our nation's values."

Within a week of Khattab's letter to the king, another move to re-evaluate Salafist ideas was embarked upon by repentant Salafist Sheikh Mohamed Fizazi. Known for his adherence to takfirist ideology, Fizazi blessed the September 11th attacks on the United States. He was arrested after the 2003 Casablanca bombings and received a royal pardon at the start of the Arab Spring.

Salafist Sheikh Mohamed Fizazi
Fizazi and other members of the "Moroccan Salafist Movement for Reform" have been trying to ally themselves with the youth-led February 20th Movement, and have actively joined protests since the end of Ramadan.

In his letter to King Mohammed VI, the man considered the leader of jihadist Salafism in Morocco called for the release of inmates who had been "unjustly imprisoned".

"This long period time I spent in prison enabled me to mix with the prisoners of the so-called Jihadist Salafist current and to have full knowledge of all ideas that are prevailing among those prisoners," Fizazi wrote on August 10th. "I became fully sure that injustice was done to many of them and they now implore you to rescue them from prison, given that they long to return to their community which they have missed."

Fizazi in his letter points to "the conviction of many of those prisoners in the rejection of violence, recognition of the components of Moroccan nation, and actual willingness to take part in reconciliation project…especially as our nation now needs more than ever every and each member of its people".

Meanwhile the "Mountada Al Karama" ("Forum for Dignity") association is campaigning for reconciliation with imprisoned Salafists. Ever since March, when the National Human Rights Advisory Council (CNDH) was formed from what had been the Advisory Council on Human Rights (CCDH), the body has been pursuing a dialogue with inmates in the jails of Kenitra, El Jadida, Tangier, Agadir and other locations.

Together, the groups are seeing success in the prisoner outreach initiative.

"There is a category of Salafist prisoners who are being held because of their views and are not involved in terrorist affairs. This category should benefit from a dialogue process to lead them to change their views. As part of the mediation we have conducted in partnership with the CNDH, many have changed their ideas and written letters in which they seek forgiveness," points out Mountada Al Karama Vice-Chairman Abdellali Hamiddine.

Hamiddine says these "repentants" have clearly written "that they are in favour of the monarchy, the Malekite rite, that they are against violence and against excommunication from society".

According to Abdellali Hamiddine, prisoners' families have played an important role in convincing many to change their ideas, as has the ongoing dialogue. But "there are still prisoners who will not budge from their positions and defend their violence-based ideas", he adds.

You can view the original article on

Although not mentioned in the article, it should be pointed out that a majority of Salafi scholars stand firmly against the present-day manifestations of jihad, particularly as it relates to terrorism and the killing of civilians and innocents. They hold their opinion as: No individual has the right to take the law into his own hands on any account. Even the closest of Prophet Muhammad's companions never killed a single of his opponents even when invectives were hurled at him day and night in the first thirteen years of his Da'wah at Makkah. Nor did they kill anyone in retaliation when he was pelted with stones at Ta'if. 

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