The call by a prominent Moroccan preacher to mark a national Chastity Day has stirred controversy in Morocco with some advocating the promotion of chastity, others regarding the initiative as an insult to Moroccans and others saying that the call is a dangerous warning of how out of touch with young people some of the older generation are. Ibn Warraq reports from Casablanca
If we ever needed proof that the victory of the Justice and Development Party in the elections would prompt radical minorities to believe they could further a more conservative agenda for the country, then Sheikh al-Idrisi Abu Zeid has provided it. The Quran reciter is a leading member of the Islamic organization al-Tawhid wa al-Islah (Monotheism and Reformation) and he did not wait long after the elections to call for an annual promotion of chastity and suggested calling it National Chastity Day. This day, he said, will aim at fighting all “unchaste” phenomena that have lately invaded the conservative Moroccan society.
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Given the power of television, the internet, mass media and the social networks, Idrisi probably has as much chance of winning this fight as he does of closing down the new Casablanca Mall.
What Sheikh al-Idrisi Abu Zeid does not seem to realise is that Morocco has far greater problems than that of "chastity". He would have found a more sympathetic audience among young people if he had called for action on poverty, unemployment and corruption. Saïda, a twenty-four year old from Hay Hassani told me that the call is out of touch with the lifestyle of young Moroccans. "Chastity,"Saïda says,"has always been a vexed issue because the expectation of chastity was put on women, while young men ignore it completely".
For sociology researcher Mohamed Boulouse, promoting chastity is a must, but one day a year, he told Al Arabiya newspaper, will not be enough. “We need campaigns that would last for weeks and months in order for chastity to become part of our society again and to counter all phenomena that are stranger to all society,” he told Al Arabiya. Boulouse cited examples of “indecent” films, TV serials, festivals, and different artistic expressions that aim at “sexual arousal.” Such campaigns, Boulouse added, should also include food, clothes, actions, and words that should all be in line with Islamic principles. “There should be a focus on curbing sexual desire and abstaining from all lustful actions.” This campaign, he explained, cannot be launched by one person and all Moroccans who demand the return of decency to their society should be part of such initiative. “Several initiatives can be launched to reintroduce ethics and religious teachings to different aspects of life and to invite people to take part in activities that promote chastity.”
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However, more reasoned voices disagree. Islamic studies researcher Saeid Lakhal argued that the Tawhid and Islah Movement is starting to interfere in the cultural and artistic scene in Morocco following the electoral victory of the Justice and Development Party. “The movement and the party have always objected to festivals and cultural activities to no avail. Now they think they can do what they haven’t been able to do for years,” he told Al Arabiya.
For Lakhal, statements by Idrisi and other movement members as well as advocates of their initiatives aim to test the waters and see how Moroccans and civil society will react. “There are several democratic powers that have fought for long to create a multicultural Morocco that accepts all intellectual, artistic, cultural, and ethnic differences and those who launch such initiatives are trying to see how they would respond.”
Many young people agree with Lakhal, who argues that the Chastity Day initiative is an insult to Moroccans since it assumes they are not chaste in the first place. “The initiative means that Moroccans have lost chastity and need to restore it. As far as I know, national days are dedicated to urgent issues concerning specific sectors or echelons of society that are facing problems that need to be addressed.” Lakhal said that instead of dedicating a day to chastity, national days should better be dedicated to poverty, homeless children, marginalization, or rural isolation. “There are several social ailments that need to be addressed and society is in bad need of initiatives that achieve extremely important demands like equality and social justice,” he concluded.
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For the moment, young people will simply ignore Idrisi and his fellow conservatives as they feel confident the new government will tackle the real issues. However, should Idrisi push further against movies, music and festivals, he may find he has taken on modern Moroccans in a fight he can not win.