Moroccan human rights activist Ahmed Assid unleashed a wellspring of criticism, massive waves of anger and a fatwa on his head for saying that Islam has become totally incompatible with today’s world.
During a three-day seminar at the 10th National Congress of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) in Rabat, Assid said that religious education in Morocco "is now outdated, and teaches religious values that contradict universal values of human rights." He added that the message of Islam taught to young people in school textbooks is "terroristic."
Assid said that religious education in Morocco emphasizes values that go back to when Islam was "spread by the sword" during the time of Mohammed and that to call upon people to follow Islam by using violence is an act of terrorism. Assid further suggested that religious school textbooks lured youths to violence.
He went on and stated that Islam has become totally incompatible with the world system today. He continued his lecture by saying that the famous letter sent by the Prophet Mohammed to the kings and heads of empires which in which he stated “accept Islam and you will be saved,” "is full of violence and terror and should not be taught in schools."
Assid's statement caused an unprecedented wave of outrage in a country that is often portrayed as “moderate.” Many Salafist have called for him to be put on trial. Mohammed Al-Fizaazi, a Salafist leader, said "We must file lawsuits against such people, as the Egyptians have done whenever Islam is the target of anti-religious secularists."
The strongest reaction came from Salafist Sheikh Hassan Kettani, who accused Assid of kufr (disbelief) and described him as a "criminal" and "enemy of God." He issued a call for "silencing his voice."
Morocco’s Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, also took a swipe at Assid when he said it is unacceptable to criticize Islam’s prophet, raising the question of where, in Morocco, is the line drawn between freedom of expression and religious sensitivities.
While not mentioning Assid by name, Benkirane said respect must be given to the overwhelmingly Muslim country’s values and that everyone must let the world understand that Morocco is a Muslim state and was built and developed by Islam through centuries of history.
In defending his comments, Assid said that his words at the AMDH seminar were distorted and taken out of context. "The words of anyone may not be construed so as to destroy him and incite others against him in such a serious manner. We have to refute arguments with arguments, which is the best option for the Moroccan experience," said Assid.
"The thing that attracts attention is the violent, uncivilized nature of this campaign that lacks the simplest values of dialogue and right to different opinions. These are very negative matters that we, as viable forces believing in democracy, have to fight. There will always be differences, but we nevertheless must continue to engage in dialogue, debates and rapprochement," Assid added.
Abdelbari Zemzami, head of Morocco's Research and Jurisprudence Studies Society, attacked Assid for provoking Moroccans and Muslims the world over.
No Muslim would accept what Assid said, and if his words were not actually construed as he said them, let him come out and correct them and show us what exactly he wanted to say," Zemzami told Magharebia.
The Moroccan Coalition of Human Rights Groups demanded that the government intervene immediately to put an end to fatwas being issued against people like Assid.
Khadija Ryadi, the coalition's coordinator said that all Assid did was "expressed his opinion that the current school curricula may help spread violence and hatred. After that, he was threatened by intolerant groups."
"The state has to confront all of these fatwas firmly and seriously, using all legal and media means," Ryadi added.
In Morocco the law of the land "prevails over the opinions of religious leaders," said Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq. Morocco has no laws against apostasy, added Toufiq.
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