Morocco's Murshidat female religious guides preach tolerance and moderation

Morocco's Murshidat female religious guides preach tolerance and moderation
More than a decade after its launch, Morocco's female-preachers programme has been a big success story in the fight against extremism but also in the battle for more gender equality
3 min read
29 May, 2016
The Murshidat are trained on classical Arabic, Islamic studies, and social work [AFP]
For years, Morocco has been training female religious preachers known as Murshidat, Arabic for 'guides', to fight extremism in the kingdom.

These women are taught to spread a message of tolerance and moderation in mosques, prisons and other public institutions and spaces, at a time when jihadist recruitment among certain segments such as vulnerable young people has become a major concern post-Arab Spring.

Murshida Noura Chamseddine was one of the first to graduate from the Mohammed VI Institute for Imams in Rabat. 

"The experiment of Murshidat has been a resounding success, both in terms of teaching a moderate version of religion to Moroccan men and women, or in terms of combating illiteracy among women," she told The New Arab.

Chamseddine said she teaches Islamic education in an easy-to-understand and attractive approach to prisoners, patients and worshippers.

Most of her training, meanwhile, focused on psychology and sociology, imparting on her the ability to deal with ideas of "despair and doubt, and replace them with content, happiness and moderation away from extremism," she added.

Combating extremism

"The main role of Murshidat is to combat extreme ideas among youths, using dialogue and simplified ideas to explain the dangers of violence and terrorism," Fatima Wardi, another preacher, said.
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"Morocco has succeeded greatly in promoting moderation and tolerance among citizens, especially youths, at a time when nihilistic and extremist ideas are spreading more easily thanks to the information revolution," an official at the Ministry of Islamic Endowmens and Affairs told The New Arab.

The official credited the Murshidat programme for a large part of this success.

"Since 2006, fifty female religious guides graduate every year, following Islamic as well as modern training that is up to date with social developments and that accomdates the mentality of young people influenced by advanced technology and open space," the source added.
The programme has helped women assert themselves in a domain seen as exclusive to males
Integrating women into preaching

Training Murshidat is a pioneering programme in the Arab and Islamic world, according to Dr. Mohammed al-Zahrawi, Moroccan researcher.

He said it is part of the government's strategy to restructure the faith sector, in part to limit the spread of jihadist ideology and contain extremist groups.

The programme has achieved three key goals, Zahrawi told The New Arab.

"First, it has simplified fatwas (religious edicts) for a large segment of society, making the process smoother and more flexible," said the expert.

One result has been that women have been given a bigger role in line with their competence in religious affairs.

Another positive outcome, he continued, was that many sensitive women's issues are now less of a taboo.

"The second goal is overcoming the traditional notion that mosques are an exclusive space for men when it comes to preaching and guidance."

Zahrawi continued: "The third goal is that misconceptions held by some women, as a result of strict fatwas issued by some extremists, have been addressed. The Murshidat have engaged broad segments of women, especially in the villages."

According to Moha Ennaji, the idea of the Murshidat in Morocco took off after the terrorist attacks in Casablanca in May 2003, which claimed 45 lives and left dozens wounded. The government subsequently decided to reform religious affairs and the leadership structure of the country's mosques.