The cultural foundations of the Islamist practice of charity in Morocco.

Author:Maarouf, Mohammed
Position:Report
 
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Generally, western scholarship has not given much attention to the practices and beliefs of the Orthodox tradition of Islam. It has pursued the colonial style of insight by following up with the issue of pagan survivals in the popular culture of Islam. The beliefs and practices commensurate with the High Tradition such as fasting, alms-giving, and prayer have almost been excluded from the anthropological agenda. With the rising of fundamentalist movements in MENA countries and the heated debate on Islam, anthropological research has rekindled to examine the Islamist blend of religious, political, and welfarist activism (Ben Nefissa 1995; Ibrahim 1988; Rugh 1993; Sullivan 1992). Studies of the voluntary sector have come up with astounding results about Islamist welfarism filling in the blanks left by the withdrawal of the state from relief services due to structural adjustment programs and by the absence of a strong civil society. Islamist philanthropism in spite of the existence of massive corruption is observed as very much effective at the grassroots level. In cases of floods or earthquakes in Egypt, Morocco, or Pakistan, to take but a few examples, while the governments' help was very slow and ineffective, Islamist organizations gave substantial help to the population by sheltering them in mosques in Egypt (1994), housing them and giving them blankets and food in Husaima during the earthquake that struck the region on 24 February 2004, and dispensing medical aid, food, and shelter during the Pakistan floods (2010). Noureddine Lachhab (February 2009) published a news article on how Moroccan state officials promoted the charitable work of Justice and Spirituality (JS) (al-'Adl wa-l-Ihsan), filling the void left by the government in the distribution of relief aid to victims of the monsoon floods that invaded the West region (Sidi Kacem, Sidi Yahia, Sidi Slimane) in February 2009. (1)

This study therefore follows up with this new avenue of research exploring how orthodox Islam is in practice, i.e., asking questions about the politics of its practice, its political economy, and cultural representations. The issue at stake here is how do Islamists live their daily experience at the grassroots level? How do their cultural beliefs and practices relate to the ideological work they have been indoctrinated with? And are these beliefs and practices embedded in the host culture that receives the dogma? Such questions form the core of what may be termed cultural embedding. The term "cultural embedding" confronts us with the following questions: How is an Islamist culture embedded in the local host culture? Can the rise or decline of an Islamist trend be measured by the degree of receptiveness of its cultural bed? How does the rising Islamist movement pick up cultural representations, beliefs, and values from the cultural bed that incorporates it? In this paper, I will limit myself particularly to one aspect of cultural embedding: How do Islamists conceive of charity? Are they solely inspired by their dogmas or also by the social representations of the cultural soil? The cultural soil in Morocco is popular Islam with its establishment Islam, the aberrant views and practices of the illiterate, Sufi trends, and what may be broadly termed maraboutic culture--the culture of saints and mediation, rituals, and trance dances; to borrow from Lewis (1970/1989), we may call it the "ecstatic form of religion." How does this constitute the cultural bed/background where Islamism is born? Is Islamism a post-maraboutic movement? Is it similar in its antagonistic course to postmodernism in the West? Does it settle scores with the past of popular culture of Islam?

The data reported on below concerning Islamists' maraboutically embedded beliefs and practices result from ongoing fieldwork research on the lived Islamist experience in both structured and unstructured social contexts. It commenced in 2006 up to 2007 and was resumed ever since 2009 for time and budgetary pressures. Several research techniques were used from interviews, intimate cultural knowledge and immersion to natural conversations, and participant observation sometimes overt and sometimes covert both in the social context of Islamists at Chouaib Doukkali University and in some popular neighbourhoods in El Jadida. Interviews and observations were conducted at University, in streets and private homes. Most respondents were University students. They were selected in both convenient and small snowball samples including some key informants (some of them given pseudonyms) from JS, Jama'at Tabligh wa Dda'wa (JTD) and Salafiya. At this point, I would like to thank JS member students at Chouaib Doukkali University for providing me with plenty of material and documentation (books, leaflets, booklets, CDs, and so on) on the subject of their jama'a.

It may be argued here that there is no master narrative on Islamism, not one common version of Islamism as western media and some western scholarship try to stereotype Islamist movements as anti-American and threatening US and Europe's interests. Such master narrative putting Islamist minorities in one basket seems reductionist. As there are many Islams there are many Islamist movements tied to the receptiveness of the cultural bed where they grow. Of course no one can deny the recurrent patterns they may share because they are exposed to more or less similar textual ideologies, but the lived culture--the ethnographic aspect--of Islamism is particular to the cultural bed where it is born.

We are not saying that Islamism is a priori a local cultural invention with transcendental expectations. It is a common platitude that its foundation doctrines were first imported from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt--the teachings of Mohammed Ben 'Abd al-Wahhab (Salafi Wahhabism) and Sayyid Qutb (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun). Yet like any other doctrines, they need a receptive cultural bed to be localized inside it because it is this cultural bed that either rejects the newcomer ideology or depending on the host culture's degree of receptiveness to Islamist reform may incorporate it, reconstruct it into a recognizable identity that fits the local social conditions, or yet the new ideology may transform the local into a transnational hybrid form.

Apart from the transnational radical groups and CIA-supported Islamism (2) such as al-Qaeda, which seeks to globalize religious radicalism and seems to work for foreign agendas (see Mamdani 2002), Islamists with more or less homegrown attitudes though fed with imported ideologies seem to be home-manufactured identities--the participation of Intelligence services in the Arab world's radical Islamization project must not be disowned at this level (Lamchichi 1994). According to Pargeter (2009), Islamists are culturally radicalized due to local hegemonic rapports, not so much influenced by diasporic Islam as by local social conservatism, a sense of marginalization, and economic deprivation. Without denying the influence of Islamists outside national borders like the evident consequences in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, and Algeria, homegrown radical groups have generally participated in the stability of their own regions and evinced political learning like the case of PJD (Justice and Development Party) in Morocco and MB (Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt (see Albrecht and Wegner 2006). In Algeria, the FIS (the National Salvation Front) is also a homegrown Islamist group that participated in Algerian politics and accepted the rules of the political game but was prevented from taking power by the military institution when it was evident that it would win the 1991 elections. The adherents to political learning would be disillusioned and the once diasporic mujahids (3) called Arab Afghans--who went to the holy war in Afghanistan to revive the mythic triumph of the guerrillas in their war of independence against the French--formed their armed wings to fight the military establishment. Martin Stone maintains that "one of the most important leaders of the Algerian Afghans was Kamerredin Kherbane, who later went on to serve on the FIS's executive council in exile" (1997, 183). The case of Algeria is unique for the high number of recruits that participated in the anti-Soviet jihad. Stone again reports that "the Pakistani embassy in Algiers alone issued 2,800 visas to Algerian volunteers during the mid-1980s" (1997, 182-83).

What I am trying to argue here is that Islamism is not born a monster we have to exorcise through a civil war. It is a culture that gives birth to radical thought under particular social, economic, and political constraints. Not all groups are violent; many are participating in the democratization process of their countries. PJD, for instance, abides by the rules of the political game and legitimates the monarchic rule. Even the now seemingly violent FIS, as it has been pointed out, first participated in Algerian politics till its expulsion from the democratic game in 1992 after it won the first tour of elections in 1991 when it resorted to arms. JS, a Moroccan radical group semi-banned by the state, does not accept the rules of the political game and in the 1980s delegitimized the hijacking of corrupt elites; now its discourse is lignified toward constitutional reforms (see Arroub 2009; Darif 1995; Tozy 1999). For western politics, the Islamist field is really a "grey zone" (see Brown et al. 2006); westerners feel threatened by Islamist bullies; they think if the monster wins, he may implement policies detrimental to the US and European interests though in the long run local Islamists seem to participate in their country's stability. Well, it needs to be ferreted out that the Moroccan case is unique because it is a sacred monarchy legitimated by a divine law (see Arroub 2004; Hammoudi 1997, 1999; Tozy 1999). The king is the commander of the faithful, unlike the...

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