Relations between Morocco and the Countries of West Africa

Address by Mr. Ahmed al-Tawfiq, Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs delivered in the XLIII Session of The Academyof the Kingdom of Morocco


Bismi Allah al-rahman Al-Rahim

Ladies and gentlemen,

In this brief presentation, I wish to provide proofs that the relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and a number of the countries of West Africa are characterized by the following distinctive features:

1.      They are built on common religious and cultural constants,

2.      They are based on exchange and interaction in both directions,

3.      They are so deep and dynamic that they can provide solutions to a number of current problems.

Allow me, first, to mention an event so simple, yet of paramount importance in highlighting the nature of these relations. It goes as follows: when the colonizing power sent King Mohammed V, may he rest in peace, into exile in Madagascar in 1953, he was visited by only a small number of personalities, amongst them was the Senegalese Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, who took the Tijani order in 1937 from Fez and spread it anew in the Senegal, Guinea and Nigeria.

This is one of the many conclusive proofs that these relations are characterized by a mainstream dimension, and have thus not been weakened by colonization nor by the rise of bordered countries, nor by the ideological trends of the last seven decades, nor by the plots to isolate Morocco from its African roots since the sixteenth century to date. 

Morocco has always nurtured these relations depending on expectations. It was within the framework of these expectations that the League of the Religious Scholars of Morocco and the Senegal was established in 1985. Sheikh Ali Jalou of Mali gave a lecture as part of the Hassani lecture series in which he affirmed the need to restore the relations Morocco used to have with these countries. Following this, His Majesty King Hassan II, may he rest in peace, ordered the setting up of the Institute for African Studies at University Mohammed V.

During the reign of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, these relations witnessed an unprecedented phase of development, through the remarkable African participation in the Hassani lecture series, through holding new meetings of the Tijani order, and building mosques in African countries, as well as through meeting the requests for training imams from African countries, and the African welcoming of the creation of the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Religious Scholars.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As it is known, Morocco has, for more than half a century, been hosting thousands of youths from African countries every year, to undergo training in various scientific and technological specializations. Prior to the current religious identity crisis and the terrorist threat, training in the field imamate was unheard of. However, a number of executives in the religious domain in African countries are currently higher degrees from the universities of countries that adhere to other doctrines and dogmas. Nevertheless, the majority of these degree holders remained committed to their countries’ constants, which made these countries wait and even delay further cooperation in the religious field with Morocco whose sheikhs were the basis of the religious and spiritual sources of these countries’ forefathers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

His Majesty King Hassan II, may Allah rest his soul in peace, had honored me by appointing me at the end of 1989 the first director of the Institute for African Studies. One of the Institute’s activities was to hold a series of lectures on the subject of the shared heritage with African countries. The second lecturer in this program was Professor John Hunwick of North Western University, USA. He is unanimously considered to be themost respected authority on this heritage. His conclusions may be summed up in these five points:

  1.   Evidence of human intermixing between the inhabitants of Morocco and the inhabitants of sub-Saharan countries took place even before the advent of Islam, but grew more active during the Islamic era;
  2. During the Islamic era, the relations sought to establish and maintain contact and communication with these countries, represented by mutual benefits realized through trade, for routes and centers were established on the two sides of the Sahara around which states were created and places of knowledge and uprightness;
  3. Diplomacy triumphed over war in these relations, and Morocco’s intervention in Timbuktu at the end of the sixteenth century cannot be separated from the pressure if the Europeans who arrived at the Gulf of Guinea;
  4. The cultural elements, such as writing, which the countries of the South imported have subjected them to their aesthetic taste;
  5. Among the actors in these relations, such as Islamic scholars, judges Sufi men, there were eminent men from the north, the likes of Abdullah ibn Yassin in the distant past, and the two sheikhs Ahmed Tijani ibn Idris in the nineteen century. From the south there were such distinguished personalities as al-Balbali, Sahili, al-Kanami and Ahmed Baba al-Tinbukti;

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is from the womb of these relations that the common religious constants saw the light of day. These constants are: the Ash‘ari doctrine and the Maliki school, and Sufism as a spiritual deportment. From a political point of view, Ash‘ariya nowadays means that the Muslim who acknowledges the existence and oneness of God and who believes in the message of His prophet cannot be declared unbeliever  because he has failed to perform what he is supposed to do.If he has neglected any of his own rights, it is his sole responsibility, but if he has infringed upon the right of an individual or of the community, it is justice that should look into the matter; and if he has failed to do his duty towards God; it is up to God to judge him or to bestow His favors on him if He so wishes. The issue of faith did not, as you know, draw the public’s attention accusations of apostasy spread dangerously these days.

The Maliki school is characterized by three things which are of paramount political importance today, too. They are:

  1. The richness of its methodology to arrive at judgments based on  the study of texts, which is important in theinterpretation or reinterpretation of sources of Islamic law (ijtihad);
  2. The importance it attaches to public interest; this is closely related to the legality of laws;
  3. Taking account of what has been done; this is a way to ridmany cultural practices of novelty in these countries.

The influences of the deep-rooted unity of the school of religious jurisprudence and thought (madhhab) in the countries of Africa starting from Morocco prompted Hunwick, the above-mentioned researcher, to describe Malikism as being Morocco’s gift to Africa. And he is right for the following considerations:

  1. The general organization needs a doctrinal reference, because the differences between the schools, albeit in terms of details, are being used to confuse the minds of people who exaggerate them to the point of making them sound as if they were the absolute truth in the face of falsehood;
  2. Doctrinal unity is a guaranty of peace in mosques, especially:
  3. The state’s adoption of a school requires scholars’ supports on the basis that the totalities of Sharia are achieved through reform; here I wish to point out to the organic relationship that exist between political reform and the religious call. If politics fails to play its part properly, it becomes difficult for preachers to convince people to adhere to the values that reject disorder. Moreover, if the matters concerning the Call; that is managing religious affairs, become confused, they will perturb politics through extremist interpretations that threaten reform.

The third constantthat Morocco shares with African countries is the spiritual behavior known as “Sufism”. Most Moroccan callers and traders in Africa were Shadhili Sufis since the thirteenth century until the renewal of the Sufi movement at the hands of the two sheikhs Ahmed ibn Idris and Ahmed Tijani whose fourth grandfather migrated from the ‘Abda tribe south of Casablanca to ‘Aayn Madi. Despite the types of intellectual opposition to the Sufi school, the Moroccan-African formula distinguished itself by the practical ethical mark and the ability to mobilize people.

Because Sufism uses metaphors, symbols and allusions, it becomes the target of the hostility of those who cling to the literal reading of religious texts. This reading is responsible for apostasy and for the call for jihad which manifests itself in various forms of terrorism.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Now we come to the main point of this presentation which is the possibility of spiritual cooperation in the present and in the future on the basis of this shared heritage, and to pave the way for it by establishing that in Morocco there is another religious constant that does not exist anywhere else, namely imarat al-mu’minin the priorities of whose totalities of Sharia include the protection of religion and denomination. This is what gave Morocco institutional components that immunize its constants. If we were to compare its situation with that of African countries with regard to this aspect, we would find out that those countries adopted, in their constitutions, after colonization, political neutrality towards religion; that is secular orientation. This is so despite the fact that the number of Muslims in some countries exceeds ninety per cent. However, in recent years, some governments have included in their formation the position of the minister of religious affairs or his representative. Some countries even have a council for Islamic affairs.

But parallel to this orientation is what is legally established; that is associations, including those that base their activities on religion, whose task is to supervise the management of mosques and to carry out acts of charity, and other tasks. Through these associations comes foreign funding which can come with strings attached, which may be at variance with those constants. Fortunately, Sufi orders do exist in the countries of West Africa as deep-rooted entities that existed before colonization and that fought it and withstood all of the intellectual storms that sprang in the aftermath of independence. They held their own as an organized popular fabric clinging not only to Sufi orientation, but to the other two constants in the field of doctrine and denomination.








Voir aussi

Réponse du conseil Supérieur des Ouléma à la Consultation du Commandeur des Croyants Amir Al Mouminine, portant sur l'intérêt réputé de libre examen dans son rapport aux questions de la gestion des affaires publiques

« L’Expérience du Royaume du Maroc Pour Lutter Contre Le Terrorisme» New York, 30 Septembre, 2014. Intervention Mr. AHMED TOUFIQ

Speech of Mr. Ahmed Toufiq, in the Counter-terrorism Committee

Les Relations entre le Maroc et les Pays d’Afrique de l’Ouest, allocution de Mr. Ahmed Toufiq

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