Ian Pokres
Ian Pokres

Islam and Jews in Morocco: A Response to Chtatou

Mohamed Chtatou’s recent article repeats many of the same PR-laden, false tropes I railed against in my previous two articles (below), and that we should all be very weary of as Jews moving in the world with political power for the first time in two-thousand years. Let’s not forget, the narrative “Islam-was-the best-for Jews” is used by our enemies to delegitimize Israel’s location in so-called “Arab lands,” to tell us we should trust our Arab “brothers” – ultimately to strip us of the national gains we and our ancestors achieved in the last century and a half. Narratives are not neutral actors.

In his conclusion, Chtatou says: “Morocco, which has a long history of religious diversity and tolerance, is known and recognized for the harmonious coexistence of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.” Please see my previous articles for the absurdity of this statement. Morocco has never been known for tolerance. It only now projects tolerance, but traditionally is anything but. And diverse it is – yes – if diversity within Sunni Islam is what you mean. “The Jews have moved physically to others lands but their spiritual presence remains very strong in Morocco and part and parcel of Morocco for eternity and that is the best example of religious infusion and coexistence,” says Chtatou…No! Prof. Chtatou, the best example of coexistence would be a place where minorities not only live (Morocco doesn’t qualify, being 99% Sunni Muslim), but where they feel safe. And my experiences in Fes, run-ins with pro-Hitler folk in Essouira, and reports from Moroccans about Jews in Casablanca tell me decidedly that Jews are not safe or welcome in your country.

To go through some of the novelties in your article, let’s take “The Master Musicians of Jajouka,” supposedly “an icon of world music reflects faithfully the plural aspect of Moroccan culture” (I never heard of them)…how is the Rif (where the band is from) fairing on the tolerance and diversity scale? Last I heard, your beloved king had imprisoned all the region’s leaders for trying to get equal access to infrastructure, investment, and education. Maybe what you care about is the appearance of cultural diversity?

When you write about the “Constitution” of 2011, the king’s religious role, and Jews’ and Judaism’s role in your history, I have to laugh to make myself feel better. In no place where Islam reigns supreme and the king is supreme religious head (or a place where an all-powerful king exists for that matter) would I describe the situation as tolerant or resembling a paragon of coexistence. I have read the Quran, nine canonical hadith collections, and volumes of Islamic jurisprudence, scriptural interpretation, and history. You may be able to pass off “Islam is the religion of peace” to people that don’t know any better, or who want it to be so (including yourself perhaps if I’m judging favorably), but it is a historically inaccurate claim.

Moreover your claim that your king’s title “amir al-mu’minin” applies to non-Muslims is a colonial one. Your prophet Muhammad, the original claimant to that title, also claimed to lead humanity’s “believers,” Jews included, and you know how the local Jews reacted. They didn’t want or need his leadership, nor do we want your king’s. Thanks though.

Perhaps the Amazighi acceptance of Jews and the two groups’ close ties (also semi-mythical) was because both were – and still are – victims of Arab Muslim colonialism based on foreign ideas of Arab Muslim supremacy, based in Islamic texts and the history and thought of Islam’s first “holy people.”

Your reliance on “mystical” trends to demonstrate religious tolerance is telling though, and not only because it is all the rage to focus solely on this aspect of religions in “academic” circles. Anywhere in the world you go – anywhere – peoples’ spiritual lives converge around persons and places. From even before the time Muslims conquered large swaths of the Indian subcontinent (by force) until today, Hindu and Islamic mysticisms converged around persons and places across religious boundaries. There is nothing special about the Moroccan case.

But your claim that Fes is a “Jewish city” is particularly disturbing and disingenuous. Fes was an important center of Jewish scholarship for a limited window of time in the middle ages, but it is more known for having the worst relationship with its Jews than other Moroccan cities. And I lived there – it’s not great. And the “Jewish culture” you’re trying so hard to “revive” is dead, hopefully never to return (May Israel prosper!). Moroccan culture – the actual Moroccan culture – killed it.

A “plural country, par excellence” Morocco most decidedly is not. Perhaps, Professor, you know you are full of s***, and are trying to promote your country’s good name using falsehood because you know it is what people want, and what will be best for your country and people. Or perhaps you really believe what you are saying – most of your countrymen certainly do, that’s for sure. But I won’t be happy until I see reality reflected in the telling of my people’s history, and I don’t care how many “peace agreements” are signed. “War is deceit,” right Professor?

About the Author
South Jersey native, Reform Jew turned former Baal Teshuva, Ian studied human evolution and religion for his BS and religion for his MA, where he focused on Ottoman Islam and modern Islamic fundamentalism. An EMT by day, his current project is a (very) deep-dive into what the three "Abrahamic religions" (he hates the term) have to say about each other. A year spent in Jerusalem and a year in Fes shaped him profoundly. He hopes you will learn, enjoy, and use "Contact Me" to send him questions and comments!
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