Expat Magazine

“Repel (evil) with What is Better”

By Quinninmorocco

In the aftermath of the anti-Islamic video released in September, a lot of things happened. A lot of people did and said terrible things, and a lot of walls were fortified between people of different political beliefs, religious creeds, ethnic backgrounds, and other lines by which we define ourselves. The environment was one that seemed purely eye for an eye, and, like Ghandi once said– it was making the world blind.

However, as with any event that seeks to insult, offend, and incite the worst in people, there were side effects of the more positive sort. A lot of religious leaders from all walks of life made a point to emphasize the power of love over that of ignorance, the danger of extremity of any religious persuasion, and the ultimate guiding words of the world’s most-followed religious figures- the ones that remind us to love our neighbors, to do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves, and to remember that we’re all ultimately equals under God, under Allah, and under whatever other name people use for the supreme being they all revere in the same respect.

In Tamslouht, I found the reaction to this film to be particularly inspiring. Not only was it of the positive nature, but it was one that really reflected the truest form of Islam. And you all best know I’m going to brag to the world to the Nth degree about it.

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

I have met some truly fantastic individuals in Tamslouht. One in particular is Mustapha (the rebel wearing the brown jelleba). He is my counterpart, wonderful friend, and all-around teacher of everything having to do with my Moroccan surroundings. He is part of an association in Tamslouht called Al Anwar. This group derives its mission from that of Tamslouht’s ancient zaouia, or religious school. It has a 500 year-old tradition of religious education emphasizing intellectual examination of one’s faith, promoting interfaith understanding and dialogue, and embracing the traditions of Islamic culture while living as a Muslim in contemporary society.

Al Anwar’s main activity is the “hefla dini,” literally translated as a “religious party.” The group is invited to (or, for national holidays, hosts) a party at someone’s house and performs traditional songs about the Prophet. There is always a religious discussion included as well, centered around a story or passage selected from the Quran or about the Prophet’s life. And, as per the ultimate rule of thumb in Morocco, food and drink are abundant.

People host hefla dini for a variety of reasons. As previously mentioned, some are to celebrate national holidays and days of religious observation. When individuals host a party, it’s usually in celebration of something- a birth, a wedding, a new job- or in anticipation of something- a birth, a wedding, a new job. Of course, they can be held for a myriad of other reasons as well…..(but who are we kidding- 99% of the time it’s one of these big 3). In this particular case, however, one was held as an official response to the release of the infamous film.

Mustapha heard about and then proceeded to personally watch the video that was released a month ago. It was the topic of many-a-discussion with his friends, colleagues, and family. As a Muslim, as a Moroccan, and as a human being, it was unsettling to him- unsettling because it mocked and degraded fellow human beings solely on the grounds of ignorance. More specifically, it mocked his personal beliefs and those of almost everyone he knows. It portrayed his revered Prophet as a womanizer and deplorable human being. Worst of all, it did so with an attitude of sheer nonchalance.

And so, with every reason in the world to get angry, what did this 24 year old Muslim man from Tamslouht do?

He had a party.

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

What better way to combat ignorance than with none other than knowledge? Mustapha recruited 7 Al Amdah associations- groups like Al Anwar who sign traditional songs about the Prophet- and put together a religion party. 5 schools from Marrakech (El Youssofia, Ben El Arif, El Abbassia, and two from El Jazzolia), Charkkoui from Bajaad, and Zouia Ait Oussa all the way from the Sahara, joined forces for this event. In plainspeak? A lot of people came from all over Morocco to sing, united, about the life and teachings of the Prophet. And I don’t mean the angry, vengeful character portrayed in the film, patched together from misinterpreted texts and cultural anti-Western sentiment. They sing about the actual Prophet, the one who preached love, and peace, and respect. This is the Prophet who recorded the words of God in the Quran….words like this:

Repel (evil) with what is better. Then will he, between whom and thee was hatred, become as it were thy friend and intimate. And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint.” Chapter 41, Verse 34 and 35

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

The party began on Sunday, October 21st, around 11am in the morning. All 7 El Amdah associations visited Tamslouht’s mausoleum, or saint’s tomb. They began their party by reciting traditional poems about the Prophet, called El Amdah (yup- like their associations’ names), and an opening prayer for the success of the event, called the El Fatha. Then, they walked back to Moulay Idriss Ribat, an open-air building owned by the ancient zaouia of Tamslouht.

This building was traditionally used as a place for the religious school to welcome other visiting schools. And by “traditionally,” I mean for the past 400 years. In the more recent years, however, the building is only really utilized for a once-a-year party ushering in Ramadan. Visiting schools had long become a thing of the past- until the party. This event, people said on Sunday, revitalized the space.

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

Upon returning to Moulay Idriss Ribat, more El Amdah poems were recited. There was a break for couscous and tea, and then several men recognized the significance of the party through formal speeches. The speakers included:

  • Dr. Ahmed Boukari Charkawi, Doctor of History
  • Abdel Karim Bonmar, Party of Authenticity and Modernity Representative from Rabat
  • Abdellatif El Malihi, Director of the National Foundation of Ahl Dalail El Khayrat
  • Moulay Mehdi Oulad Chakkria, citizen of Tamslouht
  • A Representative from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs

Their words were measured, thoughtful, kind, but firm and critical- the kind of response you expect from adults engaged in an international dialogue. Each speaker explained, from their own perspective and experiences, what it means to be Muslim in today’s world- something that is far removed from anything portrayed in the video. They quoted passages from the Quran, they used examples from the Prophet’s life, and they also emphasized the goodness coming from the Muslim community today.

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

Upon the conclusion of these speeches, everyone was ushered into the neighboring house to eat a mega-meal of chicken, and then beef, and then fruit. I think it’s safe to say everyone felt satisfied on numerous dimensions.

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

“Repel (evil) with what is better”

I really couldn’t be more proud of my community. This was a completely self-initiated project- not even the teeniest bit of nudging from the Americans working in town. When faced with the ugliest side of humanity- a film that sought to insult and agitate rather than ask questions intelligibly, thoughtfully, and respectfully, in addition to the violent responses worldwide- the people of Tamslouht chose to respond with something better: a day dedicated to celebrating Islam, the admirable life of the Prophet, and the lives of the people today who choose to follow this religion of peace. It’s through this exact type of open dialogue that we can begin to understand each other better. It’s through this type of education that we can best learn about people we don’t fundamentally agree with. And, above all, it’s through this kind of love that we can co-exist with absolutely anyone in a peaceful manner.

Thank you, Tamslouht, for showing the world what it really means to be a Muslim.

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