The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that our very own, Nakita Valerio, has been selected as a recipient for the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (SSHRC) and Walter H. Johns Graduate Fellowship. These awards are highly competitive, and are issued by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council based on excellent academic standing, research potential and contributions to society. The award comes with significant funding which will be used to fund her studies in Edmonton and research abroad. Join us in celebrating this monumental honour.

nakita036The tentative title of her thesis is: Remembering Al-Yehud Through the Shoah: Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching the Holocaust and Jewishness Among Contemporary Moroccan Muslims

Nakita’s research topic can be read about below:

Prior to the Second World War, Morocco’s Jewish community numbered 240,000 and was one of the largest and oldest populations of Jews in the Arab world. Today, less than 3,000 Moroccan Jews remain and the memory of them is rapidly fading among the younger generations of Muslims. Historians focused on Moroccan Jewish-Muslim relations have been preoccupied with the internal politics of nationalism and Zionism. (Boum,2011; Baida,2011; Maddy-Weitzman & Ben-Layashi,2010) The historiographical silence on the role of the Holocaust in raising fear among Moroccan Jews, possibly stimulating their unprecedented exodus, is the result of current Holocaust “amnesia” among Muslims today – on whom these authors tend to rely for their ethnographic research.

Given my experience teaching in Morocco for three years, I found that Holocaust denial in private schools was a recurring phenomenon across the country – something corroborated by the Anne Frank House working towards tolerance and Holocaust education in Morocco. (Polak,2010) The current, widespread denial among Moroccan Muslim youth is at odds with growing Jewish-Muslim communication in online forums (Boum,2014), growing cultural representations of Jews (Kosansky, Boum,2012) and especially, the stance of the Moroccan State, which is vocal about distinguishing between the Holocaust and “the tragedy of the Middle East” – meaning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as stated by Jewish advisor to the King, Andre Azoulay (Daily Herald,2009).

The State is focused on reintegrating Jewishness into the national narrative, establishing festivals of Jewish-Muslim interaction and issuing a call for the Jewish diaspora to return home. (Boum,2010; Bruneau,2015) However, until private education programs which allow for Holocaust denial are assessed and addressed, the project of reviving Moroccan Jewishness will be unlikely to have the effect desired by the monarchy. For youth, the reasons to deny the Holocaust are influenced by their lack of direct experience with Jews: it is perceived as part of a Jewish world conspiracy, which they find in widely circulated translations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I found that my own students had acquired copies of this text from their private-school history teachers who had also taught the children that The Diary of Anne Frank was fabricated. One of Boum’s interviewees, Said, affirms that the number of Holocaust deaths and the event as a whole were openly questioned by his private school teachers. (Boum, 2013)

The Holocaust, for Moroccan youth, can be imagined as a false commodity employed by Jewish conspirers to gain geopolitical favours for Israel from Western powers. The degree to which denial-legitimizing narratives are coming out of Moroccan schools (especially private ones, which are growing in number, and where programs are unregulated) remains to be explored. Thus, I ask: How is the Holocaust remembered by Moroccan Muslims today? How is this memory affected by private education and politics? How does this memory affect the overall remembering of Jews and ongoing relations between the two groups?

This research will contribute to ongoing debates on the memory of the Holocaust in general, the memory of Jews among Muslims, the role of education in shaping social memory, and the continuous rewriting of Muslim-Jewish relations in Morocco. Additionally, I anticipate that this will spark more scholarly debate regarding the representation of the Holocaust in the Islamic world and its use as a political-social tool in the era of conflict.


In “Identity and Differentiation in Ninth Century al-Andalus,” Janina Safran examines legal texts of the Andalusi ‘ulama to reveal that the close proximity of Muslims and Christians (as the minority group) elicited anxieties among Muslims which primarily centered on the introduction of innovations that would corrupt the faith.[1] Fast-forward six hundred years to a reversal of this political situation, where Muslims formed the minority under Christian polities, and one can see that these anxieties largely remained the same, despite the power reversal. Other historical examples of this abound and this is, in large part, due to the presence of this preoccupation in the Qur’an and hadith; however, the degree to which such anxieties are warranted varies. Examining the Asna al-Matair and Marabella fatwas by al Wansharisi (translated by Dr. Jocelyn Hendrickson), it is possible to sift through the debates surrounding the historical veracity and authorial authenticity of these texts to highlight some of the key contemporary anxieties, of which religious innovations is paramount. In examining Ica de Gebir’s Breviario Sunni, we find a primary source attesting to how genuine these concerns might have been.

The Asna al-Matajir and Marabella fatwas by al-Wansharisi contain concerns for Muslim minority populations remaining under Christian majority rule in Iberia and represents a watershed moment in the fiqh, not because this situation was unique (in fact, it had happened in the Holy Land during the Crusades and in Sicily with the Norman invasions)[2], but because the documents that relate to these concerns have been well-preserved and made available to us.[3] This is more likely to have happened with regards to Iberia because the Muslim population coming under Christian rule there would have been much larger, warranting more attention to this matter. Additionally, encroachments along the coastal regions of the Maghrib by the Portuguese would have warranted a greater need for the emigration of Muslims there, allowing for the fortification of military arrangements and lending manpower in a time of fitnah.[4] There is some debate around whether or not the questioner in these fatwas (named Abu ‘Abd Allah ibn Qatiya) was real, or if he was conjured as a strawman to give al-Wansharisi a platform for his research opinion. Additionally, the authenticity of this being al-Wansharisi’s opinion is also in question as, it appears, that the bulk of both of these fatwas was plagiarized from a fatwa of similar concerns by Ibn Rabi. Regardless of these questions of verification and authorship, these fatwas still provide us with a window into some dominant concerns related to Muslim minority populations living under Christian rule.

In the Asna, the land of Christian-majority rule is characterized by “sin and falsehood”, which will result in “oppression or discord (fitnah)” for Muslims who remain there.[5] Among the recommendations to take only other Muslims as allies[6], to emigrate to guarantee the inviolability of Muslim property[7], to avoid the seduction of “ephemeral worldly pursuits”[8], and to stop paying taxes in financial support of Christians[9], is a persistence about the problem of religious corruption from living under Christians. In fact, al-Wansharisi goes so far as to say that “their corrupting ideas (fitna) are more severely damaging than the trials of hunger, fear, or the plundering of people and property.”[10] The repetition of the term fitnah here illustrates that it is used to represent both discord and corrupting ideas. This is a testament to the term’s overall connotations that corruptive ideas bring religious innovation and eventually total discord. Instability or chaos comes from bid’ah (innovation).

Where the fear of religious corruption is embedded in the Asna, it is the chief concern in the Marabella fatwa. Here, al-Wansharisi’s answer is dominated by concerns over “the pollutions, the filth, and the religious and worldly corruptions to which this gives rise.”[11] Paramount among these corruptions are the problems created for Islamic orthopraxis: the fulfillment of prayers (belittled and ridiculed), the giving of alms (to a legitimate ruler), fasting during Ramadan (which requires the sighting of the moon by an appropriate imam or deputy), the Hajj (which is no longer possible) and the waging of jihad.[12] Since Islam is not a Deen of orthodoxy (or the possession of internal beliefs alone), the removal of the possibility of practice (in their eyes) would be the equivalent of religious contamination, if not total destruction. Further, sexual and marital corruption are couched in similar terms, contrary to what one might expect in the modern, post-Blood period – that is, that mixing would be a contamination of kinship lines. The concern about a Muslim woman marrying a Christian man is in the expected fact that he would “entice and mislead her as to her religion, overpowering her so that she submits to him, and so that apostasy and religious corruption come between her and her guardian.”[13] Additionally, the loss of language is associated with the loss of the acts of worship.[14]

It is not only in the answers to the questioners that we find a preoccupation with religious innovation, and perhaps this is the point at which it is most expected to arise. Rather, embedded within the questions themselves, a fear of bid’ah reveals itself. If we look back to the debate of authorship and authenticity regarding the existence of these questioners, we have to recognize that the presence of these anxieties in the questions does not necessarily translate into representing real-world fear of innovation. If these questioners were, however, constructed as strawmen by al-Wansharisi, their fears still reaffirm his fears also found in his answers. In the Ansa, the questioner (“ibn Qatiya”) discusses the intentions of a group of Andalusis to emigrate, presuming that they originally came to Maghrib “for the sake of God, taking with them [only] their religion.”[15] It was not until they arrived in the Maghrib and found that the material reality available to them was worse than they realized it would be that they began to curse their emigration. Because actions in Islamic contexts are how niyyah (intention) is deduced,[16] this showed that their intention for emigration had never been pure or predicated on “the true purpose of emigration [which is] the protection of religion, family and offspring.”[17] Similarly, in the Marabella fatwa, the question of giving dispensation for one man to continue living in Iberia as a representative of the Muslim minority population is negated by greater concerns about “major ritual impurities” which would result in one’s inability to practice their Islam – giving way to the possibility (even certainty) of religious corruption.[18]

While we have seen that innovation has been a preoccupation for Muslims and Islamic authorities throughout time[19], how warranted was this concern at this particular point in time? A comprehensive analysis is needed, but for the purposes of this paper, I will examine the first chapter of Ica de Gebir’s Breviario Sunni to shed a small amount of light on this issue. As was pointed out by Dr. Jocelyn Hendrickson, the beginning of this chapter, while mentioning the five pillars of Islam, disperses them amongst Commandments that resonate with those found in the Old Testament, including not taking the Creator’s name in vain and not committing murder or fornication.[20] It is also within the first couple of lines that we have mention of one’s neighbour – a figure that permeates the text as someone you must not only desire things for (which you also want for yourself), but also someone to be honoured, someone who must not be lived next to if evil, and eventually, someone who could be Allah with the right course taken.[21] Though the neighbour figures into Islamic discourse[22], it is much more closely associated with Biblical scripture imploring the loving of one’s neighbour and its repetition in this text could signify an allusion to Christian texts or doctrine.[23] Further, perhaps the most important clause of the entire text reads, “be faithful to your lord, even though he is not a Muslim”[24] – a sentiment in direct tension with the arguments of al-Wansharisi’s fatwas which came after them. We cannot deduce direct causation between these documents (ie. that the sentiment that one caused the other to be written); however, if Mudejars had been convincing themselves overall to accept non-Muslim rulers (as is evidenced in all three texts), this would be grounds for issuing fatwas condemning such obedience, particularly for the reasons of detriment to praxis outlined above. While there are clear forbiddances of adopting Christian practices and an emphasis on both knowing and enforcing Islamic law, that does not take away from the fact that this chapter and other parts of the text are permeated through with Christian sentiments – and exactly because of their submersion in the text, these would have caused serious anxiety in prominent religious scholars who recognized that the most dangerous forms of innovation are those that go undetected and are assimilated as part of Islam.[25] The line between what Islam shares with Christianity because of their perceived Abrahamic origins and what is inappropriately adopted from them in the post-revelation era is defined by an ever-elusive line.

This paper will have to end here with the conclusion that like other eras of Islamic history, preoccupations of religious scholars during the Mudejar period centred on the problem religious innovation. While the al-Wansharisi fatwas can also be used to show how Portuguese encroachments on Maghrib coastlines were also an anxiety or can expose the inner politics of subjectivity in the writing of fatwas, there is still an undeniable religious dimension to these texts that is not contrived. Though this realization might seem self-evident based on what we seen in the studied primary texts and what we know of the centrality of Bid’ah as a problem in the Qur’an and hadith, future archival and primary source research is needed to push all of this a step further – namely, in looking at how highlighting the overwhelming concern of religious innovation for Muslims helps for understanding (comparatively) what sorts of anxieties plagued Christians about intermixing, acculturation and conversions. Where Muslim dissuasion of interactions with Christians have been put in terms of the fear of bid’ah and Christian conversions to Islam seem to have been couched in concerns over the loss of their tax contributions and political tensions that might result, Christians have shown not only disinterest in religious corruption, but the regular dismissal of Others, distinguishing them by virtue of ethnic origins (blood), even when they had converted to Christianity. Alas, this is research for another time.[26]

[1] Safran, Janina, “Identity and Differentiation in Ninth Century Al-Andalus” in Speculum, Vol 76:3, 2001. pp. 576

[2] Indeed, this reasoning even appears in the Asna fatwa in Hendrickson, Jocelyn, “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix A, p 10.

[3] Documents for other areas of Muslim minority existence certainly exist; however, it is my understanding that their number is far fewer than as it relates to Iberia. Sarah David-Secord’s “Muslims in Norman Sicily: The Evidence of Imam al-Mazari’s Fatwas” (Mediterranean Studies, Vol 16; 2007; p 46-66) is worth a read for that particular case. More research is needed on this.

[4] Hendrickson, Jocelyn, “Muslim Legal Responses to Portuguese Occupation in Late Fifteenth Century North Africa” in Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies. Vol 12:3, 2011, pp 309-325.

[5] Al-Wansharisi, Ahmad. “Asna al-matajir” trans. Jocelyn Hendrickson, in “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix A, p 3

[6] Ibid p 6-7

[7] Ibid p 14-15

[8] Ibid p 21

[9] Ibid p 23; Financial support of the Christians through taxes was presumably perceived as being to the detriment of Muslims in the distant hopes of taking back al-Andalus but more realistically in defeating Christians along the Moroccan coast. See footnote 4.

[10] Ibid p 22

[11] Ahmad al-Wansharisi, “The Marabella fatwa” trans. Jocelyn Hendrickson in “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix B, p 32

[12] Ibid p 33-34

[13] Ibid p 36; This understanding of the corruptive possibilities of mixed marriage also represents a continuity with fears shown in legal texts in the ninth century – see Safran, p 583.

[14] Ibid

[15] Asna, translation, p 2

[16] Rosen, Laurence. Bargaining for Reality: The Construction of Social Relations in a Muslim Community. University of Chicago Press (Chicago and London) 1984.

[17] Asna, translation, P 3

[18] Marabella fatwa, translation, p 31

[19] See Safran reference above. Additionally, as mentioned in the introduction, the fear of Bid’ah (innovation) can be found in Qur’anic and hadith sources as well. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “…Verily he among you who lives [long] will see great controversy, so you must keep to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Khalifahs – cling to them stubbornly. Beware of newly invented matters, for every invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is a going astray, and every going astray is in Hell-fire.” [Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi]; Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him) said: “He who innovates something that is not in agreement with our matter (religion), will have it rejected.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] Bid’ah arises from the following scenarios: Ignorance (“Allah does not erase knowledge (from earth) by erasing knowledge from slaves (hearts). Rather, He erases knowledge through the death of scholars. When He leaves (earth) without scholars, people will take the ignorant as leaders (and scholars). They (the ignorant) will be asked and then give Fatawa without knowledge. Then, they will be lead, and will lead astray.” [Ahmad]); Being led by desire (“But if they answer you not O Muhammad, then know that they only follow their own lusts. And who is more astray then one who follows his own lust (desires) without the guidance from Allah” [Noble Quran 28:50]); blindly follow anyone (““Follow what Allah has sent down.” They say: “Nay! We shall follow what we found our fathers following. Even though their fathers did not understand anything, nor were they guided.” [Noble Quran 2:170]”); and imitating non-Muslims (The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allahu Akbar! It is the Sunan (traditions of the Mushrikun). You said by He Who has my soul in His Hand, what the children of Israel said toMoses: “Make for us gods as they have gods. He said: ‘Verily! You area people who know not.” [7:138]). Other examples of Bid’ah as a continuing anxiety throughout Islamic history could be outlined in a future research paper.

[20] De Gebir, “Breviario Sunni” in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012, p 470

[21] Ibid, p 471-2

[22] Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As: Mujahid said that Abdullah ibn Amr slaughtered a sheep and said: Have you presented a gift from it to my neighbour, the Jew, for I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) say: Gabriel kept on commending the neighbour to me so that I thought he would make an heir? – Sunan Abu Dawood, 2446; Malik related to me from Ibn Shihab from al-Araj from Abu Hurayra that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “No one should prevent his neighbour from fixing a wooden peg in his wall.” Then Abu Hurayra said, “Why do I see you turning away from it? By Allah! I shall keep on at you about it.” – Malik Al-Muwatta, Volume 36, Number 32; Yahya related to me from Malik from Said ibn Abi Said al-Maqburi from Abu Shurayh al-Kabi that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good or be silent. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be generous to his neighbour. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should be generous to his guest. His welcome is for a day and a night, and his hospitality is for three days. Whatever is more than that is sadaqa. It is not halal for a guest to stay with a man until he becomes a burden.” – Malik Al-Muwatta, Volume 49, Number 22; Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The best friend in the sight of Allah is he who is the well-wisher of his companions, and the best neighbour is one who behaves best towards his neighbours. Transmitted by Tirmidhi. – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 120; Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr: Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “The best companion in Allah’s estimation is the one who is best to his companion, and the best neighbour in Allah’s estimation is the one who is best to his neighbour.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 1287; Narrated AbdurRahman ibn AbuQurad: The Prophet performed ablution one day and his companion began to wipe themselves with the water he had used. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked them what induced them to do that, and when they replied that it was love for Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) he said, “If anyone is pleased to love Allah and His Messenger, (peace be upon him) or rather to have Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) love him, he should speak the truth when he tells anything, fulfil his trust when he is put in a position of trust, and be a good neighbour.” Bayhaqi transmitted it in Shu’ab al-Iman. – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 1289; Narrated AbuDharr: Allah’s Apostle said: AbuDharr, when you prepare the broth, add water to that and give that (as a present) to your neighbour. – Sahih Muslim, 1208 Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Messenger of Allah) observed: He will not enter Paradise whose neighbour is not secure from his wrongful conduct. – Sahih Muslim, 15; Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbor. And I advise you to take care of the women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of the women.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Number 114; Narrated Abu Shuraih: The Prophet said, “By Allah, he does not believe! By Allah, he does not believe! By Allah, he does not believe!” It was said, “Who is that, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “That person whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Number 45; Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet (i.e. abstain from all kinds of evil and dirty talk).” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Number 47.

[23] Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39, 1 John 4:11, John 15:13

[24] De Gebir, p 471.

[25] This is a point concurred even in the introductory paragraph to the text written by Olivia Remie Constable and echoed in her quotation from L.P. Harvey on the subject, that de Gebir’s text seems to seamlessly combine “orthodox Islamic precepts with (often contradictory) ideas from Christian writings,” likely as a result of the stresses on Muslim minorities living under Christian-dominant polities. (470)

[26] Some preliminary texts that have alerted me to this difference (making the proving of bid’ah as uniquely central to Islam and not Christianity) are: Lex Visigothorum in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012, p 24- 25; Siete Partidas in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012 401-2 and 404; Sicroff, Albert, Los Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre, Taurus Ediciones, 1985. Chiami, Pablo, Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre, Centro de Investigación y Difusión de la Cultura Sefardí, 2000; and Anidjar, Gil. Blood: A Critique of Christianity. Columbia University Press: 2014. Much more research is needed to quantify Anidjar’s overall anthropological thesis with meticulous archival research it is currently lacking.

On March 3rd, 2016 I was asked to give a talk to high school students in Alberta, British Columbia, Egypt and Bangladesh on the general subject of women’s advocacy and International Women’s Day. What follows below is an edited transcript of my talk.

The last time I did something for International Women’s Day was an interview I did with the Mohammedia Presse in Morocco in 2014. The interview was a poignant contrast to how women’s day is popularly marked in Morocco – which is to say, with flowers and chocolates handed to women in the street all across the country. My interview, however, was about not letting one day obscure the reality of the street for woman every day – which is, a haven for street harassers to relentlessly hound women of all shapes and sizes, all ages, all stages of life, all styles of clothing. Regardless of demographic, whether she’s urban or rural, educated or illiterate, veiled or not, it simply does not matter. The reality for women in the street in Morocco on every day other than International Women’s Day is that she will be intrusively approached by men, asked for all kinds of obscenities, or she will be followed for blocks and blocks, or she will be molested without remorse.

This happened to me countless times in Morocco while I was living there over a period of three years. It didn’t matter that I was 8 months pregnant and clad in a floor-length djelleba with a hijab – there would still be men asking if my baby had a daddy. It didn’t matter if I was walking, a professional director of a primary school in the village, there would still be a man on a motorcycle trying to corner me. On more than a few occasions I uttered profanities and threw rocks to protect myself.

And this sad reality has become so common there that two things have happened: Firstly, women have been unable to fight the tidal wave of harassment and often face physically violent repercussions if they defend themselves. A friend of mine stood up for herself and promptly received a black eye. Secondly, the prevalence of street harassment has caused a psychological trauma that is systemic culturally. It has gotten to the point that if rape culture is not reinforced (ie. if a woman is not sexually harassed by men in the street) in a gruesome manner, she will begin to find herself unattractive, thereby perpetuating and internalizing the oppressive mechanisms of patriarchy, permitting them to continue.

Now, I’m not naïve to think that these women need my perspective at all for their liberation. That’s neo-imperialist, anti-feminist and a reinforcement of the patriarchy I am trying so hard to undermine, as far as I’m concerned. Moroccan women (and men!) are fully aware of the social ills that street harassment represents and they will often excuse the harassers as simply being “bored” or “out of work”. Or they’ll even go so far as to blame the monarchy for the economic ills of the country which have led so many young men to feel that way.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m bored or out of work, the last thing I would think to do is go whisper hideous aggressions as unsuspecting women in the street. I can, however, see it as a way for a hopeless young man to improperly regain some of his power at the expense of the dignity of another. And when I say hopeless, I mean hopeless – Morocco has one of the fastest growing economies in the Arab world and is definitely one of the most stable countries in the MENA region as well. In fact, in my experience, very few people even remotely wanted to protest the current King Mohammed VI’s authority during the Arab Spring and after a few hundred thousand did, the King relinquished much of his power constitutionally. At the best, we can say he had good intentions. At the worst, it was a ceremonial gesture. And yet despite the stability, the growth of the economy and infrastructure is consistently outpaced by the growth of the population, among a myriad of complicating factors, including widespread corruption.

For me, the heart of Morocco’s social ills has a lot to do with disenfranchisement of women and the lack of gender equality – of which, street harassment and economic ills are but social symptoms. And at the very heart of this disenfranchisement is a lack of education.

Which brings me to the reason I moved to Morocco in the first place. In 2010, shortly after I converted to Islam, I was planning to go to law school but on a trip to Italy before I could write my LSAT, I read a book by Nicholas Kristoff called Half the Sky which was about the socio-politico-economic consequences of female oppression worldwide. As a recent convert to Islam and a well-read one at that, I had a hard time understanding the disconnect between the gender equality and rights of women preached in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Muhammad (PBUH) an what kind of oppressive, misogynistic practices I was seeing played out in real life cases. Of course, this oppression is not limited to Islamic contexts but the fact that I was finding the cures for such oppression in the scriptural sources of Islam clued me into a disconnect that, at its core, was educational.

As a Muslim, I believe that the information exists in our scriptural sources about how to promote gender equality and respect the dignity of women, and if this not is not something I am seeing practiced on the ground, there are only two possible explanations: either people don’t know, or they don’t care.

As an eternal optimist, I have to believe that the former is true, that the majority of people just don’t know what is the prescribed status of women in Islam. And, in my experience, living in a Muslim country such as Morocco for so long, I found this to be the case… thankfully, as I’m not sure how I’d deal with people knowing and simply not caring.

On that same trip to Italy, a mere two weeks after I finished reading Kristoff’s book and had made the vow to myself to work in women’s advocacy in the Islamic world instead of going into law, I met the man who would be my husband in Florence. He happened to be building a school in his rural Moroccan town. Within 6 months of meeting him, I visited the foundations of the school, then only one storey high and within a year, I had moved to Morocco to finish building it and open it as a primary school and center for women’s rights.

During this period, I lived the first year of my Muslim life. I did so in secrecy from my family and most of my friends so I am quite up-front about the fact that I hadn’t yet experienced life as a religious minority or as an underprivileged woman in Canada…and I most certainly had not yet experienced life as a hijabi. I did, however, begin to feel the first pangs of what life is like on the margins.

When I moved to the village, my life as a hijabi began because I was finally free to practice the Deen of Islam in such a context; however what I quickly came to realize was that what I had the freedom to practice and enact as my rights as a Muslim woman was not the same for every woman in the village. In fact my suspicions had been correct: education was a key issue. The literacy rate of women in the village was only 27%. That means that anywhere from 2 to 3 women out of 10 can read. And I’m not talking about reading the Qur’an or legal texts by which they would know their rights. I’m talking about medication bottles or formula recipes for their babies – things that you and I take for granted in a literate, word-saturated society.

So, as we built the school over three years, including a 6 month stint for me in Canada where I fundraised the money for our school bus and third level by holding an arts gala at the AGA, I came to know more and more about women in the community and the obstacles they encountered to self-actualization.

I met women who:

  • had literally never left their homes since their marriage day
  • couldn’t read
  • were forbidden to attend Salat-ul-Eid (Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was famous for encouraging their attendance on this day, of all days, in particular)
  • were physically and verbally abused
  • were kept in servitude
  • had no way to earn their own income
  • had no reproductive rights

Now, of course, the opposite was also true. I found plenty of women who had jobs and careers, were free to come and go as they pleased, dressed how they liked and generally did whatever they wanted. For a large majority of women though, this was not the case.

Additionally, I became a woman who:

  • was a visible minority in Morocco (as a Western convert) and in Canada (as a hijabi convert)
  • was harassed in the street
  • almost died in child birth because my reproductive rights were violating again and again during labour
  • would go on to organize a student-led country-wide campaign to end street harassment called Letters to Our Brothers

These stories could really go on and on but I want to conclude by talking a little bit about what I have learned from this experience.

  1. Corruption can kill any dream but you have to keep on fighting. Despite our greatest aspirations for the school and women’s center, we still have yet to obtain proper authorization for teaching older children and have been told point-blank by the provincial authorities that they will never give us the paper without “compensation” (meaning a bribe)
  2. The education of women is great. The reasons for this are innumerable. I am not one to uphold the gender binary, but particularly in Morocco, where Islam dictates certain binary-like gender performances based on biological sex, some things hold fast to those performances. This includes the fact that if you teach a woman, you are teaching a community. Information is passed through women at a much greater rate than through men and this is especially true in the education of children. Additionally, educating women doubles the economic participation of community members, but more often than not, women tend to participate in the economy in socially oriented ways that benefit the whole.
  3. The rights of women are a moot point if the duties incumbent upon men to provide them are not known. A married woman may have the right to an education and work and a roof over her head, but if her husband is unaware of his duty in providing those things for her.
  4. Similarly, we need men for feminism to work. I neglected to mention that the literacy rate of men in the same rural village is only 55%. We need men to be as educated as women, not in order to get permission for liberation but to join forces against oppression. This is predicated on the notion that patriarchy works systemically but not always consciously and it only has power if we let it. Additionally, this is to say nothing of the damaging effects of patriarchy on men, including creating an oppressive culture of hyper-masculinity.

Thank you.

Historical discussion of the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties tends to conflate the two by labelling them both as Berber and “fundamentalist.” While both dynasties did, indeed, originate in Amazigh tribes from what is now Morocco, their interpretations of Islam were far from the same. Almoravids upheld the Maliki school of fiqh, whereas the Almohads adopted an early form of scripturalism, critical of the Maliki school, combined with ancient philosophy that committed exegesis through the use of reason. To see them as similar or a continuation of one another is a homogenization of their disparate ideological differences and likely arises from a tendency to view their influence as an incursion on an idealized understanding of Andalusian Islams and Iberia’s relegation to the status of an Amazigh colony under both polities. In this paper, I will briefly examine their theo-ideological differences, and other contingencies that separate the two dynasties. I will also examine their similarities and speculate as to the reason for their conflation among historians.

In the Medieval Iberia reader, the distinction between Almoravids and Almohads is ambiguous, partly because the source materials associated with them are lumped into the same chapter, and the dating of these materials can be a bit unclear. The dating of Ibn Abdun’s Hisba Manual is simply “early twelfth century,” which does not leave much information for the reader as to whether it was a specifically Almoravid or Almohad document. Its emphasis on Qur’anic or hadith stipulations for governing the marketplace leaves things up in the air as to who the document could have belonged to as both groups tended towards reinterpreting these key scriptural sources. That being said, the Almoravids did not break from the Maliki school of fiqh as the Almohads did and a thorough study of legal opinions from that school in relation to the prescriptions of this document might help to make the connection (or non-connection) to the Almoravids clearer. The one account we are provided with that is directly attributable to the Almoravids is Al-Idrisi’s Description of Almeria which says little of their ideological preferences or other distinguishing features. It appears that the Almoravids were very much interested in commerce, manufacturing and trade but the same can easily be said about the Almohads whose trade networks would later extend much farther east across the Mediterranean. The other documents in the chapter tend to focus on Almohad theology, their patronage and their treatment of the Jews. It could be that the source materials for the Almoravids in Iberia are simply not available or not directly attributable to them, which leads to a conflation of the two dynasties by virtue of source issues. Looking at how they are arranged in the Medieval Iberia reader is one example of this conflation.

At the beginning of his chapter entitled “Moroccan Fundamentalists” in Moorish Spain, Richard Fletcher notes that although the Almohads were of a remarkably different sect of fundamentalism from the Almoravids, the two groups are “confusingly similar” and “there is nothing that can be done about it.”[1] Maria Rosa Menocal describes both the Almoravids and the Almohads as fundamentalist Berbers from Morocco.[2] It seems that the term fundamentalism is being used here to imply a kind of intolerance based on literal applications of Islamic interpretations. The argument that these two are largely indistinguishable from each other, however, remains unconvincing and in the interests of not generalizing about these groups, it is important to find their key distinguishing features.

Constable argues that the Almohads are easier to trace based on their theological projections being clearer than the Almoravids who preceded them.[3] Although Menocal (wrongfully) claims that the Almohad’s “narrow interpretation of Islam made their scholars far less avid than many Latin readers of [the] scientific and philosophical library,”[4] their Almohad Creed is an excellent example of how the influence of Aristotelian metaphysics impacted Almohad interpretations of Islamic doctrine. Arguments made in the Creed were meant to be tested against one’s own Reason and lived experience in order to arrive at the truth of the Almohad ontology. Sources suggest that this approach was unique to the Almohads and was not shared by the Almoravids who exhibited their “fundamentalism” by extinguishing practices in al-Andalus that were against Islamic fiqh rulings but remained within that rigid framework.[5]

Their differences in ideology are just one area we can use to nuance our demarcation between them. Al-Marrakushi’s history of the Almohads and Ibn Tumart’s rise and take over of Almoravid territory is a primary source document that helps to illustrate not only that these groups were different but that they were in contention with one another. The Almohads gained momentum quickly under Ibn Tumart’s leadership, conquering Almoravid territory in Morocco and into al-Andalus. In looking at their historical interaction, it sounds redundant to say, but these are obviously not the same group. I would go so far as to say that they are not the same brand of so-called fundamentalism either – a term problematic for its anachronistic connotations.

So, it remains, in what instances could it seem appropriate to put the Almoravids and Almohads in the same historical category together? Such an exercise might be useful from an Andalusian perspective as distinctions between the two groups might have been a moot point. The usurpation of power by the Almohads was still the unification of al-Andalus under a foreign polity – both polities which practiced radically different forms of Islam, not only from each other but from Andalusians themselves. In trying to uphold a narrative of Andalusian exceptionalism or preference for their cultural-religious practices, it would make sense to put two foreign, less cosmopolitan conquerors (who arrived one after the other) next to each other. For historians seeking to understand the differences between these two groups and to highlight the unique experience of Andalusians under each one, their conflation is of little value.

[1] Fletcher 105

[2] Menocal 141 and 195-6

[3] Constable 237

[4] Menocal 198

[5] Fletcher, 108.

A little while ago, we had a blog post about How Travel Makes You a Better Writer and since we are professional writers, you would think we have traveled a fair amount. In this article, we will explore some of the lessons Nakita has learned about writing while going on a tour of all the places she has visited so far.

tumblr_mbxa59Xpfg1r1mmbpo1_500Paris: Always keep your wits about you. Shortly after I turned 18 years old, I booked a flight to Paris on a discount airline and announced to my family that I would be going away for six weeks. Being an overprotective Italian famiglia, they didn’t take this too well, but knowing me, they let me go. It was a bit of a learning curve for me the whole way through from figuring out where my hostel was, to getting lost in the Jardin des Tuileries, from having a dirty old man named Maurice literally French kiss me in the trees. Whether it was admiring the art or the beauty of this world-class city, Paris is all about keeping you on your toes. I went again the following year with a dear friend of mine, Carrie. Between laundry detergent exploding in her luggage the instant we arrived, episodes of urinating in the street, and endless marriage proposals from the Algerians selling wine under La Tour Eiffel, Paris hadn’t changed much. One particular instance that stands out is a young fellow named Taoufek following us back to our hotel, begging for our phone number. I scanned the street and spotted a number on the window of a nearby hairsalon. I’m sure he was surprised the next day. Poor guy.

tumblr_lcuzvgKxeC1qb0bzxo1_1280Krakow: Always leave room for the element of surprise. I have been to this beautiful Polish city three times in my life. The first time was just after I had been in Paris and I was traveling there for historical purposes – to go visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. Little did I know how beautiful and brilliant the city would be – amazing, generous people, brilliant food, classic sights. Krakow has an incredible charm to it that I hadn’t really been expecting. And the deep appreciation that people from Krakow have for good jazz music meant that I was listening to some of the best tunes I had heard in awhile, almost everywhere I went. When I went back to Paris the following year, I also went back to Krakow. I just couldn’t stay away from that place. Kebabs the size of your head, Chopin being played in the streets; it was all too much. I went there again in January 2010 – visiting the winter was very different and I arrived on a whim for the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The ceremony was bizarre and somber, and since I was in a psychologically dark place, the whole experience was quite void of the light and merriment I normally associate with Krakow. I will go back soon to rectify this.

tumblr_lspqeubZA01qaqfbbo1_500Greece: Always go to the doctor. After the second Paris, Krakow trip, I ended up in Greece, visiting Athens and Crete. Unfortunately, I had contracted an infection in Poland that I subsequently ignored and in the small town of Rethymnon on Crete, it caught up with me. Turns out you should always, always get antibiotics for a UTI or else, like it did for me, it will turn into a kidney infection and you will be hospitalized for three days with a doctor who wears flip flops and smokes cigarettes in a nasty wifebeater while he does your ultrasound. Other than nearly dying, Greece was amazing. This was in 2006 before the collapse of everything holy and sacred, where you could still buy tiropita on every street corner and the best meal you’ve ever had was chicken and potatoes in an unmarked, hole-in-the-wall in the port of Athens. Listening to Bouzkouki music outside under the infinite stars – a sight to behold which makes the current crisis and destruction of the country all the more heartbreaking.

folkloricoMexico: Never wear your glasses in the ocean OR when in doubt, add salsa. I’ve been to Mexico twice – Puerto Vallarta and Cancun – and had positive experiences both times. Unfortunately, the first day my family and I had arrived in Puerto Vallarta at our hotel, I decided to go body-surfing in the ocean and (like a dum-dum) left my only pair of glasses on my face. Little do most of you know, I’m nearly blind and I’m also petrified of birds so imagining my fear when a pelican was drifting towards me in-between waves. I was so distracted by it that I missed the giant wave coming at me until it slammed into my face, knocking my glasses into the swirling abyss, never to be found again. I was a screaming hot mess coming out of that ocean, sobbing like a madwoman. Luckily, my father has the same prescription as me and I got the joy of wearing his prescription sunglasses at night and his over-sized dad glasses during the day. Sexy stuff people. Did I mention that I was fourteen and bald because I had recently shaved my head to raise money for cancer? Oh Lord. The best parts of Mexico are its warm people, its beautiful landscapes and its unbelievable food. I would have to say that if someone held a gun to my head and made me pick a favourite world cuisine, Mexican would be it. (Although Lebanese is a close second).

59d5bbb08738877501630e3bd03b15afDominican Republic: Never keep your mouth shut. My dad lives in the Dominican Republic so it was only a matter of time before I made it out to this beautiful island country to visit him and his wife. The DR is a place of paradoxes and disparities. Rich gringos live the life behind walled compounds guarded by locals holding large rifles while illegal Haitians chisel out a meager living while being exploited by their Dominican bosses. The deep blue of the water at the soft-sand beaches is almost enough to make you forget the crippling poverty that envelopes the country and looks like paradise to its Haitian neighbor to the west. There are a lot of things I could write about my experience in the DR but what takes the cake was being invited to a lunch with a group of my dad’s colleagues in an affluent home and meeting a man who earned the title of the most self-righteous, racist, jack@$$ I have ever met. In the course of half a meal, he outed himself as a pompous Brit, hell-bent on proving to me that Dominicans are allergic to work and that something is wrong with their “blood”. Most people might smile and nod, not wanting to rock the boat with their dad’s business partner, but I’m not most people. Obviously, I outed him for the khemar (Arabic for donkey) that he is and promptly left the dining table to sit in the car. I couldn’t even stand the sight of this guy and regret nothing in leaving our host’s home to get away from him. Gringos! Bah!

Christmas-Lights-Temple-Square-Salt-Lake-City-Utah-3Salt Lake City, Utah: Trust yourself and take the time to feel your spirit. I went to Utah to be trained for my work in the nutrition field on a special medical device that measures inflammation in the body’s meridians. I certainly didn’t expect to have something verging on a religious experience. In case you didn’t know it, Salt Lake City is the Mecca of ‘Muricas Mormons (or Latter Day Saints as they prefer to be called). Walking around Temple Square talking to missionaries about their religion all day was deeply interesting to me. They were so open to my posing challenging (but respectful) questions (constantly), I could hardly believe it. It’s easily the cleanest city I have ever visited and I have yet to feel a sense of peace and stillness anywhere else as I did there. My cousin was living there at the time and when I asked her why everything was so calm and peaceful all the time, she replied that it was “Spirit”. There are a number of ways that one can quantify what I felt there- biologically, psychologically, socially, etc. However, I prefer to think of that journey as part of my personal evolution when I started to trust myself more and feel that stillness. As a convert to Islam, a lot of people are surprised to find that Latter Day Saints had a hand in my conversion to being a Muslim, but they did and I’m forever grateful for that.

tumblr_ml5g5zJ84R1s2u8uuo1_500_largeLondon: Don’t order the Chinese food. I’ve been to London twice for very short periods both times. The second time was after the Rethymnon hospitalization incident so London is a bit of a blur for me. All I really remember is that my hostel had about 4 inches of room around the perimeter of the bed for “walking” around and that I ordered chicken fried rice at a small Chinese joint and it cost £18. That is 36 dollars, people. For rice, oil and a couple scraps of chicken. I couldn’t wait to leave the UK.

tumblr_lzurp1SiRv1qb0bzxo1_500Italy: Fall in love and relish your family’s history. It is impossible for me to encapsulate Italy in a tiny paragraph on a blog full of other places to talk about. My experiences there have been so rich and life-changing that doing it justice is an impossibility. The first time I went to Italy, I explored the boot with my cousin Michele, visiting every city we could and hunting Carravaggios and Berninis in the chapels and museums of our beloved homeland. It was also the trip where I met my husband Bassam who had been living and working in Firenze for ten years. A year after the moon hit my eye like a big pizza pie at the sight of his nose, I lived there with him for a month. It was easily one of the best months of my life as it was Ramadan and I had unfettered access to an English language bookstore where I could read to my heart’s content (when I wasn’t sketching or jogging!). Later, I was also able to visit the land my family came from in Calabria, staying in the house my grandmother grew up in and waking up to the orchards of the Maione hills every morning. La dolce vita.

tumblr_lwmnvmR14f1r8ggsqo4_1280Morocco: The number of lessons I have learned from living a cumulative three years in Morocco as far too many to list here, let alone sum up in one cutesy subheading. I lived, loved and almost died in this country. Its people have entered my heart; its food has moistened my veins; its sounds have long echoed in my ears. My daughter was born there and, I have had some brilliant memories as well as the darkest moments of my life in the Maghreb. I built a primary school in a rural village there with my husband and now, my academic research is devoted to pedagogy of the Holocaust among Moroccan Muslims. For this, it will always be part of my history and likely my future as well. I learned independence and a strength I didn’t know I had – overcoming the most overwhelming of obstacles to rise and thrive another day.

Where have you been and what have you learned?

Alhambra-in-GranadaThe Drawing Board is pleased to announce that our very own, Nakita Valerio, has been selected as a recipient for the 2015 State of Kuwait Graduate Student award in Islamic Studies. After an intense competition among applicants, Nakita was announced as a winner on June 15, 2015. The award comes with significant financial assistance which will be used to fund her ethnographic and archival research in Morocco and Egypt for her thesis.

The tentative title of her thesis is: Remembering Al-Yehud Through the Shoah: Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching the Holocaust and Jewishness Among Contemporary Moroccan Muslims

A summary of her research is what follows:

The Holocnakita036aust is a provocative measure of the Muslim memory of Jews. Though it isconsidered the starting point in Critical Memory studies, there is yet to be much scholarship devoted to its memory in the Islamic world. An intimate history of relatively peaceful coexistence between Moroccan Jews and Muslims has been challenged in a comparatively short time by narratives of nationalism and diaspora, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, their economic-trade policy, the rhetoric regarding normalization of Israel, and educational protocols surrounding the constructed memory of Jews in Morocco.  My working research questions are as follows: How is the Holocaust remembered by self-identified Moroccan Muslims? How is this affected by education, politics and self-prescribed ideas about the “Islamic and Jewish religions”? How does this affect overall remembering of Jews in Morocco? These questions are situated in the context of Memory literature and are used to understand how societies reconcile multi-layered cognitive dissonance.