Naṣīḥa and Ideology: Evolution in Religious Authority in Post-Colonial Morocco
Anhorn, Evan Christopher
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The relationship between religious authority and political power has been continuously redefined in the tumultuous setting of post-Colonial Morocco. In this paper, I examine new and innovative trends in one traditional Moroccan formulation of this relationship–the letter of advise from religious scholar to ruler, or naṣīḥa–as one space where the historical balance of power has undergone radical transformation in modern times. While this form of religio-political contestation is itself not new to Morocco’s dizzying history of competition over religious legitimacy, the contours of the modern challenge, I argue, have been significantly shaped by French colonial policy towards the long established authority of Morocco’s Islamic scholars. As we will see, this situation is brought into especial relief through an examination of the changing nature of religious scholarship and education in Morocco, as it developed in response to European colonial pressure in the pre-colonial period (roughly mid-19th century to the early 20th), as it was affected by the French Protectorate (1912- 1956) and as it has emerged in the new era of Moroccan independence (1956 to the present). As the popularly grounded conceptions of religious knowledge changed under the French Protectorate, so too did the limitations and scope of scholarly authority in Moroccan politics. The breakdown of the scholarly establishment–both the conceptual fixity of the traditional education system as well as the social functions of the scholars–contributed to a freeing-up or “liberalizing” of popular constructions of the interaction between religion and politics. While this created the space for the Pan-Islamist nationalist movement that played a critical role in achieving Moroccan independence from colonial power, it also freed up space for Islamic fundamentalism and a reinvention of the Moroccan tradition of naṣīḥa.
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