BY SAPAN GUPTA
Last Friday, the Islamic Legal Studies Program, along with the Moroccan Studies Program at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies presented a talk titled “Legal Reform in Morocco: Views of a Moroccan Feminist Dissident.” Along with Nadia Yassine, Emad Shahin from American University of Cairo, and Ann Mayer from University of Pennsylvania were the other participants at the forum. Nadia Yassine is the leading spokesperson for the banned Moroccan Islamist movement Justice and Spirituality (Al Adl Wal Ihsane). Nadia Yassine was at HLS to present her book Full Sails Ahead, recently published by Justice and Spirituality Publishing. With a tight headscarf and loose clothing, the 47-year-old spokeswoman of the Islamic movement looks like a traditional Muslim woman, but often sounds like a western feminist.
The group Justice and Spirituality rejects violence and is seen as the main opponent to the North African monarchy. It has a strong following in universities and is popular in poor areas. Many educated middle-class Moroccans see Justice and Spirituality as a backward movement, because of its emphasis on religious values, yet Nadia Yassine believes that Islam holds the keys to the progress that the country yearns for. A vocal social activist in Morocco, Nadia Yassine is now under indictment in Morocco for disrespect of “national sacred institutions.” The indictment is based an interview she gave to the Moroccan weekly Al Usbu’iya Al Jadida in June, 2005 where she adamantly criticized monarchy and favored the republic as the proper system of government, and closest to the Islamic theory of political power. She has been recurrently voicing such views for years. Nadia Yassine is expected to be sentenced from 3 to 5 years of imprisonment, and to be fined from $1000 to $100,000.
Morocco, located in the North African region known as the Maghreb, has a culture drawn from Arab, European, Berber, and African influences. A former French colony, the country has been ruled since 1956 by monarchs who claim executive and religious authority as “Commander of the Faithful.” Since becoming monarch in 1999, King Mohammed VI has introduced a radical and controversial new Islamic family code, the “Mudawwana,” which recognizes women as equal partners in the home, with equal property and divorce rights to men. In a groundbreaking development it eliminated the dictate that men are the head of the household. This created an opportunity for a tremendous cultural shift and revisions within many aspects of Moroccan life.
However, Nadia Yassine believes that Mudawwana comes within the framework of a desire by the North to dominate the South through setting up a standard model for the world in order to facilitate a better cultural domination of nations. In her view, an Islamic state could learn from the West in creating a truly representative democracy, but would not have to separate religion from politics and would create its own model instead of aping the West. Neither Iran, nor Saudi Arabia, nor Afghanistan provide an example to follow, Yassine believes, because nobody has yet managed to create a state faithful to the principles of Islam, she explains. Islam is a totally pacific religion, and people such as Bin Laden tarnish the reputation of other fundamentalist groups which follow a completely different path, she complains. She further subscribes to the view that Mudawwana should be changed. She believes that Mudawwana represents the image of ruling autocracy. Nadia Yassine clarifies that her movement is not against integrating the woman in development and her societal movement bases its activities on a constant intellectual effort of adapting the sacred text to the ever-changing context and advocates the vital need to promote and develop the status of women. “We are not only for amending the status of women, said Yassine, “we are changing such status in real life.” She claims that the proposal of her society concerning the status of women is well ahead of the Mudawwana’s advocated reforms.
Nadia Yassine said that her campaign is purely political and not religious. However, her talk did not explain that if Mudawwana helps in integrating the women to development, why her society is opposing it. During the talk, no particular provisions of Mudawwana were debated or presented as causes of consideration. Two other speakers made brief comments on the topic and were not called upon to answer any questions.In her book, Full Sails Ahead, Nadia Yassine does not blame the West for the Islamic fundamentalism. She commented that “our problems are internal and we should look from inside rather than blaming others.” She further said that “The Bible has not given the rights to Western women. They have earned their own rights and I salute it.”