Magharebia (Washington DC)

31 July 2013

Algeria to Tackle Extremist Preaching

Algiers — During the Black Decade, preachers of hatred claimed that the deaths of thousands of Algerians were justified. Today, Algeria is waging an all-out battle against religious extremism.

"We want to build Qur'anic schools which will create Algerian Muslims, not Afghan Muslims," Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said Thursday (July 25th) in Tindouf.

Sellal said that the Algerian government was committed to supporting the creation of Qur'anic schools in this sensitive region as long as extremist ideas advocated by terrorists were not preached at them.

Combating extremist preaching is one of the most important issues that the religious affairs ministry is focusing on. It plans to do this by training imams and educators.

Last Friday, Djelloul Guessoul from the Fatwas Office said that there were Algerians who listen to ulema from other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, particularly during Ramadan, "without considering the fact that fatwas differ according to where, when and by whom they are issued".

"We issue a warning about these fatwas requested from non-Algerian ulema, which convey messages that may damage the supreme interests of our nation and our religious authority and integrity," Imam Guessoul told APS, adding that this warning was "not an outright ban on Algerians contacting these ulema, but rather a reminder of the need to understand their tendencies".

To those who listen to foreign ulema, Imam Guessoul offered an assurance that "Algeria has competent ulema on the subject of jurisprudence". He lamented the confusion between the provisions of Islam and fatwas.

Zaim Khenchelaoui, a religious anthropologist, said that "the use of fatwas in Algeria according to the religious practices and rites of the countries in the Mashriq or emanating from Islamic movements are frequently extremist, which can have a negative impact on the practice of Islam in the Maghreb."

He believes that fatwas which come from elsewhere are "lethal" because "they have a tendency to preach death instead of preaching life".

When asked about the use of fatwas for political ends, Khenchelaoui described this phenomenon as a "means used by self-proclaimed muftis to destabilise Muslims and no doubt sow the seeds of doubt and despair in them".

"The Islamic community is now swimming in an ocean of tears and blood because of this kind of fatwa," he said.

Cheikh Djelloul Hedjimi, the secretary-general of the National Coordinating Body for Imams and Officers of Religious Affairs, said that "making fatwas an official institution will help to shape a uniform view in fatwas on various religious matters of interest to Algerian citizens based on the Malikite doctrine, which is the religious point of reference for Algerians."

"The goal is to achieve a convergence of opinion and prevent the emergence of contradictions in society caused by random fatwas that spring up in different places," he said.

Algerian society is becoming increasingly cautious with regard to preaching originating from elsewhere.

"Personally, I will not tolerate extremist preaching at the local mosque. I am ready to denounce any imam who advocates violence, division and extremism," said Anouar Belkaid, who is in his forties.

Others also said that mosques must be the central focus for the Algerian authorities.

"In this holy place, tolerance and not hatred should be preached," medical student Mouna Tamani told Magharebia.

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