Magharebia (Washington DC)

12 February 2014

Morocco: Salafist Imam Awaits Morocco Verdict

Casablanca — A Casablanca court will render a verdict in the case of salafist imam Abdelhamid Abounaim on Wednesday (February 19th).

An investigation into Abounaïm was opened in January after he posted a YouTube fatwa against a politician and his party.

In the December 27th video, Abounaim said that the "infidel" Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) had promoted kufr in all of its activities since the 1950s. He named current party chief Driss Lachgar and former USFP figures, such as Mehdi Ben Berka.

Abounaim accused Lachgar of "apostasy" for calling on Morocco to ban polygamy and allow equal shares for men and women in inheritance.

The salafist cheikh also assailed the minister of religious endowments, the High Council of Ulema and the League of Moroccan Ulema for not taking a stand against the politician.

"Whoever says that Lachgar is not infidel is himself apostate and infidel," the radical imam said.

At the arraignment, his defence attorney Rachid Idrissi claimed that Lachgar and Amazigh activist Ahmed Assid had "violated confirmed texts".

But the prosecutor rejected the argument and retained the charges against Abounaim, saying that "all things that would lead to strife and conflicts must be avoided".

Abounaim is also short of support from fellow salafists.

Cheikh Mohamed Fizazi told Magharebia, "Provocative statements by seculars lead to statements from religious adherents."

"Extremism exists everywhere, whether Islamic or otherwise. I hope that the cheikh apologises in an express statement; return to right is a virtue," Fizazi said.

Salafist cleric Mohamed Abdelouahab Rafiki (aka Abu Hafs) said he did not "agree with opening the door for anyone to accuse people of apostasy".

"There's no doubt that takfir is a grave issue. This is a purely judicial thing, and therefore, I think this should be confined to courts," Abu Hafs said.

Abounaim's path to radicalisation was long.

In his early days, he studied at the hands of Cheikh Taqi-u-dine al-Hilali, who introduced salafism to Morocco after discovering it on the Arabian Peninsula.

Later, he taught and preached in Casablanca's Derb Soltane al-Fida neighbourhood.

But the turning point in Abounaim's life came in the early '90s when he gradually started embracing traditional salafism.

He grew a heavy beard and coloured it with henna, wore Afghan-style clothes and used siwaak, and distributed takfirist fatwas online.

But the fatwa that landed him in court may also lead to legislative changes in the kingdom.

In response to the cheikh's inflammatory fatwa, the Moroccan parliament has been considering a bill to criminalise takfir and incitement to violence.

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