interviewBy Mohamed Saadoun
Tangier — King Mohammed VI of Morocco recently attended Friday prayers at the Tarik ibn Zyad mosque in Tangier. The visit raised questions because the man at the pulpit was cheikh Mohamed Fizazi, an icon of salafist takfirism who served prison time for inspiring the 2003 Casablanca attacks.
Magharebia visited the imam at the Tarik ibn Zyad mosque in Tangier to discuss foreign jihad, local controversies and whether the monarch's visit signalled a new rapprochement with salafists.
Magharebia: Because you were jailed on terrorism charges, people took note when the monarch came to your mosque on March 28th. What did his visit mean to you?
Cheikh Mohamed Fizazi: ... The king remains the umbrella that covers all segments of society regardless of their forms, colours, principles, and political and intellectual parties.
It is then a clear message saying that the king and Morocco are against both extremism and terrorism. It is as if the king were saying, "Look how we honour Cheikh Fizazi after he reviewed and corrected his opinion. We are even now attending his sermon."
Morocco rewards all those who review their ideas in favour of their country, their homeland, and their people...
Magharebia: You were sentenced to 30 years in connection with the Casablanca bombings, but were freed on a royal pardon. What can you tell us about the salafists still in prison?
Fizazi: Salafi prisoners are in three groups: those who are definitely innocent; those who need open channels of dialogue in order to review and correct some misconceptions about religion; and a group adamant about adopting the approach of violence...
We need to open channels of dialogue with the salafists in prisons and give the opportunity to those who want to engage in the project of Moroccan society, and integrate and merge positively with people. I say from this pulpit that innocents should be let out of jail because the case concerns the nation.
The state has no benefit in keeping prisons overcrowded, but they are also afraid to see people leave prisons and rush like the wind to Syria, Libya and other hot spots and join terrorist projects again. The state also fears the deployment of takfiri ideology, from which prisoners are still not free.
Magharebia: Speaking of takfir, what did you think when a cheikh accused a political party leader of apostasy?
Fizazi: ... What the cheikh said was a result and not a cause. I have always said that provocative statements by some ultra-secularists are what provoke anti-statements made by some religious people. Extremism in my view exists in every direction, whether Islamic or otherwise. I have always held the same opinion about takfir.
The issue here is the possibility of moving to the physical liquidation of people deemed apostate or infidel by unknown parties convinced they are implementing God's law...This is the cause of chaos and discord. We cannot rule out the possibility of others implementing sanctions on their own.
What a mess! Abounaim made a mistake when he allowed himself to accuse Driss Lachgar of apostasy and describe the women of the USFP as prostitutes. His statement is religiously unacceptable, as we can consider it a form of verbal assault.
I wish the cheikh had apologised...
Magharebia: What is your message to young people who travel to Libya and Syria for jihad?
Fizazi: I say to these young, misled Moroccans: you are wrong and you are serving a foreign agenda against your homeland, religion and families.
Your homeland and your people and your religion have no benefit in death for conflicts and political calculations in the name of religion. You go to an incinerator to kill on behalf of Islam, a religion, which you do not grasp.
How is it possible that the young people of Syria are begging in front of our mosques while you go to fight and die in front of the doors of their cities?
Youth must fight poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and backwardness here and work hand in hand with the king, and with institutions, legitimacy and legality, in order to combat underdevelopment, instability, corruption, and lewdness. These are the fronts on which we must fight, behind the king of the country.
We do not have to go kill on foreign fronts in Libya and Syria. It is a farce, and I warn against corrupting youth in the name of religion and jihad.
I imagine the war zone in Syria like a millstone that grinds young people to death, leaving behind widows and orphans and bereaved, and people with disabilities. If they return safely to their homes, their only homes are going to be prison cells. Their countries of origin consider them a potential terrorist threat because of what they might have absorbed in terms of extreme takfiri thinking.
Magharebia: You have expressed your willingness to go inside Moroccan prisons to talk to those who have embraced jihadi ideas. Is this going to happen soon?
Fizazi: I put myself at the disposal of the state. When it finds the appropriate time and the situation requires that it uses the services of useful people, I am available. I put myself at the disposal of my country in order to help solve the thorny file of Salafi Jihadism...
Many prisoners will be free sooner or later. They will leave when their sentences end, yet I wish they could become free with a royal pardon - in the framework of peace and reconciliation - instead of leaving prison disgruntled.
They could turn into time bombs that explode at any moment. So I think that we should take pre-emptive steps. I think the issue needs a push...
Magharebia: Are these intellectual revisions accepted both inside and outside prisons?
Fizazi: First, I must point out that revisions are positive steps by Islamists, secularists, and liberals, be they prisoners or at large.
We constantly ask Islamists to review their ideas, but we do not ask for the same thing from others, though revisions are needed by everyone. A serious discussion involving all qualified parties should be open. The uninformed should learn, the learned should debate, and the scholar should argue, and so on...
Herein comes the role of the media, the mosque, school and home, to develop plans for guidance and safe treatment of the phenomenon in real time. We should also develop a roadmap to prevent a repeat of intellectual aberration in the near and distant future...
Magharebia: What do you think about al-Qaeda sending young people from the Maghreb to fight in Syria and other foreign countries?
Fizazi: This strategy is old and I warn young people not to fall into its tentacles. This is the result of ignorance of religion and the exploitation of young people...
Our Islamic religion is a religion of peace and safety. The Messenger of God is a good example in the treatment of people, even those with whom he disagreed. I tell the youth: do not be fooled by appearances.
Scholars should provide spiritual guidance to youth and not leave the stage to those who are targeting our young people in the name of religion.
This issue is intellectual and doctrinal, more than about security. That is why we should all work according to our abilities to save the young people who are lured by paradise, virgins, the defence of oneness and loyalty and disavowal.
You should open the eyes of our young people to the real Islam - the Islam of love and compassion and charity - not the Islam of bombing and killing and cruelty.