Magharebia (Washington DC)

16 July 2014

Algeria Asks Imams to Stress Moderation

Algiers — As Algerians flock to mosques during Ramadan, the religious affairs ministry is determined to protect citizens and places of worship from extremist ideology.

Minister for Religious Affairs and Waqfs Mohamed Aissa met with religious leaders just before the start of the holy month. He asked them to focus on "the secular commitment of Algerians to the middle course in Islam".

Mosques must "reach out to society by delivering balanced religious sermons that address the real concerns of Algerians, on the basis of our Sunni doctrine", Aissa said.

The minister called on imams to shoulder their responsibilities and abide by Algerian customs and Sunni doctrine, by fighting against movements that certain preachers try to introduce into the mosques.

"In our mosques, we are seeing the emergence of movements which are alien to our values." Imam Mohcen El Djazairi confirmed.

"Young people are being influenced by what they hear elsewhere and are trying to impose their visions of Islam, which are not tolerant. In our preaching and in our day-to-day contact with people, we must convey a different message," he said.

The imam added: "Mosques cannot be cut off from society. On the contrary, they must pay attention and listen."

Minister Aissa has advocated the same openness, telling imams on June 22nd: "We must not withdraw into ourselves in advocating Islam and merely call people to prayer. For fourteen centuries, the Muslim Algerian nation has had very great scholars who are still unknown or are not mentioned in the media to the general public."

Algerian scholars such as Sidi Boumediene Chouaib, Cheikh Abdelkrim El-Maghili, Nacereddine El-Mechedali, Sidi Abderrahmane Ethaalibi and Cheikh Abdelhamid Benbadis - who contributed to the establishment of Sunni doctrine - should be known to the youngest members of society, he added.

The minister also told imams that the increase in charity work during Ramadan means that mosques must check the sources of donations and prevent the funds from being used for other purposes.

Many citizens see the vigilance as necessary, given what happened during the Black Decade.

Saliha Missoum, a retired education sector employee, recalls Algeria during the 1990's, telling Magharebia: "Overnight, mosques were taken hostage by small groups, which used them as bases under the pretext of religious practice."

"People stayed there after prayers to listen to incendiary sermons that ran counter to our values of tolerance," Missoum said. "They even raised money in the name of God to finance terrorist networks."

"We don't want to see that ever again," she added. "We suffered too much."

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