JSM in the Islamic Studies Conference at the University of London: a Report

Mounir Birouk

April 29, 2015

A panel was held about the thought of Imam Abdessalam Yassine in BRAIS (British Association for Islamic Studies) annual conference. The conference took place this year at the university of London from 13 to 15 April. The panel was held on the first day of the conference, and was chaired by Dr. Hammadi Nait Cherif. Three papers were presented touching upon different but complementary aspects of the thought of the Imam, namely the political, the educational and social aspects.

The first presentation was delivered by Dr. Abdelouahad Motaouakal- head of the Political Section of JSM- in which he addressed the issue of the political change in Morocco, its possibilities and its strategies. Dr. Motaouakal argues that the forces which seek political change often resort to one of three strategies. The first advocates change through the use of violence. This strategy, he explains, is destructive, costly and squarely opposes the stipulations of Islam to abstain from violence. The second strategy is more popular and enticing, though. It advocates the change from within the autocratic regimes, but often ends up with the cooptation, manipulation and erosion of the change-seeking forces, regardless of how honest they are. The last strategy, which the presenter also calls the third way, is civil resistance. As Dr. Motaouakal explains, Imam Abdessalam Yassine opts for this strategy not only because it is cost-effective and more challenging to the despotic regimes, but also because it avoids the flaws and traps of the other two strategies. Finally, the presenter stressed Imam Yassine’s conviction that effective political change in Morocco can only take place on the ground of a national pact in which all the parties and civil society groups, regardless of their convictions or affiliations, are invited to take part.

The second presentation was delivered by Monir Birouk and capitalized on the educational aspect of the thought of Imam Yassine. Surveying Imam Yassine’s approach to education, the presenter draws attention to its holistic, balanced and evolving nature. As the presenter argues, Imam Yassine advocates an educational approach which aims to liberate the human being at once from the egoistic, the consumerist and the subservient mentalities. In Amam Yassine’s view, no educational can live up to this challenge, that is the liberation of the individual, other than an education which places ihssan or spiritual excellence right at its heart.

The third paper, presented by Dr. Yahya Abdellaoui, professor of the Quranic Studies in the European Institute of Human Sciences in London, addressed the issue of social justice in the thought of Imam Abdessalam Yassine. The presenter focused in his talk on three principles. The close and reciprocal influence between uprightness and accountability to God, and keeping up justice in society. The second is the significance of the compulsory social solidarity. Imam Yassine argues that the issue of social solidarity should not be left to people’s discretion, but the government has to enforce laws to ensure social justice and curb the human greed. The third principle is the aim of maintaining societal balance. For Imam Yassine, diversity should ensure mutual cooperation and complementarity, and not to be taken as a pretext for inequality.

The discussions which followed the presentations were enriching and fruitful. The intervention of the panel discussant George Joffe, Cambridge professor and North African Studies expert was particularly insightful. Prof. Joffe appreciated the balance and complementarity of the three presented papers in the panel, and set a couple of comparisons between the political situation in Morocco and other Arab countries. His remarks drew on the factor of time in the process of change and the extent of the collaboration of the Justice and Spirituality Movement with other change-seeking forces in Morocco. The questions and interventions of the audience addressed a couple of issues tackling issues as diverse as the educational programme which Imam Yassine proposes, the JSM and the Palestinian problem and the post Arab Spring in Morocco as well as in other countries in the MENA region.

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