Roundtable Report: On the Cultural Heritage of Morocco

MOTM —  On October 1, the Georgetown Center for Contemporary Arab Studies hosted a luncheon roundtable discussion of Dr. Kenneth Honerkamp’s latest draft paper, in which the University of Georgia professor and renowned scholar of Arabic and Islamic law analyzes the historical roots of Morocco’s famed cultural and religious moderation.

Expected to be published by the end of the month, the paper posits that the key tenants of the Moroccan values of moderation are largely inspired by the jurisprudence of Imam Malik, the theological doctrine of Imam al-Ash’arī, and the Sufism of Imam al-Junayd. The thinking of these three influential religious leaders are incorporated into what Dr. Honerkamp refers to in his paper as “what has become perhaps the best known Islamic text in Morocco after the Quran; the 700-year-old al-Murshid al mu’in (The Guiding Helper) by ‘Abd ul-Wahid ibn ‘Ashir.” In Morocco, this didactic poem is memorized by children and among Sufi orders so that all Moroccans share a common basic understanding of their religion and religious duties.

The works of these three Imams are characteristically tolerant, explains Dr. Honerkamp. Imam Malik’s jurisprudence is “distinguished from the other three widely-recognized schools of Jurisprudence today for its inclusive nature.” Meanwhile, Imam al-Ash’ari promulgated the “most inclusive of the creeds as it defines the Muslim community as all those that pray in the direction of Mecca.”

Describing the effect of these influences at the roundtable discussion, Dr. Honerkamp shared his experience of feeling ‘at home in a strange land’; a unique and visceral sentiment of Morocco that he believes is a common and historical one.

Dr. Honerkamp was joined by Dr. Paul Heck, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and Georgetown University’s Chaplain-in-Residence Rev. Michael Calabria. Both shared their own views of Morocco’s uniquely moderate practice of religion, both at-present and throughout the ages. Rev. Calabria noted that even in the Middle Ages Moroccan sultans considered themselves protectors of Christian and Jewish communities living in their realm.

Following the panel presentations, the floor was opened for comments and questions from the more than twenty foreign policy professionals, academics and students who attended.

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