Last week my sister and I signed up to go to Morocco. She found a fantastic deal at Gate 1 Travel, and metaphysically twisted my arm from a distance of 700 miles. Well, okay, maybe it didn’t require that much twisting. I’ve always been fascinated with far off places, and Morocco will probably be the most foreign place I’ve undertaken to see.
A few days later, I came across a little blurb in my favorite magazine, The Week. I love it because it gives me the best of national and international news, condensed, and without the icky blackened fingertips that I get from reading actual newsprint.
Anyway, it turns out that Morocco is an innovator in the world of Islam. They’ve just hired fifty women, mostly in their thirties, as chaplains, or preachers. The official term is morchidat. The women just completed twelve months of study in such fields as Islamic studies, psychology, sociology, computer skills, economy, law and business management. The morchidat will earn a salary of approximately $560 month. They will be employed in settings such as hospitals, schools, prisons and mosques, and will work with mostly underprivileged women and children.
This unprecedented move by King Mohammed VI, which came on the tail of extremist bombings in Casablanca in 2003, is part of an effort to quell Islamic extremism. According to the CIA fact book, Morocco is a very homogeneous country, both with regards to religion (98.7% Muslim) and ethnicity (Arab-Berber 99.1%). And although it is a constitutional monarchy, there has been universal suffrage for those over 18 years of age since 2003. Scheherezade Faramarzi, with the AP, notes an interesting dichotomy, namely that “[The King] has vowed that no foreign religious doctrine would be tolerated in the North African kingdom,” and yet “[Morocco] is a close ally of the United States and a partner in its war against terrorism.”
And in doing some shallow research into moderate Islam, it seems like there are a lot of parallels between the way women and men are characterized in Muslim and Mormon cultures. In both religions, women and men are seen as being equal, but with separate spheres and duties. The men’s burden is to provide financially for his family; the woman’s to provide for the caring of the children and her husband. Women are not allowed in leadership (or prayer roles in the Muslim faith) over men, but can do so for other women. And I wish I could come up with just one more point, but I just don’t know enough about it to make further comment.
And so it is that I wonder about these morchidat who are pioneering new roles for women in this far-off country. I wonder how they will be treated by men, both secular and ecclesiastical. I wonder how their families and friends have taken the news and if they support these women. I wonder if they will be well received by their target audience, and how their efforts will help in stemming extremist thought and violence. I wonder how their roles will change over time to include other duties. I wonder if I will get to meet any of them.
I also wonder about those who are not muslim or Arab-Berber as well. How does it feel to be in such an unbalanced ethnic minority? Is racism as prevalent as I assume it would be? How about those who do not believe in islam? What is it like to be so alone in a country that does not tolerate religious difference? Or is it just like being Catholic in Italy or Spain? Can one just be a holiday muslim?
Online Q and A on Status of Women in Islam.