/ 1 June 2006

Moroccan fatwa declares women cannot lead prayers

Women trained as religious guides in a pioneer programme are not authorised to lead prayers or to hold the post of imam, Morocco’s official religious authority has ruled.

The fatwa came weeks after Morocco’s first 50 female ”morchidat,” religious guides, completed training by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which oversees Morocco’s mosques.

The ruling, announced on Friday, will not affect the work of the morchidat, but does bar the women from extending their role to leading prayers or becoming imams.

The morchidat program is part of an effort by authorities in this North African country to promote a moderate Islam as it grapples with Muslim extremism.

The fatwa cited Morocco’s official and historical adherence to the Malaki rite, under which ”women are not authorised to lead prayer, as imams of the rite have taught throughout history”. The fatwa also noted that no precedent could be found in Moroccan history of women leading prayer.

However, it added, ”The fact that women do not lead prayer diminishes neither their value nor their role.”

Minister of Islamic Affairs Ahmed Toufiq, who convened the ulema, or religious leaders, to debate the question of female imams, told reporters that the morchidates ”will not assume today, nor tomorrow, nor in the future the role of imam, as it is reserved exclusively for men”, Morocco’s L’Opinion newspaper reported.

”The role of the morchidat is to give people basic instruction in religion,” Kadiya Aktami, a mourchida said. ”Above all it is to explain the fundamentals of religion — especially a specifically Moroccan version.”

The morchidat will work in mosques, but plans to extend their work to hospitals, schools and prisons. ”Any public sphere is open to us,” says Aktami. ”The mosque is just the start.” – Sapa-AP