Moroccan imams protest government control

AP News
Posted: Oct 10, 2011 8:48 AM
Moroccan imams protest government control

Dozens of preachers from mosques across Morocco protested Monday in the capital over tight controls on their preaching, the first time such a demonstration has been allowed to go forward.

The small protest was significant because Morocco keeps a very close watch on the nation's mosques to guard against extremist thought like that of al-Qaida.

Imams are given prepared sermons to read during weekly Friday prayers and are not permitted to deviate from the text.

Police attempted to disperse the protest in front of the parliament, tussling with the imams and briefly detaining three of them. The protest of around 50 imams dressed in traditional long robes and skull caps was eventually allowed to proceed away from the parliament on Rabat's main boulevard.

"The imams of the mosques demand freedom, dignity, justice and their full rights," said one of the banners held by the protesters.

Protests by imams are unprecedented in this North African kingdom, where King Mohammed VI is the final arbiter on all matters of religion in the country.

Imams attempted to protest in June and were quickly attacked and dispersed by police, shocking many in this country of 32 million.

"We want liberty and dignity," said Ait Lashgar Hussein, a preacher for the last 28 years in the city of Marrakech. "I am just demanding my rights."

Many of the imams say they have been threatened and intimidated by police since the June attempted demonstration.

The imams said their demands included higher salaries, permission to give their own sermons and to be consulted on matters of religion and law.

The king's preeminent role in religious affairs is enshrined in the new constitution and is seen as a bulwark against the extremist thought found elsewhere in North Africa.

The protesters also carried a Moroccan flag and pictures of the king to show their support. They blamed the minister of religious affairs for their dissatisfaction.