Morocco's European Campaign of Moderate Islam
Morocco sends moderate Muslim preachers to Europe
RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco plans to send scores of moderate Muslim preachers to Europe during the holy month of Ramadan to help fight extremism in the Moroccan community abroad, the ministry for religious affairs said Thursday.
The government will send 167 men and nine women preachers to address Moroccan immigrants during Ramadan, which runs during September this year. Muslims traditionally fast and attend sermons at mosques during the holy month.
The preachers are instructed to "answer the religious needs of the Moroccan community abroad, to protect it from any speeches of extremism or irregular nature, and to shelter it from extremism and fanaticism," said a statement from the religious affairs ministry in Rabat, the Moroccan capital.
Abdellatif Begdouri Achkari, the religious affairs minister's chief of staff, said Morocco has been sending preachers to minister to expatriates for many years but hand-picked the latest batch to make sure they specifically address extremism.
"The needs of the Moroccan community abroad may vary from one community to another, and these needs evolve with time," Achkari told The Associated Press.
Islam is Morocco's state religion and King Mohammed VI is officially "the commander of the believers."
But the country's official, moderate practice has faced a growing wave of extremism in recent years. Security officials have voiced concerns about terrorist links among Moroccans and dual Moroccan-European citizens. Suicide bombers killed dozens of people in attacks in Casablanca in May 2003.
The religious affairs ministry said 100 preachers would go to France and Belgium, while Italy and Germany would get 10 each, and Spain and the Netherlands seven. The rest will head to Scandinavia and Britain, while one preacher will go to Canada.
Strict criteria were applied in choosing the candidates. Besides being well-versed in the Quran and knowledgeable about theology, they must be "known for their good reputation, devout beliefs and high moral standards," the ministry said.
There are an estimated 3.3 million Moroccans living abroad, 10 percent of the total Moroccan population. Most live in Spain, France and Belgium or the Netherlands.