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The Changing Character of Moroccan Reformism, 1921–1934

  • John P. Halstead

Moroccan nationalism began as a religious or cultural reformist movement based on Salafiya, a form of religious fundamentalism which arose in late nineteenthcentury Egypt as an effort to restore the original purity of Islam and the independence of the Muslim peoples. The Moroccan movement was first expressed in the 1920's by the foundation of the ‘free schools’ and the formation of secret discussion societies, neither of which represented more than a small, concerned elite and whose organization was rudimentary in the extreme. By 1934, it was transformed by events and hard experience into an essentially political and social reform movement which, while not yet a mass party, had become ‘national’ to the extent that it could demonstrate the support of important segments of Moroccan society and which had created a skeletal structure which the post-war movemen would flesh out.

The article represents part of the research for a book on the origins and rise of Moroccan nationalism, 1921–1943.

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1 ‘North-West Africa, 1920–1926’ (S.I.A., 1925, I, 92–188) and ‘Unrest in the NorthWest African Territories under French Rule, 1927–1937’ (S.I.A. 1937, 1, 486–543).

2 The article was read as a paper before the annual meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 5–6 April 1963. The author extends his gratitude to that audience for its kind reception and helpful suggestions.

3 For the abortive Moroccan constitutional project of 1908, see Benabdullah, A., Les Grands Courants de la Civilisation du Maghreb (Casablanca, 1958), 135–40.

4 An informative account of the introduction of Salafiya to Morocco occurs in the article by Abun-Nasr, Jamil, ‘The Salafiyya Movement in Morocco: the Religious Bases of the Moroccan Nationalist Movement’ (St Antony's Papers, Number 16: Middle Eastern Affairs, Number Three, London, 1963, 90105). One would wish to see made a more persuasive tie between Salafiya and the nationalists. The material to do so is available.

5 ‘Al Maghrib’ = the West. Customarily applied to denote the countries of Western Islam: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. ‘Al Maghrib al-Aksa’=the Farthest West, i.e. Morocco.

6 Self-constituted holy men, called sufis elsewhere in the Middle East, who performed a real function in interpreting Islam to the unlettered, often indulging in heterodox, even animistic practices. The most renowned became the founders of religious brotherhoods.

7 Originated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as an evangelical reaction to the over-formalization of Islam, but eventually degenerated into saint-worship, miracles and animism. The classic work on the brotherhoods is that by Depont, Octave and Coppolani, Xavier, Les confreries religieuses musulmanes (Alger, 1897, pp. 571). The best modern survey is that by General André, P. J., Contribution a l'´tude des confréries religieuses musulmanes (Alger, 1956, pp. 368). For an informative account of their role in public affairs in Morocco, see Vidal, Federico S., ‘Religious Brotherhoods in Moroccan Politics’, Middle East journal, Oct. 1950, 427–46.

8 For the connexion between the free schools and nationalism, see ‘L'école coranique et Ia politique nationaliste au Maroc’, La France méditerranéenne et africaine, I (1938), 99–109, perceptive though undocumented.

9 The Sidi Bennani School. Interview with the founder, Ahmed Mekouar, Fès, 30 May 1959. The school ledger, p. 4, records the earliest date available: Chaoual i9 (June–July, 1921).

10 Qaraouiyne University, founded c. A.D. 859. Al-Azhar University (Cairo) was founded c. A.D. 970.

11 Sidi Bennani (1921), El-Najah (1922), Naciriya (igzz), El-Mounia and Cherradi (before 1925).

12 Arrakiya and Ouazahra (1921 or 1922), and Hayat (1922 or 1923).

13 Lalla Taja (1921–3) and Ahliyah (1924), respectively.

14 Much of the data obtained by the author on this subject by way of interviews is unreliable and often contradictory. A monographic study of the free school movement is clearly called for, preferably by an Arabist who has sufficient time to find and correlate the widely scattered sources.

15 Interviews with Ahmed Mekouar, Fés, 30 May 1959, and Mohamed Lyazidi, Rabat, 27 May 3959, and the Ahliyah School ledger (microfilmed), pp. 34–5.

16 A good example of this myth appears in el-Ouezzani, M. H., ‘Le Protectorat’, Maghreb, xii (07, 1933), 1623.

17 The documentation on this point is incomplete. The author has information on most of the early schools, but he cannot make these assertions with certainty as regards the El-Mounia and Cherradi Schools of Fés nor the Marrakech schools, although these are of secondary importance for this paper.

18 Ahmed El-Moudden and Ahmed Cherkaoui.

19 Abdesselam Bennouna and Mohamed Daoud.

20 Mohamed Ghazi (the director), Mokhtar Soussi, Allal el-Fassi, Brahim el-Kittani.

21 Darbu nitaq al-hissar ala ashab nihayat al-inkissar [The encirclement of the authors of the book called ‘The Defeat’] (Rabat, 1926).

22 Idhar al-haqiqa [Revelation of the Truth] (Tunis, 1925).

23 Bennouna, Mehdi, Our Morocco: The True Story ofa Just Cause (Tangier, 1951), 40.

24 Brahim el-Kittani.

25 Paye, Lucien, Enseignement et société musulmane (thése, dactylographiée, Univ. de Paris, Fac. de Lettres, 1957), 239–40.

26 Implied by Robert Rézette, Op. Cit. 257–8, and confirmed by the nationalists interviewed.

27 Dahir=decree issued with the royal imprimatur. Complete text of the Berber dahir in English will be found in ‘Unrest in the North-West African Territories under French Rule, 1927–1937’, Survey of International Affairs: 1937 (London, 1938), 1, 525.

28 S.I.A. 1937, 524–6.

29 For the intentions which lay behind the dahir, see: Marty, Paul, Le Maroc de Demain (Paris, 1925) as cited by el-Fassi, Allal, The Independence Movements in Arab North Africa (Washington, 1954) 141–2;Gaudefroy-Demombynes, R., L'cpuvre française en matière d'enseignement au Maroc (Paris, 1928), 119;Lyazidi, Mohamed, ‘Divers aspects de Ia politique berbére au Maroc’ (Maghreb, May–June 1933), 8–19. Marty was chef de service for Islamic justice in the mid-1920s. Gaudefroy-Demombynes was also an ex-oflicial of the Residency at the time he wrote. Allal el-Fassi (op. cit. 119) quotes the minutes of a Residency committee meeting of 8 Oct. 1924 as follows: ‘There is no harm in destroying the unity of the judicial system in the French protectorate; on the contrary, since the aim is the strengthening of the Berber element, as a counterpoise that future exigencies may require, positive political advantages would accrue from such a step.’ This, incidentally, is added confirmation of the conclusion now accepted by most scholars that the much- publicized shift in French colonial policy after World War I from ‘assimilation’ to ‘association’, however much it titillated colonial theoreticians like Albert Sarraut, never penetrated deeply into the ranks of the colonial bureaucracy.

30 S.I.A. 1937, 526.

31 Plural of alem, a doctor of Muslim law, or, more accurately, a scholar licensed to teach.

32 This conclusion has been clearly recognized by others. See, e.g., La France nzéditerranéenne et africaine, 1 (1938), 103;Rézette, op. cit. 67; S.I.A. 1937, 507–9.

33 The latif is a communal prayer to the Saviour, which is sometimes employed in modern Islam to express public grief on occasions regarded as national calamities.

34 El-Fassi, op. Cit. 124, L'Action du Peuple (Fés), 15 Sept. 1933, 2.

35 Literally, ‘corner’. The word came to be applied to the headquarters of a sufi brotherhood, or to the brotherhood itself, which is the meaning here, in the (uncommon) political sense.

36 Meaning ‘group’ or ‘sect’.

37 Full name: el-Kutlat el-amal el-ouatani (National Action Bloc). Discreetly rendered into French as ‘Comité d'Action Marocaine’.

38 Rézette, op. cit. 264.

39 Ibid. 279.

40 L' Afrique Française, Dec. 1932, 7–9;Réette, op. cit. 259.

41 Rézette, op. cit. 77.

42 Ibid. 78–9.

43 Bennouna, op. cit. 47–8.

44 L'Afrique Française, Sept. 1932. 518.

45 Files of both journals are held in the Bibilothèque Nationale in Rabat and are now on microfilm at the State University of New York, at Buffalo.

46 Published by the ‘Comité d' Action Marocaine’, Paris, Imprimerie Labor, [Nov.] 1934.

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