Daawat Al Haq - No. 232, November 23, 1983
These days much has been said about the historical genesis of the National Movement. Everyone talks about his participation in this event and places his testimony with this first day of involvement. And so I thought it is my duty in turn to relay what I still remember of the facts that marked the birth of this movement such as we lived it in Salé. My aim is to provide a more complete perspective of the historical proceedings of the first phase of the awakening of our identity and self-consciousness; all the more so since the city of Salé played a vanguard role in its inception.
We were a group of youth barely past childhood and, despite our young age, we followed very closely both the national and international current events. The Rif rebellion was one of our daily preoccupations for it elicited feelings of pride for our heroes. We also followed with immense interest the articles in the French press on the policy of nonviolence preached by Ghandi which was translated to us by our dear departed friend, Mohammed Hassar, who spoke perfect French and was keen on reading all the newspapers sold in Rabat.
It was he that brought to our attention the establishment of a governmental commission with regards to the Berber issue. We followed attentively all that was published in the press on the workings of this commission until we sensed the danger that threatened our country on the day the Berber Decree was published.
Our group consisted of friends that regularly met at Salé's beach to go swimming. In the month of May of 1930 we formed a circle in front of the beach cabin of the French Comptroller of Public Order. We spoke politics without worrying about his presence. On that day, the day when we read in the French newspapers news of the promulgation of the blasted decree, or if you prefer the blessed decree, all the friends were there. We were about a dozen youth and our discussions had but one topic: the danger represented by the decree and the means we should put to work to fight against it.
The opinions were divided into two camps. One camp proposed to engage in a struggle based on common patriotic principles, the other on the basis of common religious grounds. In the end, we opted for engaging the struggle on the religious front in view of the fact that Moroccans were zealous in their faith and were always ready to make sacrifices to defend it. On the other hand the patriotic concept was still nonexistent (in Morocco) and people looked at it with a certain wariness after having been disappointed with the patriotism of Mustafa Kamal, the Turkish leader, who the Islamic world had considered as a hero of Islam until he turned against his religion and began to denigrate and fight against all its tenants.
While we were engaged in this discussion, the comrade Abdellatif Sbihi, who we knew from our theatrical activities, joined us and immediately took the floor to say to us, "Are you aware of the calamity that is about to crash down on Morocco with the release of this blasted decree that will divide Moroccans into two clans?"
We replied, "This issue is at the center of our discussions and we are studying the most appropriate means and ways to fight against it." He then asked, "So what conclusions have your reached?"
We told him, "We have agreed to wage the fight on religious grounds considering the fact that the Moroccan bond is most sensitive to what impacts its religion more than anything else."
He than said verbatim, may the Lord forgive him, "I do not at all share your viewpoint. In my opinion and what I intend to do is to call upon all my acquaintances inside and outside the government such as Haj Omar Tazi, Haj Thami Glaoui, the great scholar Bouchaib Doukkali and other dignitaries. I will contact them to make them aware of the danger represented by this decree so that they can put pressure in turn on the government to turn back from this policy."
We replied, "Among the dignitaries cited, there are those who are entirely in the hands of the protectorate power and others who show some favor to it and would never give it their piece of mind."
The next day, around 4PM, the time for afternoon prayers, I visited the Koranic schools of Salé and requested the fqihs (teachers) in charge of the schools to proclaim the "Latif" out loud after explaining the danger that threatened us. And so, a few minutes later, the "Latif" was recited in all these schools and people asked for the reason behind the prayer.
The following day, when the echos of the "Latif" reached the ears of the Comptroller of Public Order, he summoned one of the school's fqihs, in this case the Fqih Bensaid, and asked him the reason for which he had proclaimed this prayer. The fqih replied that the youngest son of Ahmed Hajji had given him a quarter of a rial and asked him to recite this prayer since it was a tradition of Morocco (during times of need).
The Comptroller immediately thereafter summoned my brother, Said, who came accompanied by out father, because he was the youngest. But when he found out that Said was not responsible as was stated by the fqih, he apologized and asked that he wanted to see me with regards to this matter.
I came to his office and found him seated and beside him an interpreter. Despite his deep understanding of Arabic, he absolutely wanted to create a threatening stance to impress me and exert his influence on my morale. But, thank God, I was very confident, especially after my father's encouraging support after he told me that the Comptroller wanted to see me. He then brought in Fqih Bensaid and asked if it was I that suggested that he proclaim the "Latif" prayer. When he was assured that I was the author of this idea, he got all rattled out and began to threaten the fqih for allowing himself to be influenced by one of these "mischievous kids." Then he dismissed him.
Afterwards with a certain amount of astonishment, he asked me through his interpreter, "Is there something serious that is happening like a famine or earthquake that justified the use of the recital of the 'Latif' that you asked the fqih to proclaim?"
I replied, even more astonished than he was, "Don't you know what has happened, Mr. Comptroller of Public Order? The matter is even more serious than you think."
"So what has happened?"
"The release of a decree that divides the Moroccan population into two camps, Arab and Berber, and distances the Berber element from the Islamic laws."
"So you are against His Majesty the King?"
"If it was His Majesty the King who initiated such a decree, yes."
"This is contrary to your Islamic precepts which require you to obey your King regardless of the circumstances."
"You are wrong. Perhaps the Christian religion requires that sort of obedience."
"Then I have no choice but to send you to jail."
He then phoned the person in charge of the city prison informing him that he will be sending someone to be interned.
"I am ready to go there."
When the Comptroller saw my strong resolve, he winked at the interpreter and left the office. The interpreter, with care and attention, addressed me, "Why has it come to this and so lead to the conditions for your incarceration? How will your mother make it through the night when the city is jubilant celebrating the return of the pilgrims from Mecca? Everyone will be happy with the exception of your mother who will be full of sadness and tears."
I replied to him, "I want to go to jail."
He asked, "Why?"
I retorted, "If I go to jail, it would be the ideal opportunity to publicize this matter given that we currently have neither newspapers nor other means of publicity other than going to prison. People will ask why I was arrested and will end up knowing the truth."
At that very moment, the Comptroller returned. He found me adhering to my principles and asked to wait outside his office for a few minutes. Then he called my brother-in-law, Mr. Mekki Sbihi, who was the deputy of the Pasha. He had a one on one discussion with him and they agreed that he would play the role of international intermediary between us. We shook hands and I returned home.
A popular saying we have is "A pinch of incense dust wafts all of Salé." In effect as I left the office of the Comptroller, I found a number of people in the street asking why I was summoned. Thus I was able to achieve my goal of ensuring adequate publicity for the idea that I had to respond to in front of the representative of the Protectorate Administration.
During another gathering with a group of our comrades, we decided to have the "Latif" proclaimed in the Grand Mosque of Salé during Friday prayers. We agreed to use all means to achieve this end. The most ardent defenders of this idea took action while those who worried about reprisals vanished completely from circulation. We sent an emissary to contact the person in charge of the Grand Mosque of Salé, Haj Ali Aouad. We found him to be a source of encouragement which further incited us to undertake an intensive campaign to inform the public. When the government learned about what we intended to do at the Friday prayers, the Comptroller asked the Pasha to summon the leaders of the movement to his residence so that they would perform their midday prayers under his supervision so that our undertaking would fail. On Friday morning there were four of us at the Pasha's residence and we stayed there until prayers were to be held at the Al Chahba mosque, where prayers are always held after all the other mosques of the city. We went there accompanied by the King's representative, the Pasha of Salé.
The Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque were unique; the voices of the faithful rang through all corners of the mosque, praying for Allah, The Greatest, to have mercy on his creatures and save them from the division that threatened them. The upper terraces were packed with women who heard the prayers in reverence. As for us under supervision in a mosque that conducted prayers later than all the rest of Salé, we exited to find a large crowd who came to inform us of the success of the undertaking at the Grand Mosque. And so we were able to compel people to to go back to the Grand Mosque for the afternoon prayers so as to proclaim anew the "Latif" prayer.
As for our friend Abdellatif Sbihi, he made the rounds that he intended to carry out but no one amongst his interlocutors was willing to respond. After deep reflection he recalled what we had told him and began to join us in the mosque to pray and proclaim with us the "Latif" prayer. When this notion took root in Salé and the colonial administration became aware of the danger it represented to its authority, it proceed to try him in absentia and then dismissed our comrade Abdellatif Sbihi, from his job. They thought he was the leader because he was the eldest amongst us and that he was aware of the text of the Berber Decree in his former capacity as interpreter at the Bureau of Sherifian Affairs. Several days later, he was arrested and sent into exile. That evening we gathered and decided to strongly protest to the government against this arbitrary arrest. We set up a committee of which I was a member and we went to Comptroller of Public Order to personally transmit our protest message. The latter began to deny any basis of the accusations of fighting against the Islamic religion alleged against France and said that it was in fact innocent of all charges against it. I then replied with great detail the specific facts that I was able to gather in a recent tour I took to various parts of Morocco.
"There is in the village of Ben Ahmed a mosque whose construction was halted on order of the local Comptroller of Public Order. This mosque is located directly across the entrance of the house of the Caid Hassan. Another example was provided us about a mosque in Khemmiset where the funding for its construction was collected from the city's residents but it too was not allowed to be built by orders of the Comptroller. I personally visited in the company of my friend Mohammed Hassar the village of Azrou. We met with the locals and were informed that they were strictly forbidden to carry the sacred book, the Koran, to localities in the Atlas mountains nor even in Azrou.
Then we wished to visit the school in Azrou, It was a Friday and the school was closed. Despite this we were able to contact the superintendent of this institution who authorized us to visit the school and showered us with all sorts of information about its function. Mr. Roux, the superintendent, told us that the school was closed this Friday not because it was a religious public holiday nor because they wished to provide the students with a strictly secular education or because it was a period of vacation. Rather it was simply due to the fact that this was a market day and this was an opportunity for the students to see their parents. As for the school itself, he added, it was created on an experimental basis to teach the French and Berber languages to the indigenous pupils. As for Arabic and courses on the Islamic religion, both were strictly forbidden."
When we engaged the discussion on these themes, he clearly stated that the Government of the Republic of France saw no link between the Berbers to the Arabic language nor to the Islamic religion.
When the Comptroller heard all that I had to say, he had nothing more to add. He tried to reassure us about the status of our comrade Abdellatif Sbihi by explaining that he was moved into a house and enjoyed all the necessary material comforts and means to rest. He then suggested we meet with the Director General of Indigenous Affairs. We acquiesced and when the meeting time arrived we were received by Mr.Bénazet in his sumptuous office. He wore official trappings and had at his side a French interpreter who was proficient in Arabic. After welcoming us, he rose his arm and swore on the honor of France that his country sought nothing that would harm the Islamic religion and that his nation had no aims to undermine it. He kept swearing using very eloquent vocabulary and when he concluded he asked us to reassure the people of Salé of France's good intentions.
We told him that we did not have any authority to do so and that we were simply individuals among the crowd of people who demonstrated their unhappiness and moreover the reason why we came to the meeting with the Director General was to communicate to him our protest against the arbitrary arrest of our comrade Abdellatif Sbihi. He replied that the concerned person bore total responsibility for his acts but was safe and doing well.
For several days, Salé was the only city in Morocco to fight against the Berber Decree. We met with our comrades from Rabat to ask that they participate with us and to ensure their presence in this resistance movement. However they said that they were still seeking volunteers to reinforce our ranks. Nevertheless after a short period, the "Latif" was proclaimed in two mosques in Rabat. Several days later, we received a visit of our friend Hachmi Filali from Fez who came to learn about the manifestations provoked by the release of the May 16, 1930 decree and the danger it represented to Moroccan and Islamic circles. A few days later, speeches were made and the "Latif" was proclaimed in the mosques of Fez and this had a big impact that resonated with the population of this militant city.
Salé - Abdelkrim Hajji