By Jemal Omar
Mauritanian religious scholars, sheikhs, and leaders at recent seminar in Aleg called on traditional Islamic schools in Mauritania to teach moderate values of Islam.
In co-operation with the League of Mauritanian Religious Scholars, the Mauritanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs brought together 80 participants from four provinces at the April 21st-23rd event to discuss the role of the mosque and the mahdhara in instilling values to better prepare people for success in life as well as the afterlife.
Attendees from Brakna, Trarza, Gorgol, and Guidimaka discussed values of moderation, nature of curricula taught in Mauritanian mahdharas, the role of religious scholars in reform, and how to improve education within the mosque and mahdhara.
They also made several recommendations on how to expand the role of the mahdhara and mosque from a narrow framework teaching only religious sciences and holding prayers to playing a guiding role for citizens by explaining the correct Islamic approach that consolidates moderation, rejecting violence and explaining several concepts related to jihad.
In these recommendations, participants called the two institutions to modernise their methods to enable them to get that message across and to speak to the new generations.
Mauritanian Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Ould Neini called on participating sheikhs to recognise the role that the mosque and mahdhara must play in building the culture of values of Islam: moderation, rejecting violence and calling on God in the better way.
“Provincial authorities in various provinces across Mauritania will be a help to imams in changing vice and spreading the values of Islam and tolerance among citizens,” Ould Neini added.
The selection of Aleg to host this event was not without a reason. It was the city that witnessed the most heinous terrorist crime in Mauritania when French nationals were killed in 2007 by three young terrorists who are now in prison facing life sentences and the death penalty.
According to Mohammed Ould Ahmed Shela, mayor of Aleg, most local young people who have been led astray by extremism have graduated from these mahdharas. “Therefore, it has become necessary to review the curricula taught by that institution that has been known for its moderation throughout its long history,” he said.
Religious affairs officials must intensify training for mahdhara sheikhs, said Mohamed Ould Ahmed, a mahdhara sheikh participating in the seminar. He explained that this was because they don’t understand many of the modern means of communication and they can’t understand some modern concepts, such as dialogue between civilisations and relations with the other.
“Perhaps the biggest problem that these people face is their inability to explain the verses that talk about jihad in a way that conforms to the dictates of the new reality,” he added. “Rather, they teach some closed texts that some young people interpret in a wrong way and then act as per their own understanding.”
He called for a strict criteria for those allowed to teach at mahdharas in order raise the standards of those teaching and to prevent the position from being abused. An important focus of this criteria would be mastery of the Qur’an in both memorisation and interpretation.
“It’s known that the direct relation between mosque imam and worshippers is usually through Friday sermon. However, some imams focus in their sermons on preaching and disregard the aspect of guiding people in their daily lives,” said Imam Ibrahim Ould Sidi. “This is wrong; the imam must be a reformer of souls for this world and the after-world,” he said.
“The sermon, therefore, must be divided into two sections: one focusing on preaching people and urging them to do good and avoid sins to succeed in the afterlife, and one focusing on contemporary issues, showing the position of religion from such issues, especially extremism, violence and terrorism, given that the imam’s words are heeded in this regard,” he added.