By Raby Ould Idoumou
A group of protestors last Friday gathered in mid-town Nouakchott to decry what they called “rampant vice” and “infringement of youths’ morals” in Mauritanian society.
Members of a previously unknown movement, called “No to Pornography”, urged Mauritanians to join a five-minute protest every week following Friday prayers to make people adhere to the rules of Islamic morality.
“This is clear evidence that we are not doing our legitimate, social and moral responsibility,” said demonstrators, who picked al-Shurafaa Mosque as their venue.
They called for shutting down “the dens of vice, brothels and liquor stores” as well as banning porno websites. Movement members also argued for “establishing moral police”. They enjoined Muslims women to wear the niqab and traditional Islamic dress in Mauritania called melhafa.
The traditionalists drew their inspiration from the discourse of public mufti and imam of al-Saudi Mosque Ahmed Ould Lemrabet, who in November called for establishing a committee for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice.
According to Islamic group analyst al-Meshri Ould al-Rabbani, Ould Lemrabet is a controversial figure, who has been “harshly criticised by preaching circles who embrace al-Maliki sect of Islam and Sufi orders for his ideological inclinations to the radical Wahhabi ideology”.
The mufti condemned the appointment of women in senior positions and commented that “the best job a woman can do is to take care of her husband”, Ould al-Rabbani added.
“These calls might have been made by the Salafist current in Mauritania, as al-Shurafaa Mosque is the first known Salafist venue, and was the place where prayers were performed for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Therefore, it is a place of expression for the Salafists,” he told Magharebia.
University professor and history researcher Dr. Mokhtar Ould al-Haj concurred that “the call shows the appearance of Salafism in a new form”.
“Extremists are trying to use freedom of expression to pressure the authorities,” he said. “However, the conservative Mauritanian society doesn’t usually provide support for such demands that express foreign trends rather than domestic calls for change.”
Many students and activists seemed alarmed at the emerging movement.
“This movement may want to drag us backwards; they may want a new Taliban, i.e. women would wear burqa and abaya, and would walk around with a mahrim (an unmarriageable kin),” said Noura Bent Mohamed Salem, 18, who studies English at the University of Nouakchott. “I think that this will be a problem; the society is already sufficiently conservative and we don’t need more pressures.”
“They can call for drafting legal texts inspired from the Islamic sharia as a source, but the establishment of a committee for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice is not justified,” said Zaineb Bent al-Hadrami, a 20-year old veiled student at the University of Nouakchott. “It’s like importing a mainly Saudi security system that would not in way suit the Mauritanian social fabric.”
While she argued against “moral corruption in a Muslim society”, Ben al-Hadrami insisted that literal implementation of sharia is impossible.
“This call represents the growth of the ideology of extremism,” rights activist Makfula Bint Ibrahim told Magharebia.
“How can a group use the right to demonstration and expression to call for the establishment of a committee to repress people’s freedoms and force them to abide by certain religious rules, especially as this committee can turn into a repressive entity?” she wondered.