By Monia Ghanmi
Mosques in Tunisia now receive exceptionally large numbers of worshipers, from a host of social classes and affiliations, after all restrictions on freedom of faith were lifted following the ouster of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“People must be allowed to embrace faith freely without restrictions or supervision,” Hadi Meftahi told Magharebia. “It is time we respected the religious legitimacy and implemented rules of Islam that we were deprived of in Tunisia, just as they were ordained in the Qur’an.”
Al-Fateh mosque in downtown Tunis housed throngs of praying Muslims last Friday, (February 11th). The crowds were so large that some had to perform their prayers on the streets leading to the mosque. The multitudes were a bold manifestation of the air of freedom prevailing after the Tunisian revolution.
“The previous regime exercised great pressures on religion and Muslims, not to mention strict security supervision on mosques,” said Taoufik Mzoughi. “He used religious discourse and rostra as propaganda tools for himself, where he is portrayed as the defender of the homeland and Islam.”
Nonetheless, Mzoughi explained that Tunisians managed to preserve their faith. “What calls for optimism are the swarms of youth who frequent mosques though they were raised during Ben Ali’s reign. However, they continue to cling to the basis of true faith as well as their Islamic identity.”
Mokhtar Hedhli said, “Friday sermons or sermons delivered in religious holidays used to be restricted, stereotypical and dictated by the state. They had nothing to do with the people’s lives or youth’s concerns, nor with the changes that overcome the country and the outside world. They included supplications for the president, and propaganda for his regime, particularly during the elections.”
“Over the past three weeks, we sensed that imams breathed in a new spirit in religious discourse, which now corresponds to the changes in our homeland. It promotes the facts of our faith and its true notions,” Hedhli added.
The Friday sermon delivered by Sheikh Noureddine Khadmi, an imam at Al-Fateh mosque and professor at Ez-Zitouna University, dealt with freedoms and how they should be preserved.
“Religious discourse underwent radical change, in terms of the content and style.” Imam Khadmi said. He added that “Islam is a religion of dedication, peace, simplicity and reassurance. It is not a religion of extremism, the way it is often made to appear. It was revealed for the welfare of humanity and to spread true values of justice among people.”
Mosques still conform to the previously adopted official hours, opening only at prayer times and closing right after prayers are done.
Omar Sedri said that mosques need to stay open all the time so they could play their role as places of worship as well as platforms for educating the younger generations. Sedri also said that Friday should be the weekly day off, rather than Sunday, so all citizens could attend the congregational prayer.