By Bakari Guèye
Mauritanian artists and religious leaders came together in Nouakchott earlier this month to discuss ways to preserve culture and promote unity.
The aim, according to organisers, was “to enable artists and ulemas to talk and co-ordinate their activities to help rescue society from the serious dangers it faces”. The February 12th event, “Where fiqh meets art”, was sponsored by the Al Moustaghbal Association, run by leading Islamist Sheikh Mohamed El Hassan Ould Dedew.
“This initiative should have happened sooner because we need to promote culture,” commented Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Sidi, the secretary-general of the Al Moustaghbal Association. “We feel that artists are the guarantors of a significant part of the Mauritanian cultural heritage.”
Sheikh Mohamed Ould Abouah spoke enthusiastically about “the historic role played by artists and ulemas, each of whom have a reforming role to play and must be in agreement with one another”.
“Society faces many dangers, both to its moral health and in terms of fragmentation between its different sections. It is dangerous to cultivate division, which can lead to the violent break-up of society. Artists have a major role to play in promoting unity,” Ould Abouah said.
Bouh Ould Bowba Jiddou, chair of the Mauritanian Musicians’ Union policy committee, felt that artists have been historically marginalised, something he attributed to social factors.
“Artists are being excluded from public service, even within the directorate with responsibility for music, and in the new institute of music; you will find no artists there, even though this is really their domain,” Ould Bowba Jiddou said.
Continuing on the same theme, Mohamed Ould Hembara, who chairs the policy committee at the Conservatory of Music, said that artists were “victims of injustice and the majority of people harbour false prejudice”.
“Artists are generally good upstanding citizens with good morals. We are delighted that we can enjoy a good relationship with the ulemas through the Al Moustaghbal Association,” he added.
Singer and senator Maalouma Mint El Meidah made one notable revelation: “It’s thanks to an English singer, who had a great impact on me, that I decided I should cover my body fully, in accordance with Sharia Law.”
Ahmed Ould Abba, chair of the Mauritanian Bureau for the Promotion of Music, said, “It sent a shiver down my spine to receive an invitation to take part in the forum. I’d been worried that the ulemas would not invite us, sending out the signal that we should abandon music.”
“Artists have a message which only they can pass on. They have their own special audience. So they must play their particular role as trailblazers,” said Mohamed Lemine Ould Mohamed El Moustapha of the Al Moustaghbal Association.