Morchidat: Female Chaplains in … Moroccco?


Last week my sister and I signed up to go to Morocco. She found a fantastic deal at Gate 1 Travel, and metaphysically twisted my arm from a distance of 700 miles. Well, okay, maybe it didn’t require that much twisting. I’ve always been fascinated with far off places, and Morocco will probably be the most foreign place I’ve undertaken to see.

A few days later, I came across a little blurb in my favorite magazine, The Week. I love it because it gives me the best of national and international news, condensed, and without the icky blackened fingertips that I get from reading actual newsprint.

Anyway, it turns out that Morocco is an innovator in the world of Islam. They’ve just hired fifty women, mostly in their thirties, as chaplains, or preachers. The official term is morchidat. The women just completed twelve months of study in such fields as Islamic studies, psychology, sociology, computer skills, economy, law and business management. The morchidat will earn a salary of approximately $560 month. They will be employed in settings such as hospitals, schools, prisons and mosques, and will work with mostly underprivileged women and children.

This unprecedented move by King Mohammed VI, which came on the tail of extremist bombings in Casablanca in 2003, is part of an effort to quell Islamic extremism. According to the CIA fact book, Morocco is a very homogeneous country, both with regards to religion (98.7% Muslim) and ethnicity (Arab-Berber 99.1%). And although it is a constitutional monarchy, there has been universal suffrage for those over 18 years of age since 2003. Scheherezade Faramarzi, with the AP, notes an interesting dichotomy, namely that “[The King] has vowed that no foreign religious doctrine would be tolerated in the North African kingdom,” and yet “[Morocco] is a close ally of the United States and a partner in its war against terrorism.”

And in doing some shallow research into moderate Islam, it seems like there are a lot of parallels between the way women and men are characterized in Muslim and Mormon cultures. In both religions, women and men are seen as being equal, but with separate spheres and duties. The men’s burden is to provide financially for his family; the woman’s to provide for the caring of the children and her husband. Women are not allowed in leadership (or prayer roles in the Muslim faith) over men, but can do so for other women. And I wish I could come up with just one more point, but I just don’t know enough about it to make further comment.

And so it is that I wonder about these morchidat who are pioneering new roles for women in this far-off country. I wonder how they will be treated by men, both secular and ecclesiastical. I wonder how their families and friends have taken the news and if they support these women. I wonder if they will be well received by their target audience, and how their efforts will help in stemming extremist thought and violence. I wonder how their roles will change over time to include other duties. I wonder if I will get to meet any of them.

I also wonder about those who are not muslim or Arab-Berber as well. How does it feel to be in such an unbalanced ethnic minority? Is racism as prevalent as I assume it would be? How about those who do not believe in islam? What is it like to be so alone in a country that does not tolerate religious difference? Or is it just like being Catholic in Italy or Spain? Can one just be a holiday muslim?

News articles:
50 Women Named Muslim Preachers in Morocco
Moroccan fatwa declares women cannot lead prayers
US Muslim women Americanizing mosques, book finds

Online Q and A on Status of Women in Islam.

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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7 Responses

  1. Amira says:

    Thank you for pointing this out. I hadn’t heard about it.

  2. AmyB says:

    What a fascinating idea. It would be interesting to know how this works out and what the perceptions of these women are.

    I also wonder, just out of curiousity, what a Mormon equivalent of this might look like. My first thought it that it’s kind of similar to the old relief society structure, back when they were autonomous. I don’t know that much about it though, so my assumptions could be wrong.

  3. Caroline says:

    What a cool article, Dora. It makes me feel optimistic about the future of women in Mormonism to read how other rather conservative faith traditions are finding ways to expand the roles of women.

    What would an equivalent step forward for Mormon women be, I wonder? Women serving as counselors in a bishopric (without the priesthood?) An open acknowledgement that women can and should lay hands on to bless and heal others through their faith? It seems hard to come up with a good parallel since we have the messy priesthood issue to deal with.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Having served as a Relief Society President, I call tell you it is a woman who deals initmately with the poor in our church too. True, she works with the Bishop on this, but she is the one who goes in the home and decides what the family needs, and she makes out the food orders, and makes other recomendations to the Bishop. My Bishop always took my recomendations. And my Bishop had me come up with work assignments for the families, which I gave to them saying, “The bishop would like you to fulfill this assignment”. He trusted me completely, to run the welfare program. Woman also teach eveywhere in our church. I have even taught in Priesthood a few times. In my state at least 60% early morning semiary teachers teachers are women. Women are also the majority of staff at family history centers. I was director of a center for years. I had assistants who were women and men and a staff of 22. Family History Centers are run more like non-profits. There was a stake high counselor over the center but he was seldom seen. The director and her staff run the centers, and handle the money!!!
    As for RS. We are still automomous. Every RS president I’ve talked to ran her organiation with the help of her counselors and the Lord. 99.99% of Bishops are happy to leave us alone and let us sisters do our thing. They have enough sense to know sisters do good work.
    Why would any woman in this church want any more responsibilty? We already run the Primay, YW, RS, Scouts in most areas, it could go on and on. I’m tired just thinking about it.
    Linda w

  5. Caroline says:

    “Why would any woman in this church want any more responsibilty?”

    I guess my response would be “Why wouldn’t any woman in this church want more responsibility?” If having important roles in the running of the ward /stake/ Church at large truly is a Christ-like service to others, as well as a blessing to ourselves, I don’t see why women’ wouldn’t want more options to serve in diverse ways that particularly fit a persons’ individual talents.

    It seems to me, Linda, that you are one of the lucky ones to have been so involved in the running of church programs. I think it’s fantastic that you ran a Family History Center. Apparently that is an area where a woman can be in charge and work with both men and women (a rarity in our Church!)

  6. harijans says:

    There are Mormon women chaplains. I am married to one. Surprised she hasn’t commented yet. Before she pursued a career in chaplaincy (which requires 8 years of coursework and residency on top of a master’s in theology or divinity) she talked with several people about the official church stance on female chaplains. Specifically, she asked:
    H. Burke Peterson, Emeritus member of the 1st quorum of the 70
    Aileen Clyde, former councilor in the general relief society presidency, as well as her local bishop and stake president.

    Everyone agreed that the church would be fine with a female chaplain as long as doctrinal issues were not violated, (ie: baptizing infants, last rights, sacrament)

    Since starting on the chaplaincy course Emily has run into one or two other Mormon female chaplains. I think the bigger issue is that Mormons have little need to appoint men or women to this type of a role. We tend to take care of our own which minimizes the need for chaplains specific to the Mormon faith.

  7. Al says:

    I am watching a very fascinating program on Morchidat on our public television. I have great empathy for those beautiful young people. You will find articles in Arabic on jw.org that can be of great benefit to them.

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