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Meeting between Pope Francis and King Mohamed VI. Aicha Haddou (Ulema Research Centre of the Kingdom). “Foreboding light for the world”

The words of the Director of the Research Centre "Interfaith & Peacebuilding" located at the prestigious League of Mohammedan Scholars, (Rabita Mohammadia Al Ulema): "The meeting between His Majesty King Mohamed VI and His Holiness Pope Francis is seen as completely natural. It is the meeting between two great religious leaders who share many common causes: climate challenge, consolidation of peace, sensitivity and attention to others, migration and the same position against extremist drifts"

(from Rabat) “While the pessimism of a few plunges the world into darkness, others illuminate lanterns, and the forthcoming meeting in Rabat is a token of light.” Aicha Haddou, welcomed us with these words – ahead of the Pope’s arrival to Rabat – at the “Interfaith & Peacebuilding” research centre located at the prestigious League of Mohammedan Scholars, (Rabita Mohammadia Al Ulema. The Centre, overlooking the immensity of the Atlantic Ocean, is an “interdisciplinary research hub” of learning and studies on themes related to peacebuilding, mutual recognition, the challenges of climate change, refugees and migration, with the help of world experts and representatives of different cultures and religions. The expression “pedagogy of otherness” recurs in Aicha’s presentation of the Centre. It represents the premise for combating conflicts based on religion and forms of extremism, teaching respect for diversity and rejection of all forms of violence. It is also a contribution to the more widespread problem of populism that is taking roots in Western societies. This “mission” has brought the Centre to establish collaborations (among the many initiated) also with the Catholic Institute of Toulouse and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

Which Islam will the Pope meet in Morocco?
His Holiness Pope Francis will meet a Moroccan Islam of the “fair balance” that incorporates a heritage of civilization stemming from a plural history that brings together cultures, lands, languages and religions. This heritage is rooted in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the European lands of Al Andalus. The Moroccan people proudly share this heritage as a resource for the future of the Country: to be a crossroads between the East, Africa and Europe. Thus it is an experience of life whose historical and religious values has been passed down for many centuries. Moreover, we must not forget that this Islam encompasses the presence of the Jewish identity, enshrined also in the Constitution that contributes to the shaping of the population’s endogenous diversity.

Could you tell us more about what is meant by “Islam of the fair balance”?

It’s not a slogan. There are various schools of thought, and Moroccan Islam has taken a stand on a chessboard of dogmatic tendencies that is thus reflected in an Islam “of the fair balance”; a moderate form of Islam, found in a feasible and reliable point of balance. In concrete terms, this experience is rooted and formalized in a religious experience that has the face of a triptych, i.e. one that is rooted in three dimensions: Sufi Junaydism from the mystical angle, Maliki Islam from the juridical angle and the Ashari school from the dogmatic perspective. These dimensions confer  a plural reality to its culture and its sociological configuration.

What is the state of interreligious relations in Morocco?
Morocco is a Country that by nature defines itself in the promotion of dialogue between civilizations and religions: this openness is inscribed in its cultural and historical genes. Thus the main feature of its identity and its Constitution is to be found in religious pluralism. With a key-figure: King Mohammed VI, who also holds the status of religious leader as he is “Amir El Mouminine”, “Commander of the Faithful” of all believers and thus guarantor of the protection of the faithful of all religions recognised in Morocco.It’s very important to underline this. Even though Islam is a State religion, it guarantees the free practice of religion to everyone (see Article 3 of the Constitution). It should also be noted that Judaism is a component of Moroccan identity recognized in the Constitution. The State ensures special protection to the members of the Jewish community and its institutions, and it places major effort in the protection of Jewish heritage and structures. As regards Christianity, whose vitality is ensured by the new migratory waves from Sub-Saharan regions, Morocco officially recognizes the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church (that brings together different expressions of the Protestant Church), the Anglican Church and the Russian-Orthodox Church.
What expectations are there for the upcoming visit, especially with regard to dialogue?
This exceptional meeting symbolizes the combination of the yearning for dialogue in a milieu that is severely tested by drifts and signals of divide. Thus it’s a powerful message in terms of image, in harmony with the values it spreads and strategic in terms of “peacebuilding”. In this respect it is necessary to underline and embrace the import of this meeting between two great religious leaders arriving from the two sides of the Mediterranean. These two voices reverberate in the crucible of monotheism and they represent the majority of world population. This upcoming visit offers a beautiful image to the rest of the  world. It’s the image of the encounter between Christianity and Islam whence emerges a new flow for the future. The message is clear: it’s still possible to engage in the building of our future through dialogue and thus instil hope in the hearts of many men and women worldwide. What does the Pope represent to you?
His Holiness Pope Francis is an important source of inspiration to me. He is an enlightened, humanist religious leader gifted with great intelligence and sensitivity for the realities of the world. His spiritual approach to life brings him to attune with contemporary issues and this is something that reaches out to my innermost feelings. The profile of His Majesty King Mohamed VI, the “Commander of the Faithful,” a man of faith, an enlightened, visionary king, is in keeping with the full attention to contexts and their transformations. His ability to respond to problems of the most disadvantaged, his commitment at national and African level and his ability to stay on course, reassure a tormented world. The meeting between His Majesty King Mohamed VI and His Holiness Pope Francis is seen as a  natural occurrence.It’s the encounter of two great religious leaders that share many common causes: the challenge of climate change, the consolidation of peace, sensitivity and attention for others, the migratory issue and the same position against extremist drifts and the risk of identity closures.

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