‘Casablanca Calling’ – Morocco’s first female Muslim leaders set out to change their country in a quiet social revolution

Attending the Screening and Director Q+A moderated by Nour Festival’s film nights curator Yasmin El Derby.

By Nahla Al-Ageli

The Nour screening of the documentary film ‘Casablanca Calling’ at Leighton House Museum was a wonderful experience, especially that it was followed by a lively Q+A between the Director Rosa Rogers and the audience, many of whom were positively touched by its subject matter. The real story follows three Moroccan women – titled ‘Morchidats’ – who do outreach work with poor, illiterate and in other ways disadvantaged girls and women. Mainly, they conduct local visits in various venues including mosques, schools, homes, orphanages, prisons and in the countryside to offer guidance on all types of personal, family, social and legal-religious matters.

We watch them  – Hannane, Bouchra and Karima – as they travel near and far from Casablanca to Rabat and how they help and encourage the education for both young girls and older illiterate women and giving all kinds of advice to enlighten them as to their rights in Islam. Based on the moderate Sufi-type Maliki school of Sharia law, there is truly a beauty in what they preach and in the wonderful way they engage with their cases; always promoting compassion, tolerance, gender-equality and away from prejudice and negative misinterpretations. As the film took three years to make, we fortunately also get to see the transformational differences made in the lives of those with whom these very passionate Morchidats come across.

Briefly, the background to the work of the Morchidats began in 2006, when there was a big Moroccan government shake-up of family law when lots of changes were made to offer more gender-equality – for example, by raising the legal age of consent for marriage to 18 for both girls and boys – and, with this drive, created the pioneering social programme for women to become spiritual leaders in their community. These women are now empowered to do everything that male imams do except to lead Friday prayers in a mosque. Currently, there are approximately 400 Morchidats across the country who first have to go through an intensive 12-month educational training which encompasses not just religion but also psychology and even a bit of foreign affairs.

After the screening, there was one individual in the audience who seemed worried and alarmed that the film showed only a sad picture of Morocco with a focus on the worrying statistics of illiteracy and the poverty that is in the background, without reference to more modern or advanced aspects of Morocco as a society and culture. He posed a challenging question as to the intentions behind the production of the documentary. But when I asked Rosa Rogers what the central message of the film was, she said it was really to show and celebrate the type of Islam that is preached by the Morchidats and to garner as much support as possible for their work.

According to Rogers: “Despite the difficulties [of filming] I believe passionately that the work of the Morchidats is groundbreaking and that their story must be told. I feel strongly about the misinterpretation of Islam in much of Western mainstream media and want to show a different side. We wanted to tell human stories which transcend cultural divides and simultaneously illuminate everyday truths about the lives of ordinary women in the Arab world – lives which are often closed and off limits to those outside. As newly elected Islamic governments come to power across the Arab world – the role of the Morchidat in Morocco seems even more important. How – within an Islamic framework – can women achieve their full potential? And how can ideas and attitudes that have been entrenched for generations be overturned?”

Note: The Nour screening of ‘Casablanca Calling’ was hosted by the British Moroccan Society (BMS). Created in 1975, it aims to share the magic of Morocco, raise money for charitable organisations, raise awareness and knowledge of Morocco in the UK, as well as promoting tourism, educational and cultural exchange and fostering commercial and economic links between the two countries. For more on the BMS: www.britishmoroccansociety.org.

As part of Nour, there are two more Morocco-inspired events to take place: ‘Ahmed Soultan Unplugged’ on 6 November, 2014 at the Flyover Portobello and ‘Moroccan Cuisine: from the Home Kitchen’ that will take place on 13 November, 2014 at the Al-Hasaniya Morocco Women’s Centre.

Nahla Al-Ageli is a British-Arab freelance Journalist specialising in the Arts and Culture of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region from a London perspective. She writes a popular blog on the news, arts, events, interviews and other featured subjects for the British-Arab and the Arab-curious with London always thrown in the mix for good measure at www.nahlaink.com.

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