I love America. I am American born and raised on the streets of the great state of New Jersey. My ancestors go back a ways. I am also a multi-cultural American with Latino, African American and Slovak roots. I have always appreciated having friends and associates with diverse backgrounds. I love the stimulation of bringing together the different foods, music, traditions and perspectives. This also includes my dear Muslim-American friends. My first real exposure to the Muslim culture was in college during a semester study abroad in Granada, Spain. Granada is full of the artistic and architectural influence of Muslims due to the hundreds of years of Muslim control of the region. I was intoxicated by the music, art and the beautiful architecture such as the world famous former Muslim palace, The Alhambra. During that time in Spain, I also took my first trip to a Muslim country: Morocco. The 12-mile boat trip from the south of Spain to Morocco took only a couple of hours. The colors, sounds and aromas there were palpable and forever engraved in my mind. Throughout the years since that original trip to Spain and Morocco, it has been my pleasure to continue to appreciate the Arab culture and develop wonderful friendships and business relationships with intelligent, fun, sophisticated, and successful Muslim Americans.
After the September 11, 2001 attack on America things shifted for Muslim Americans. People became skeptical towards the Muslim community. With the emergence of Al-Qaeda and then later the Islamic State (ISIS), the situation for my Muslim friends here in the US became even more uncomfortable. The proliferation of the “Lone Wolf” attacks around the globe exacerbates the feelings of anger, suspicion and apprehension towards the Muslim community. Attempts to directly confront and eliminate ISIS have had some success however, when air strikes and combat is successful in taking out ISIS terrorists, there seems to be several more who are willing to take their place. Meanwhile confusion continues to mount throughout the US population on how to interact with the Muslim American community. The world’s nations are desperately searching for answers that will resolve this blatant terrorist violence and bring safety and security to their land. The answer jumped out to me during my most recent trip to Morocco. The sustainable solution for the elimination of ISIS and others like them is the deliberate and strategic promotion of moderate Islam.
The kingdom of Morocco gives the perfect example of this. First, Morocco itself is a moderate Islamic country. The country’s mosques teach moderate Islam, which emphasizes tolerance and respect for other religions. The result of this positive influence is a Moroccan society that is safe, beautiful and economically sound. The centerpiece of Morocco’s promotion of moderate Islam is the Mohammed VI Institute. This one of a kind International Moderate Islam Teaching Center for Imams trains the Muslim teachers from other African countries and Europe on the principles of moderate Islam. Under this unique program, King Mohammed VI finances the airfare, lodging, tuition and even healthcare of Muslim teachers from all over Africa and parts of Europe who, after being taught the principles of moderate Islam, return to their respective countries to spread the message there. This program hits at the root of Muslim based terrorism: extreme Islam. As mentioned in a recent article published by the French newspaper Le Economiste the Institute’s director, Abdeslam Lazaar stated that: “People have different religions and cultures. Therefore, we need dialogue and acceptance from all sides.” Another important aspect of the program is that women are not excluded from this training and are in fact encouraged to participate. There are 153 women enrolled, including 100 Moroccans, 20 Guineans, 13 from the Ivory Coast, 10 Nigerians and 10 French. The institute currently has more than 1,200 students. Given the enthusiasm it arouses, the supervising ministry has decided to build a nearby extension to meet the growing demands. This new infrastructure, which is also inspired by the exquisite Moroccan architecture, includes a wing for student residences and a large amphitheater with 1,400 seats. The objective is to preserve an identity based on the middle ground, moderation, and tolerance and to guard against the hints of extremism. As Mr. Lazaar also stated in the same article, “The Institute corrects beliefs so that the doctrine is just and sound. We have students from Mali, Guinea, Tunisia, France, Chad and Nigeria. They go on to spread moderate Islam in their countries. After 10 to 20 years, this aspect of religion will be dominant.”
Morocco has taken other measures to defeat terrorism like establishing its own home intelligence agency in 2015, the Bureau Central d’Investigation Judiciaire (BCJI). Also, in January, the Interior Ministry of Morocco announced it was completely banning the import, manufacture and marketing of burqas in all the cities and towns of the kingdom. The ban applies only to full-face covering burqas. Wearing headscarves without the veil is accepted. This move by Morocco is seen as a sign of real commitment in the war on terror.
The revelations I received during this recent trip to Morocco helped me to put into perspective the position of my Muslim American friends. The predominant majority of Muslim Americans follow moderate Islam and, as such, are part of the solution. It is heartening to know that all Americans stand united against the radical teachings and violence brought about by Islamic extremism. The Trump Administration should fully embrace, promote and support Morocco’s program of spreading moderate Islam through their “teaching the teachers” program at the Mohammed VI Institute. The US should also work with Morocco to replicate the program in other countries. Working together, we can accelerate the spreading of moderate Islam and hasten extremism’s decline. It is important for Americans and all nations to understand the difference between moderate and extremist Islam. The Trump Administration can play an important role in accomplishing this. This is good news for the American Muslim community, for the country overall, and for the mission of advancing peace and security around the world.