Saturday, March 27, 2010

Islam and Morocco's Ain Leuh Orphanage

One of the highlights of my sojourn in Morocco in the early 90's was visiting the orphanages at Azrou and Ain Leuh, small towns located in the beautiful mid-Atlas mountain region of northern Morocco. The orphanages were both unique. My typical understanding of an orphanage until then was a place where a staff gathered dozens, if not hundreds, of parentless or abandoned children who slept in dormitory type rooms and were given food, education, and other basic necessities of life.

It was different at Azrou and Ain Leuh. From as far back as World War II, Americans went to these towns with the vision of a new type of orphanage. Couples would take in a smaller number of children, raise them as their own, and commit themselves to the children until they were old enought to leave home and live on their own. It was at least a 20-year committment for each couple, and some of them stayed a second 20-year term to raise an additional family. Two American women I met at Ain Leuh were in their 80's, still had stories to tell of American soldiers passing through during the war, and were still involved in raising their children. It was one of the best examples I have ever seen that combined the Western values of volunteerism, sacrifice, and compassion (although I am sure none of the parents would agree with my assessment that they had "sacrificed" their lives).

I had almost forgotten about the orphanages over the years until I read the news a few weeks ago that Morocco suddenly deported 16 foreign workers from the Ain Leuh orphanage. It was one of the saddest stories I've read in a long time. To think of where the young children are at this minute, and the life they will face over the coming years in comparison to the love they experienced from their adoptive parents, is heartbreaking.

At their website discussing the deportation, the parents wrote,  "We also appeal to our supporters around the World to not react to this situation and use the internet or any other means to say anything that might be viewed as detrimental about the Moroccan authorities." I agree. I don't blame the Moroccan authorities, I blame Islam. The Moroccan authorities, as well as the children now abandoned and without parents for the second time in their lives, are all victims of Muhammad.

The reason given by the authorities for the expulsion of the parents was that the children were being enticed to leave Islam. Muhammad has always been terrified of losing his followers. During his Prophetic Career he ruled that Muslim men could marry non-Muslim women with the stipulation that their children be raised Muslim. Muslim women, however, were not free to marry non-Muslim husbands because that would open the possibility the children would not grow up as Muslims. He declared in the Hadith that apostates from Islam should be killed, a ruling that is still applied today in some parts of the world. His fear extended to the point of killing the poetess Asma bint Marwan,  mother of five children, because she had written poetry he found threatening.

Adoption is not allowed in Islam. Again, this goes back to Muhammad's paranoia after the inhabitants of Medina looked askance at his marriage to his daughter-in-law Zainab, wife of his adopted son Zaid. Muhammad's response was to assert that Zaid was no longer his son, and adoption was no longer legal.

Moderate Muslims today like to speak of their "evolved" understanding of Muhammad, and a "new" Islam that is more in tune with the values of the 21st century. For any such Muslim reading this article, I would say here is a good place to start. Throw your weight behind allowing the non-Moroccan parents of these orphans back into the country so they can continue loving and raising their children. And while you are at it, use your influence to have Muslim-majority countries leave Muhammad behind at least to the extent of being willing to make a few changes in their adoption laws.


Matt said...

If Islam is the culprit, I wonder what took them so long? Was Morrocco not muslim last year? What about the year before? It must be that famous muslim laziness, you know, they were always MEANING to get around to it...

Or perhaps there are other factors at play. Shhhh!!! Other factors?! But how can we make a gross generalization based on "other factors"??!

Quotable Quotes: said...

Matt, that's a good question. Why now and not 10 years ago? My guess is there are 2 reasons. First is the increasing radicalization of the Arab world - it is moving towards intolerance, not away from it. Second is that Christian missionaries are being successful. Many Moroccans are leaving Islam. Ex-Muslim Rashid, whose Arabic show Daring Question challenging Islam, is watched each week by millions of Muslims. That he is from Morocco is extremely embarrassing to the authorities there, and in typical form they just round all foreigners up and throw them out - in this case with no concern for the welfare of the children.

Anyhow, that's my take. What other factors do you think are at play?

Matt said...

I think you have localized the event in time and space pretty well, actually. What we are dealing with is authorities in Morrocco and a recent trend towards radicalization. The step from here to the generalization "I blame Islam" does not seem logical to me, though it may have emotional appeal for some readers.

sara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sara said...


If the authorities claim that they shut down the orphanage because the workers were going agaisnt Islamic law by proselytizing, why is it such a stretch to blame Islam? I agree that the authorities should be held accountable for their actions. But surely if they are acting in accordance with a standard, the standard should also be examined??

If staringattheview can be accused of 'localizing' events with theories (some call it analysis) aren’t you in danger of 'compartmentalizing'??

And yes, I do think that staringattheview is obviously distraught over the fate of these orphans, and makes an emotional appeal for Muslim readers to influence the Morrocan government. What a jerk...

sara said...

and its interesting that you accuse staringattheview of making an emotional argument, when your initial comment is a combination of sarcasm and vague allusions

Matt said...


Because the authorities cited a Moroccan anti-prosletization law as their justification, of course it makes sense to consider this "standard" as well as one probable influence behind it, Islam.

Now, if we are going to "blame Islam" (period) the first thing we should realize is that this is a pretty big generalization, simply because Islam exists in so many places outside of Morocco and has existed for so much time prior to the present. Also, while "sensitivity" to the feelings of "believers" is certainly irrelevant to the search for facts, we should try to understand the situation as accurately as possible for another reason-- the plight of these children is (unarguably) a wrenching human tragedy, and it won't help matters to bark up the wrong tree.

So what sorts of evidence would help us to indict "Islam" as the one decisive factor in this case? It would certainly help if we could show that hostility to missionaries was limited to muslim-majority lands.

But, of course, we can't. The slaughter of christians in Japan can perhaps be written off as ancient history (I blame Shinto)-- but expulsions and church closings in Russia are ongoing. (link, link) In these cases, I don't blame the KGB, I blame Christendom.

But enough of our traditional enemies. What about big, friendly, democratic India? This in from last week:

"As Pastor Sunder Raj of St. Thomas Church in Gijahalli, near Arsikere in Hassan district, was about to begin the funeral service, the mob pulled the coffin apart and desecrated the cross the relatives of the deceased were carrying. They threw the body into a tractor and dumped it outside, saying his burial would have contaminated Indian soil and his body should be buried in Rome or the United States." (In Karnataka, Christians Face 1,000 Attacks in 500 Days)

Harrassment and murder of missionaries and Christians in India has been a regular occurrence for decades, all the while with moral support from the VHP, the biggest party in India's parliament. (link, link)

Examples like these are just one reason why I do think it is a stretch to just blame Islam. Now, this is Staring's blog and I don't want to take up too much of his column space, so I'll take my answer off the air.

Traeh said...

Matt, one can almost always find examples counter to a generalization about realities. That's not the point. The point is, are those examples not exceptions to the rule. If they are exceptions, then the rule still holds. It's not enough to put out a few counter examples to make your case. One has to show that the counter examples are representative, rather than exceptions.

Islam has many more totalitarian threads than other major religions. That has to be established, of course, but I don't think it's that hard to do, unless one is determined not to see. But once it is established to one's provisional satisfaction (provisional because one must always be open to new evidence), the next step, I suppose, would be to see if the apparently more totalitarian texts of Islam lead in actuality to more totalitarian governments. And I think there is, indeed, a strong case to be made that that is precisely what we see around the world in Muslim-majority states. The statistics of human rights groups show that the group of Muslim-majority states is on the whole the most backward in terms of civil liberties and political rights. Even the most liberal Muslim states -- perhaps Indonesia and Turkey -- are not up to first world standards of religious freedom. Indonesia has religious identity cards, and Christians and others can be threatened with 5 year jail terms simply for proselytizing. In Indonesia's Aceh, they are trying to rule by Islamic law, which is a disaster for non-Muslims, women, gays, and human rights in general. Turkey is worse than Indonesia. And those two states are the best that Islam has to offer. Saudi Arabia is truly a hell-hole. Iran, a hell-hole.

Tina Magaard is a linguist who got her Ph.D. in Intercultural Communication from the Sorbonne in Paris, and she did a three-year study of the original texts of ten big religions, and one of the conclusions she came to was that the religious texts of Islam, more than the texts of any other faith, urge violence and aggression against unbelievers.

Some will point at the Old Testament's violence, but fail to make an important distinction. The Old Testament violence is descriptive. The story is told of how God said to destroy that people in that town, and this other people in this other town, and so on. It's disturbing. But it is a description, not an open-ended prescription, or command to bring all unbelievers around the world forcibly under the rule of Jewish religious law. Islam's core documents do indeed contain that imperative, to bring the whole earth under the rule of Islamic law.

Meanwhile, being a Muslim means reciting the Qur'an in ancient Arabic. But 4/5 of the world's Muslims are not Arabs, and do not necessarily understand what they are reciting. Even modern Arabs, I gather, have difficulty understanding Qur'anic Arabic. Thus many Muslims know fairly little about their own religion, what the Qur'an says, and what it means as contextuated by the hadiths Muslim scholars consider authentic. Thus to call Islam totalitarian in its main thrust, is not to accuse all Muslims of being conscious accomplices to that. At the same time, if Islam is totalitarian, and if Islamic law is indeed a human rights nightmare, at some point, Muslims perhaps have to be asked to take responsibility for actively and publicly rejecting those aspects of Islam that are totalitarian. This is not some tiny cult we can afford to ignore. By some accounts, 1/3 of all babies now born in France have Islamic names. Many scholars have said that various demographic trends are converging in Europe toward a Muslim-majority well before the end of the century. The liberal society of Europe could be lost. Shouldn't we step back a bit and say, "whoa", and think about that a bit? Do we really want the United States to be alone as a liberal democracy in an authoritarian global sea? Sure, it might not happen, but shouldn't we step back and very carefully consider the possibility?

Traeh said...

Matt, this continues my above comment to you:
I don't have any problem people of other religions and races coming to my country, but in the case of Islam, I have real concerns about Muslims coming to my country. As problematic and imperfect as my own culture is in various ways, Islamic culture is far, far worse, however lovable individual Muslims can be.

Did you that in Sahih Bukhari, the most canonical of hadith collections, Muhammad said, "Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him."

Muhammad many times was reported in authoritative hadith to call for death for people who leave Islam. That is why all the schools of Islamic law, to this day, call for the death penalty for people who leave Islam. And even where Islamic law is not applied, it remains as an ethos within Islamic culture: a hypersensitivity to "blasphemy," coupled with too much readiness to call for legal or physical punishment for the "blasphemers."

Oh well, time to go to sleep.

Matt said...

Ed, I would argue that history is such a poorly controlled experiment that almost any "exception" deserves to be taken seriously. When correlation and causation are blurred, exceptions can sometimes be more illustrative than rules.

I will agree with you that the Qur'aan contains alot of polemic and, depending on how you count, at least one verse that can be taken as a direct exhortation to violence on idolaters (et al). Where I will disagree with you is just how deterministic this is in producing totalitarianism.

At first glance we can see that despotic rulers had flourished in this part of the world for long before the Arab conquest so I do not think it is accurate to blame the Qur'aan for that. You may genuinely believe that Jesus was a nice guy, but even as Muhammad was consolidating in Arabia the Byzantine Emporer was killing heretics and humiliating Jews, so I do not think you'll find a moral high ground there unless you are looking hard for it.

We can also find a plenty of examples non-pluralistic societies in the world today that are not Islamic (and even more if you look back a few years). I think you would be hard-pressed to explain away all of them by referring to the culture and history of the people involved. All of these are pretty strong signs that you are being seduced by a sexily simplistic correlation.

This reminds me of talking to British soldiers in Baghdad, who liked to think of Iraq as America's Northern Ireland. Aha! The IRA! I bet you wondered where all those Jihadis (and the FARC) learned their nifty terrorist tricks! But I guess because they can't quote the J-man for an easy excuse, that means what they were doing is OK.

And by the way, Pahlavi Persia was "hell-hole" under the Shah, and that guy was a CIA stooge. Quotable might be able to tell you more about that.

Also, "hell-hole" may be a bit of a strong word for Iran, even if the political situation is very difficult right now. And I know that there are plenty of Saudis who enjoy living in Saudi Arabia even if some of them might prefer a little (lot) less repression. Quotable knows more about this than me. I only make the point because "hell-hole" is a pretty strong epithet.


I will agree with you that Jihadism in Europe is a frightening situation, and I don't have any easy answers. I am also disturbed by the increasing prevalence of Saudi-funded institutions, Saudi-trained imams and Saudi-style attitudes around the world and in America. But here's where we will differ-- I specifically blame Saudi Arabia.

I have talked to plenty of Muslims with a venal hatred of Saudi Arabia, though none of them (who were religious) seemed ready to boycott Hajj (a disappointment). If you really want a shibboleth, why don't you just call a spade a spade and decry Saudi wahhabism?

Now, you can go and talk about the evil warlord Muhammad all day long but the fact is its an academic point with very weak determinism in the modern day. You can always try to convince people that your cultural symbols are better and try to convert them, but if finally they say no then you have to leave them with their heritage to work it out in the way they choose. Personally, I am not the slightest bit scared about more Muslims moving to America, though I do wish someone would do something about Saudi petro-bucks.

Matt said...

By the way, Deuteronomy 13 is a very explicit example of prescriptive violence in the Bible. Not that I think it is terribly important.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many Americans would like it if Muslims from other countries came and established an orphanage here in which they raised non-Muslim orphans essentially as Muslims (but without 'direct proselytizing') and hoped and prayed they would grow up to become Muslims. I don't think the people would like it. And this is a more diverse country -- imagine that happening inside Israel (taking in Jewish kids) or in a country of 90-some percent Christians, mostly practicing, where Christianity was the official religion. I somehow don't think it would last long... not as long as this one did. And they probably were shut down because they said they would proseletize but they did (kind of like how teachers here get in trouble if they proseletyze in the classroom... now consider the importance if the teachers were with the students 24/7). Get over it. Ya, blame Islam for wanting Muslims to be raised Muslim, but then blame Christianity for Christians wanting the same, and Judaism for Jews wanting the same, and agnosticism for agnostics wanting the same, and Hinduism for HIndus wanting the same, and atheism for atheists wanting the same. Just don't be a hypocrite.

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