The Components

of the Moroccan Cultural Identity


By Dr. Abbes Jirari



Text of the presentation on Moroccan Cultural Identity presented in the First Session of the First Meeting of Allal El-Fassi Symposium held in Rabat 16th -17th Shaâban 1407. The proceedings of the Symposium are published in the new series of Kitab Al-ilm (1st edition 1988)



       First, I would like to thank ``Allal Al-Fassi Foundation ‘’ for giving me the opportunity to attend this symposium, in the participation of which I take great pride. I’d also like to congratulate this Foundation twice .Firstly, for organising this symposium which will be open and continuous. Secondly, for choosing as a subject of it’s first meeting a topic that was not only a matter of some concern to its late leader but also an intellectual preoccupation manifest in his writings and lectures.


       The topic I am honored to shed some light on is about the first axis : The Components of Moroccan cultural Identity . Before I begin to talk about it, and with your permission, I’d like to give a brief definition of each one of these three terms:






       My intention is to give a simple definition of each one of these components, without posing the technical  or the methodical problem they  may raise, or embarking on such a study, the motives behind it , or the various pertinent tendencies.


       The components make up the thing; that is the fundamental elements that constitute its basis. Inquiry into them entails research in their meaning  from the point of view of gender, type and degree, of their influence, and of the extent of their continuity  whether in the condition of stability or evolution.


       As for identity, it is what goes into the making of the thing itself - with regard to its distinctive features and realization of itself and its character that sets it apart from other things. Identity is   the vessel that holds the collective conscience of any human community, as well as  the content of this conscience. This content  includes all the values and components which adjust the community’s awareness and will to exist and live within the scope of the preservation of entity along with everything else that ensures its emergence and continuity.


       Identity, thereby, falls within a large framework represented by personality as an entity made up of physical and moral elements, and also as a well-established existence of man and society. It is through what transpires of  this existence and of that entity that identity is related to personality.


       One might ask : What are the components of Moroccan cultural identity ?


       In such a short presentation, it may be difficult for me to define these components or to limit them to specific points. Nevertheless, within the wide framework where identity may be examined, I can discuss four elements


       1-The environment : I am not interested in its special dimension as opposed to history which presents a temporal dimension for any society. I am interested in the environment only in so far as it is a set of natural and human elements which have no value in themselves, but whose importance lies in their number and diversity, and in the economic conditions and social systems and behavioral patterns which it sets apart, and in the resultant specific mentality.


I had studied the Moroccan mentality in a field other than this one, in an attempt to observe its features, and I concluded that it may be summarized in the following points :


1-     A tendency towards stability.


2-     A strong feeling of the self and an aptitude for openness coupled with an awareness of the necessity to unite with the other, to integrate and to work closely and to cooperate with him.


3-     A love for freedom and a refusal of subjugation and resignation to any power, coupled with an  excellent capacity for forbearance.


4-     Confronting problems and handling them in a practical manner and with a certain readiness to solve  them.


          5- A striving for moderation in everything.


       Secondly, religion - Islam- in which Moroccans have realized self-fullfilment, existence and entity, which has enabled them to assert their identity and personality as is revealed by history, especially when comparison is made between the Islamic era and the eras that preceded it.


       Suffice it to say in this connection that Islam has guided Moroccans with its precepts and united them. Not only did they embrace it as a religion and adopt its teachings in their worship and conduct, they also took it as a model in every aspect of their lives. That is why Islam  is so  prevalent in all their views, and in their logic, visions and conceptions, because it constitutes a basis for their behavior and relationships and a criterion with which they can distinguish between issues.


       The third component of identity is language - classical Arabic - so much enriched by all the local dialects with which it has intermingled . As is the case with any society, language in Morocco is a means of communication, with its grammar, verb conjugation, sounds, meanings, discourse and thought structure, and     everything else one learns in a language lesson . Language, however, has gone beyond  this stage  to become a symbol of values and an inner feeling of identity and existence for the individual and the community alike,  and even for those who live in regions where a dialect, however close to or distant from Arabic, is prevalent.


       The reason is that Arabic is the language of the Quran and an Islamic heritage. Therefore, it is at the heart of the citizen’s conscience, intertwined with his identity and his being . Even his existence has come to depend upon it and upon its content ,although he may not be acquainted with its scientific aspect or be so proficient at it as a means of communication.

       In the eyes of Moroccans, Arabic has come to be  synonymous with Islam, because it is its language. They knew Islam and its heritage through Arabic, and it was through Arabic that they enriched this heritage. That’s why Arabic is an element of equilibrium in the Moroccan personality, in an environment characterized by multiplicity and diversity not only in the relationship of this personality with itself but with the other as well. This has turned language into an effective weapon in the struggle against the perilous loss or dissolution of identity.


       The Fourth and last element is heritage; that is the civilisational and cultural heritage which reached the Umma throughout the ages. This heritage is  the product of interaction between generations; it constitutes an accumulation of knowledge and expertise, of mind and spirit, and of  emotion  and taste. This represents the  genius of the Umma, and brings out its giftedness and its role in innovating in and contributing to various intellectual, literary and technical fields and to all  other refined skills.


       The issue of heritage is a thorny and complex one; however, I am studying it here within the scope of complementarily between the scholastic and the popular. By ``scholastic ‘’ heritage, I mean all the transmitted thought, the learnt sciences and the written literature; by ``popular’’ heritage, I mean the inherited customs and lore, and the various forms of expression, whether verbal  or artistic.


       Because of the time constraint, I will only raise some issues related to these components; that is, their relationship with the content of Moroccan Cultural Identity.


The first issue: Is the cultural identity constant? Or is it changing or changeable ?


       As a civilization phenomenon, cultural identity has historical, social, intellectual and psychological dimensions. It is governed by laws and conditions closer to determinism than anything else, which makes it more inclined to subsist ; and if it undergoes a change, the latter takes place spontaneously and over calm periods.


       As a reflection of the form of society, with   adjustments in intellectual and economic factors and relationships over a limited period governed by a controlled controversial interaction - in other words, as a social phenomenon  subjected to the various factors of change in society, identity is receptive to change whenever this society is exposed to anything that is likely to effect a change slowly or speedily.  


       Moreover, since identity is related to the prevalent values, components and concepts, it is part of the changes occurring over generations and their concurrent events which are often slow, except when society is exposed to such sudden upheavals as revolutions and wars.


       Without giving a detailed analysis, it is important that I mention that cultural identity has two features: a constant feature;   one that is related to the stable factors in this identity, such as religion. The other is unstable, changeable and receptive to development and innovation,  albeit very slowly,  as a result of its relationship with the adaptable elements in society. That is why, in the discussion of the components of identity, I insisted on the environment and its impact on the composition of identity.                                                                                                  


       The second issue is that of cultural identity in its relationship with other identities. There is no doubt that when we discuss Moroccan cultural identity, we immediately imagine another extended and larger identity. That is, Moroccan identity may be related, through some common elements, to larger identities or some identities of which it is part, such as the Arab identity, the Islamic identity or the African identity, and so forth, until the Moroccan identity meets the human identity, so to speak.


       Furthermore, cultural identity may  subdivide further into small subidentities or partial identities, especially when that identity is related to an environment which is characterized by multiplicity and diversity, as it is the case with Morocco with all the specificities of sub-environments which constitute the main structure. This is clearly seen in some natural aspects and civilization phenomena and in their impact on the thought, mind and behavior and all forms and patterns of creativity.


       I believe that identity - any identity - that is receptive to enlargement and subdivision acquires a property which  enables it to live,  develop, coexist and   complement the other, that is to give and take, starting from its distinctive features and special traits.


       The third issue which I would like to raise in my discussion of the Moroccan  cultural identity poses a question with regard to the reality of its components today, which take us back to these components.


       As regards the environments, we notice not only the extent of the impact of all the effective factors on it, but also   the ensuing development that keeps pace with the progress and the evolution of society in various fields, with all the negative influence affecting the cultural elements despite the immunity of authenticity and the confidence resulting  from the cultural factors. Nonetheless, the matter requires caution so as to prevent a dissolution of  the features of true authenticity or ward off the infiltration, in its name,  of falseness and foreignness into it.


       With regard to religion, Islam today is undergoing a real awakening which is the  result of  the clash of the self  with itself, as well as with the other. However, this awakening is beset by many problems and dangers, the effect of which have already started to emerge.


       I should mention what has already been said that Moroccans have adjusted personality and Islam; that is  they linked them up, starting from features amongst which moderation ranks top. This moderation is reflected in religion ,doctrine and in many other religious issues. I am certain that this moderation is the regulator which may protect Moroccans and prevent them from drifting towards extremism, deviation and loss.


       Regarding language, identity is going  through a crisis related to arabization. I do not wish to go into the details of such a crisis, or raise the problem of arabisation, because only an ignorant or a  coward would argue against arabisation. I will only  say that the problem of arabisation facing the Arabic language today needs to be dealt with bravely and rationally. In our discussion of the issue of arabisation, we need to be aware of many realities, five of which are worth mentioning:


1.      Arabisation does not mean introversion, seclusion and resistance to other languages considered as a means of openness onto the world and on other cultures and civilizations. Taking into consideration the supremacy of Arabic as a mother tongue, arabisation seeks to avoid falling into the grip of any foreign language, no matter how useful and regardless of its potentialities or of the horizons it may open for us, so as not to allow  it the slightest influence or hegemony that may result in dependence.


2.      The mother tongue, that is the national language ,is in itself a field and a means of creation and creativity.


3.      Through its thought, content and spirit, the mother tongue is one of the means to shield  one’s identity from dependence and colonialism.


4. The use of arabisation in education , in scientific research , in literary expression, in management and communication with others and in various domains of public and private life would alone guarantee its development, innovation and capacity for keeping pace with modern times.


       It is this use,  especially since Arabic is the language of the Quran, that will encourage non-Arab Moslems to adapt it in educational, intellectual and religious fields; it may be chosen as the  official language, too.


       As for heritage, the fourth and last component, it has been going through a stage of confrontation with modernity for over two decades. If Islamic-Arab thought in general (and the Moroccan thought in particular) is suffering from a crisis of equilibrium brought about by this confrontation, it  endeavors to resolve this crisis through practice. Both Islamic-Arab thought and Moroccan thought  have come to the conclusion that practice is the  only   solution; especially after much ink had been spilt on a theoretical discussion, which has led to the crystallization of many of its aspects, both negative and positive.


       Just like language, heritage cannot be ignored, repealed or replaced. Practice has confirmed that culture - no matter how aspiring to the new - can not do without heritage and cannot live outside it. In other words, it has been confirmed that in real life heritage strengthens self-satisfaction, enhances creativity and increases its capacity for developed and renewed yielding.


       The fourth and last issue concerning the components of the Moroccan cultural identity arises from the question about the purpose of studying these components. Actually, the aims of this study are legion. They can be summed up as follows:


1.      Acquainting oneself with the self and the being, and defining the capacities and potentialities; this is a necessary start for realizing  progress and  sustaining it.


2.      Directing perspectives, determining attitudes and relations, showing the way and the destination, and elucidating the philosophy of life and the future


3.      Never losing sight of  this philosophy  as a safe resort in the face of adversity, and as a stimulus for resistance and triumph. This evocation comes about spontaneously, as the history of nationalistic wars has revealed, especially under the protectorate . At that time, the late Allal al-Fassi, and other loyal nationalists, would stress the Moroccan cultural identity. They would insist on the elements of religion and language out of the conviction that Islam - and the concomitant language and thought - was the basis of the unity of Moroccans, and even of Moslems when faith was strong; before it  waned and was overcome by the rest of the components of identity, and perhaps by the subidentities of each region, the consequence of which is the widespread phenomenon of fragmentation and secession.


       The history we are making today - albeit unconsciously - is the best evidence of this active role of cultural identity in the struggle for recovering the usurped territories and for achieving territorial integrity.


       The best proof of such achievements is the Green March, with its Islamic motto "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is Great). It   alone was able to fill the hearts of tens of thousands of those who took part in it, and to mobilize them, thus proving to be a most efficient weapon.


       In conclusion, I would like to stress once again the importance of this theme: "Moroccan Cultural Identity” and to reiterate my thanks and congratulations to the Allal al-Fassi Institution for taking the initiative to put it on the floor for study and discussion at the start of its activities. I pray God to grant it success.


Dr. Abbes Jirari.