A Moroccan court has recently banned a book named "Sahih Al-Bukhari...The End of a Legend" by Rachid Aylal, which has stirred controversy in Morocco since its release in August 2017. The ruling has made a fuss as the book is no longer allowed to be sold in bookstores.
The verdict, which was returned by a court in Marrakech, mentions that the governor of the city has deemed some of the book's pages a threat to the "spiritual security" of the citizens, saying the contents contradict common religious norms.
The ruling is the latest in a series of bans the Moroccan arts and culture scene has lately witnessed. A while back, Kama Sutra, a piece by artist Khadija Tanana, was removed from the Tetouan Centre of Modern Art.
Kama Sutra includes illustrated sex positions inspired by the renowned Arab heritage book "The Perfumed Garden" by Tunisian Muḥammad Al-Nafzawi. The removal of Tanana's piece was widely seen as staggering by Moroccan intellectuals.
After the release of his book, Aylal was threatened to be "flogged and erased". Some of these threats were made in public while other critics ridiculed the contents of the book. The writer told Raseef22 that his book signing event in Marrakech had also been barred upon the order of the city's governor.
Mostafa bin Hamza, the head of the Baath Islamic Institute for Sharia Studies, has undermined the book and labeled its writer "ignorant". He has also announced a financial reward for anyone who produces a research that would acclaim Al-Bukhari, unlike Aylal's book which strips the prominent Sheikh of his sacred aura.
"Every day I receive tens of death threats in phone messages from anonymous numbers and fake accounts on Facebook, even before the release of the book," Aylal said. "I don't know why those people think that Islam is represented by only one person in Al-Bukhari."
The Struggle of Selling the Book
After the book was banned, Aylal had no option but to depend on some of his associates to handle the delivery of the book to buyers in utter secrecy. They would conceal copies of the book to avoid confiscation, a process that Aylal describes as a "struggle".
"The book would be delivered to buyers whenever and wherever they want even after the ban and against all odds," said Aylal, who has spread the numbers of his book's secret distributors.
Commenting on the verdict, Aylal said: "If the book of Sahih Al-Bukhari is considered to be Islam, then the Prophet peace be upon him did not fully deliver the message, and Muslims remained for 200 years after his death without the full version of Islam until Al-Bukhari came to make it complete."
"Some people are trying to drag Morocco to the swamp of freedoms suppression, but they can't because Morocco has chosen its path a long time ago and there is no way back... especially with the 2011 constitution which is regarded as a huge victory for Moroccans."
Rachid Aylal has been receiving death threats for months over his book that questions Sahih Al-Bukhari, the prime source of Hadith
"If Sahih Al-Bukhari represents Islam, then Muslims remained for 200 years after the Prophet's death without the full version of Islam until Al-Bukhari came to make it complete"
Repression or Spiritual Security?
Political researcher Marwan bin Fares believes that spiritual security is not a scientific concept, but rather a term that is used to serve the state's religious and political interests.
"The definition of spiritual security in Morocco is ambiguous. It has been used in the context of maintaining social order while dealing with religious minorities such as Shiites, Kharijites and Christians, among others," he told Raseef22.
"It is used by institutions such as the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, Mohammadia League of Scholars as well as official institutions affiliated to the state and [adopting] the thoughts and views of the authorities."
Meanwhile, Amazigh writer Ahmed Assid, believes that spiritual security does not refer to the safety of all Moroccans, but only some of them: the Sunni Muslims.
Sunni Islam, he continued, is the official religion of the state that is protected by the term spiritual security, which at the same time persecutes other Muslim sects as well as different religions and ethnicities. Assid said this violates freedom of belief, among other freedoms acknowledged by the constitution.
The introduction of the 283-page book, which was released by Dar Al-Watan print house, describes many legends and stories cited by Sahih Al-Bukhari as "mythological", saying they have not been unanimously upheld by Salafists.
The book consists of five chapters that include a number of researches delving into controversial issues.
"The book tackles the religious heritage and the real status of Al-Bukhari," Aylal explained. "The Prophet has prohibited the documentation of Hadith through the narration of Al-Darimi, the sheikh of Al-Bukhari."
"The Prophet said, 'Do not write anything about me except what is in the Quran, and whoever wrote something about me shall erase it'. Even Umar bin Khattab burned a writing surface that had borne sayings attributed to the holy Prophet."
"Why was the documentation of the Sunnah delayed for around 100 years after the death of the Prophet, peace be upon him, while it is that significant in sharia as Salafist sheikhs and others argue?"
Aylal said Salafists do not regard Sunnah as detailed interpretations of the Quran, but rather a doctrinal source that overrules the Muslim holy book. Theoretically speaking, he elaborated, it is the second source of sharia after the Quran, yet practically it is undisputedly the prime sharia source for Salafists while the Quran is perceived to be a complementary book.
"Are we dealing directly with the sayings of the Prophet, or with narrators' interpretations of what the Prophet said?" Aylal wondered, highlighting that the mental and intellectual abilities of each narrator differed.
"The worst crime of the Hadith is causing [Muslims] to abandon the book of Allah and replacing it as a doctrine and reference for faith and worship," he said. "Eventually, we have had another religion based on Hadith and it has nothing to do with Quran except for formalities."
Aylal's book attempts to define Hadith, saying the Islamic doctrine should be based on what Allah, not the Prophet said, referring to verses of Quran that read, "Such are the signs of Allah, which we rehearse to you in truth: then in what exposition will they believe after rejecting Allah and his signs?"
"Allah - there is no deity except Him. He will surely assemble you for [account on] the Day of Resurrection, about which there is no doubt. And who is more truthful than Allah in statement."
The writer stresses that Sahih Muslim, which is considered to be the second most authentic Hadith collection after Sahih Al-Bukhari, relied on narrators from six different generations, the majority of whom Sheikh Muslim did not meet. Assuming he was honest, Aylal wonders, how could he verify the credibility of the other five narrators who he never met?
Aylal says that his research on Al-Bukhari was triggered by his interest in "criticizing the religious heritage that we have inherited from our parents and grandparents".
He believes that Sahih Al-Bukhari is linked to myths and dreams that the latter had since he was a child. Historians said he had lost his sight at a young age. Afterwards, his mother saw in a dream Ibrahim Khalilullah who told her "Allah has given your son back his sight for your frequent weeping and praying". Hence, Al-Bukhari restored his sight.
Aylal says that Al-Bukhari's biography was largely inspired by his sacred status and book, citing some Hadith sayings that he believes are fake, including one that says the Prophet attempted to commit suicide.
According to another Hadith narrated by Abu Huraira, the Prophet used to curse believers, Aylal's book highlights. The cited Hadith reads: "O Allah! If I should ever abuse a believer, please let that be a means of bringing him near to You on the Day of Resurrection."
The book also explains that contrary to what Allah told the Prophet in Surah Ad-Duha, "And He found thee in need, and made thee independent", a Hatith narrated by Aisha and cited by Al-Bukhari reads, "Allah's Messenger (saws) died while his (iron) armor was mortgaged to a Jew for thirty Sas of barley".
Solidarity With Book and Writer
Tanana told Raseef22 that the ban imposed on the book was shocking, especially that it came after Kama Sutra had been censored.
"All what is happening in Morocco is because of darkness resulted by strict education that is based on faulty religious beliefs," she said. "We're living a real setback and fragile freedoms that are embattled by the regime."
Tanana said the term spiritual security was invented by the regime out of fear of Islamists. "How can a society develop while mouths are muzzled and hands are tied up?" she wonders.
Moroccan writer and intellectual Bouzid El-Ghali echoed similar sentiments. "It's strange that such a ban is imposed at a time of a government that includes ministers, including the Human Rights Minister, who were once at the forefront of freedom advocates... and today they are more oppressive than those who they once panned... freedom of expression cannot be attained by banning books regardless of their contents."
However, writer and novelist Shakib Arig believes the ban is actually a huge favor for the writer, saying he does not see it as a setback. He told Raseef22: "It would've been possible to say that Morocco is the intellectual leader of the Arab world had it not been for the Wahabi sectarian waves that disturb the culture scene."
The Moroccan Association of Human Rights deplored the ban on the book, saying it takes Morocco back to the inquisition era.
Human rights activist Tarek Saoud told Raseef22 that the ban has made taboos more dominant and restricted free writers and thinkers. He also hit out at the state for not opening an investigation into the threats Aylal has been receiving.
Also, human rights activist Rachid Antid points out that books inciting terrorism, including some by Ibn Taymiyyah, are available at every bookstores. "The war against enlightenment is waged by state officials and not just extremist organizations and parties," he said.