Al Adl Wal Ihsane and its networks in France

19.12.2015 La rédaction

In France the principal Moroccan Islamist movement, Al Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Spirituality) remains fairly marginal. For some time now Nadia Yassine, the movement’s spokesperson, has held a certain attraction for French journalists charmed by the exoticism of an “Islamic feminism”. At present the organization’s main practice is entryism. They also have new spokespeople, particularly within associations such as Participation et Spiritualité Musulmanes (Muslim Participation and Spirituality) (PSM).

As part of its marketing strategy the principal Moroccan Islamist movement Al Adl Wal Ihsane (AWI) seldom appears in France under its real name. Discrete and seemingly hardly represented, AWI is almost unknown in France. In “Islam of France” the lion’s share goes to the Muslim Brotherhood: UOIF, Présence musulmane (Muslim Presence), CMF (1), EMF (2), CCIF (3)… So for AWI the question is how to secure a place inside the enormous Muslim Brotherhood machine, and the countless Salafist, Tabigh and Ahbache groups which are also highly organized…?

And yet the Adlists are definitely there, inside the FNMF (4) for instance, the Moroccan Federation of the CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith), at one time infiltrated by the Makhzen (5). This is a result of Morocco’s shameless interference in Islam of France to counter the influence of the UOIF (6), of Algeria, as well as or even as much as the influence of its Islamist fellow Morrocaans of the Justice and Spirituality movement. So Morocco propelled leaders to the head of FNMF, Mohamed Béchari (who ended up in court, but was eventually discharged), and then in 2008 founded the Rassemblement des Musulmans de France (RMF, Assembly of Muslims of France), at that time very close to the Moroccan Ministry for Habous and Islamic Affairs. Morocco also poached former members and leading imams of the UOIF, bribed the RMF for a while, and then finally in September 2013 launched a new association, the Union des mosquées de France (UMF, Union of Mosques of France) provoking new battles between mosques…

Fair enough as the Adlists in turn practise entryism! There appears to be a certain number of them in the FNMF, to the extent that at one particular forum activists began wondering if their association, the PSM Présence musulmane (Muslim Presence), close to the Adlist movement, is not a branch of the FNMF. Other less informed activists are surprised by the overrepresentation of Moroccans within the association.

So for the past twelve years within the CFCM, which is as much a constitutional aberration (law of 1905) as a religious one (there is no clergy in Islam), a war of embassies has been going on, in particular between the Sharifian kingdom and Algeria (RMF, FNMF on one side and the Mosquée de Paris – Paris Mosque – on the other), as well as internal and fratricidal wars. And the victims are the Muslims of France! Only the intelligence services revel in the information hurled against each other, between and even within the various federations.

PSM and its deadly “spirituality” 

Although the association PSM- Participation et Spiritualité Musulmanes – (Muslim Participation and Spirituality) was only mentioned in 2007 in the Journal Officiel (Official Journal), the name had already emerged in France in the early 2000s. Only rarely did the name of the Moroccan movement Al Adl Wal Ihsane appear in reference to the PSM. There was not a single mention of it in the “Who are we” on the PSM website. On the other hand the personality of Abdessalam Yassine is omnipresent in the association: photo, texts, videos… The PSM pays tribute to the Sheikh in their various sections: Paris, Mulhouse.. and regularly invites its militants to rediscover the life and teachings of their guide. The most recent PSM-IDF General Assembly, in October 2015, began with readings from the Kuran and a video presentation of Abdessalam Yassine, who has become a permanent cult figure. The PSM is clearly the “branch” of the Moroccan Islamist movement. Today the PSM is present in the following regions of France: Languedoc-Roussillon, Paca, Centre, Est, Ile-de-France, Nord and Rhône-Alpes.

Although members of the association regularly intervene in public debate, they are seldom referred to as belonging to the PSM. Yet the association has been mentioned in various news items, such as the arrest in Lunel of a jihadist recruiter for Syria and Iraq. Jawad Salih, Al Adl Ihsane’s local recruiter, gave classes every Friday organized by the PSM. He actively advocates a caliphate and rejects violence. Yet more than 20 of his young students have left France for Syria and Iraq. Seven were killed and five were arrested by the RAID at the end of January 2015. The movement’s position on violence, which it professes to reject, remains ambiguous. In Morocco two political assassinations have been attributed to Al Adl Wal Ihsane (7). In France the “spirituality” dispensed by the PSM not only contributes to the radicalization of the young, it kills.

Ismahane Chouder following in the footsteps of Nadia Yassine

The pro Islamic veil activist Ismahane Chouder, member of the PSM, is certainly one of the movement’s most active spokespersons. A former follower of Buddhism and of various Sufi orders, she discovered Sheikh Yassine’s movement in 2000. It was love at first sight and her passion is still going strong: “I am inspired more and more each day by this spiritual guide” she said. Nothing is too much for Ismahane Chouder in her efforts to serve her master. She multiplies interviews… and wears many hats: co-president of the CFPE (Collectif Féministes Pour l’Égalité, the Feminist Collective for Equality), general secretary of the Commission Islam et Laïcité (Commission on Islam and Secularism), member of the Une école pour tou-te-s (A school for all collective), founding member of MTE (Mamans Toutes Égales – All mothers are equal). A tactic similar to entryism which enables her to intervene on a variety of issues: feminism, schools, secularism, the Islamic veil, racism, problems in suburbs.. She is also chief editor of the PSM website.

In 2006 Morocco managed to prevent Nadia Yassine attending a UNESCO conference in Paris on Muslim feminism. But Ismahane Chouder, who has ties with the same movement as Nadia Yassine, arrived wearing the PSM label and was allowed through. Intervening under different labels and different names has its advantages….

In March 2015 at the Bourse du Travail (Trade Unions Centre) of Saint-Denis Ismahane Chouder represented the PSM at a conference “against Islamophobia and the security war climate”, alongside the French Communist Party, the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA), the Muslim Brotherhood (from the UOIF to Présence Musulmane)… However the conference didn’t go down well with left wing groups. The Parti de Gauche didn’t take part, nor EELV (Europe Ecology – The Greens) which was more divided over the issue but in the end withdrew. Ismahane Chouder is a regular speaker at debates with post-colonial racialist groups: Les Indigènes de la République (the indigenous peoples of the Republic), Rokhaya Diallo’s Indivisibles, Pierre Tévanian and Malika Latrèche (with whom she co-published Les Filles voilées parlent – The veiled girls have their say), as well as with Emmanuel Todd in St Denis on 26 June 2015 and all the other “anti Charlies”.

Hand in hand with Alliance Vita

Ismahane Chouder has even joined up with the Catholic fundamentalist association Alliance Vita which in fact has much in common with her association: abortion, gender, euthanasia, embryo research… Both groups are in perfect harmony on all these issues! So much so that PSM took part in Alliance Vita’s summer university (8) from 30 August to 1 September 2013 in Ecully, near Lyon. During a general assembly PSM presented their educational project, their organization and the “point of view of Muslims on the subject of defence of life”, but in reality it was the point of view of CERTAIN Muslims that the association claimed to represent. Both sides were delighted with the meeting. Tugdual Derville, co-founder of Alliance Vita, even qualified it as “historic”. That year PSM again joined up with the fundamentalist association at the homophobic demonstrations denouncing the “dangers of marriage for all”.

Few prominent members of the association appear in public. Even Ahmed Rahmani, founding member of PSM and very active on the European level, keeps a low profile in France. Probably because the association realises it is in their interest to put forward a woman who speaks perfect French.

Ismahane Chouder is following in the footsteps of Nadia Yassine, with less brio perhaps. But as she wears more than one hat she is often in the spotlight. Besides, she is well aware that promoting her caliphate project is not the best way of putting her message across in France. So, just like Yassine, she speaks the language of modernity, denouncing injustice, discrimination.. She is also much more aggressive on secularism, which has won her the support of the entire multiculturalist and identitarian left, which holds only contempt for secularism and universalism. In June 2015 she addressed a meeting on “Is secularism in danger?” at Science-Po Paris. A rather strange choice: secularists calling advocates of an Islamic republic to the rescue?

In October 2015 she was a spokesperson for the Marche de la Dignité (Demonstration for Dignity), supported by all the racialist, post-colonial identitarians, from the Parti des Indigènes de la République to the Afro feminists of Mwasi. One of the slogans was: the race struggle! PSM actively took up the call for this demonstration. Ismahane Chouder was one of the four speakers at the press conference of the “anti-racist” March, alongside Amal Bentousi, Françoise Vergès and Fania Noël. Like Chouder, Fania Noël defends identitarian feminism. Convinced that “any association integrated in the system is incompetent” she says she has broken away from “the laundry” (i.e. white people). “Non-mixity is the only hope for racialized people”, she declared in a video on Mrs Roots’ blog. There was not a single comment in the press about the Islamist Ismahane Chouder. They consider her simply as an anti-racist feminist, a victim of an “anti Islamic veil war waged by secularists”. In fact, the media coverage of the march revealed a disturbing blindness to the facts on the part of a considerable section of the press regarding these religious and identitarian groups. And only a rare few in the media questioned the absence of the principal established anti-racist associations.

Solidarity of the Brotherhood network

Oumma, Saphir News… in the main, the Muslim Brotherhood inspired or related websites support the Adlist proselytism. In fact the movement is linked to several of these websites. It has succeeded in establishing links with the Islamist worldwide network. Forced into clandestinity during long periods, the organization soon learned how to make use of new technologies, exchanges over the web, videoconferencing sermons… Since 2003 Oumma has been posting PSM’s communiqués, in particular the texts of Abdessalam Yassine, indulgent interviews with Nadia Yassine and Ismahane Chouder, an article on the repression of the AWI movement in Morocco, a tribute to Sheikh Yassine “an eminent man among Muslim scholars”, “a huge intellectual figure”… The choice of words on the Islamist websites when referring to the movement is rather flattering. In fact when Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine died the obituaries were blatantly euphoric. Not to be outdone, Tariq Ramadan posted on his site an account of his last visit to the Sheikh: “He remained loyal to his vision, to his principles, his positions and his hopes. He commanded respect and radiated kindness, sitting modestly, thoughtful and smiling. I shall never forget him, may he rest in peace, profoundly”. The Islamist preacher praised the Sheikh’s calls for “a reform of the country”, “the rejection of the colonization of our minds”, “issues which are as important today as ever”. Carried away by his lyrical outburst Ramadan even posted on his website a translation of the name of the movement Al Adl Wal Ihsane as “Justice and Excellence”.

In addition, Tariq Ramadan and PSM are in the habit of returning courtesies. For example on its Facebook page as well on its national and regional websites, PSM regularly posts quotes and texts by Tariq Ramadan, for instance (as in the following article) explaining the necessity to say “we or us”: “We can only become “us” or “we”, as a community or a society, when we have determined a common and collective project”. It is clear from this that the Adlist association considers it shares a “common and collective project” with this preacher. In November 2015 the spokesman for the CCIF (Collective against Islamophobia), Marwan Muhammad, made a short list of a dozen or so people he would like to see most often in the media, among them Ismahane Chouder, Nabil Ennasri and Imam Chakil Omarjee.

Journalists, researchers…

Each visit to France of the Islamist passionaria Nadia Yassine has provided the press with an opportunity to present her ideas. The tone of the interviews is friendly and the questions are inoffensive. The complacency of the press towards the movement is even more astonishing on the part of more informed journalists or researchers specializing on Morocco.

When Mohammed VI came to the throne the press began to show an interest in the movement, and in September 2000 the journalist Jean-Pierre Tuquoi organized a meetring between the daily newspaper Le Monde readers and Nadia Yassine, where he presented Al Ald Wal Ihsane as a “charity group”.

In 2002, however, he already seemed much less categorical. Questioned by El Mundo on the use of violence inside the movement he replied “in reality, we don’t really know what they want”.

In his 2011 book Renaissances arabes (Arab renaissances), co-written with Michaël Béchir Ayari, Vincent Geisser, (IREMAM) took offense at Al Adl Wal Ihsane being referred to as “radical Islam”. According to this researcher, who acted as moderator in May 2015 at a conference hosting Omar Icherchane of Al Adl Wal Ihsane (“The left – Islamists: why such hatred?”), both PJD and AWI “can be considered part of the reformist and conservative Islamic galaxy, having renounced many years ago the use of violence and clandestine action”.

Nicolas Beau discovered the AWI movement during his investigations for the book “Quand le Maroc sera islamiste” (When Morocco becomes Islamist), published in 2006 with Catherine Graciet. He also seems to have discovered the Islamist practices of infiltrating social and associative networks. In a video interview on he expressed his surprise at the “capacity of the members of Justice et Bienveillance (Justice and Spirituality) and Nadia Yassine to monopolize the practical and social activities in the neighbourhoods, the activities which touch people’s lives most closely”, far from the stereotypes, he said, that people imagine (that he imagines?) about Islamism. He took offense at the idea of a necessarily anti democratic Islamism, given that “there is a culture, if not of democracy but at least of majority consent, for instance among the political circles the movement has created there is a process for electing the leaders. (…) There are senior officials who reflect on how to adapt their theories on the consent of the Oumma, on the caliphate which they still proclaim as their ultimate goal… They try to see how these values could be integrated into more classic democratic processes, as they can be perceived here in France”.

Yet Sheikh Yassine never ceased to explain how democracy “disrupts the Islamic absolute”, how “relativism” which is inherent to democracy “destroys religion”. The founder of the movement is not far from qualifying democracy as the very enemy of Islam. “Shura is the name of our ‘democracy’” he wrote in “Islamizing modernity”. For the Sheikh it is a matter of “putting Divine Law into practice and which men are forbidden to change”. Even if it were chosen by the majority, can the incontestable application of the Sharia in the Sheikh’s dream world be in any way related to the concept of democracy? The journalist would like to think so. However, this movement described as “extremely rich” by Nicolas Beau has never made a secret in its texts of its hatred for democracy. We have to assume that certain Islamist movements have such power of fascination that their interviewers lose their capacity to judge.

In France, like everywhere else

In France like elsewhere in Europe, the USA, and Canada the Adlists use the same methods of persuasion towards the media, at the same time infiltrating the principal Islamic organizations. Here in France and in Spain they have been hugely successful in gaining footholds in the National Federation of Muslims of France (for instance in the region of Murcie where 50 000 Moroccans are considered to have already fallen for the Sheikh’s siren   calls). The Adlists approach students and mosques under different names, but always as a peaceful “school of thought”: in France as PSM; in Italy as CSM (Citoyenneté et spiritualité musulmane – Muslim Citizenship and Spirituality); in Belgium as Fraternité, or in Spain as ONDA (National Organization for Dialogue and Participation). To cover their tracks they even adopt names, such as in Canada, which have nothing to do with their religious movement, for instance the Canadian Observatory of Human Rights!. Outside Morocco it is probably in Spain that the movement is most firmly established. Mounir Benjelloun, who is close to the movement, is at the head of the FEERI (a federation comprising nearly 1000 mosques in Spain). Since November 2012, thanks to the indulgence of the Ministry of the Interior, he has been at the head of the highest Muslim authority in Spain: the Comisión Islámica de España (CIE, equivalent in France of the CFCM – French Council for the Muslim Faith).

For the Jamâa, their objectives are: reinforce their presence everywhere, attract international supporters, recruit, collect funds and be ready in the event of confrontation with the State of Morocco. Not only is the Al Adl Wal Ihsane the principal organized political force in Morocco, it has also weaved its way into all countries where there is a strong Moroccan community. Over the past ten years they have built up devoted relays in France.

Yann Barte

(1) Collectif des Musulmans de France (CMF, Muslim Collective of France) directed by Nabil Ennasri

(2) Étudiants Musulmans de France (EMF, Muslim Students of France), French student association founded in 1989 (ex Union islamique des étudiants de France – Union of Islamic Students of France)

(3) Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (CCIF – Collective against Islamophobia in France), French association founded in 2003. Close to the Muslim Brotherhood, the CCIF, via their spokesman Marwan Muhammad, also takes part in conferences on “Islamophobia” with Salafist imams. Nader Abou Anas or Rachid Abou Houdeyfa are also the star guests at CCIF dinners. However, the CCIF does not present itself as Salafist, Tablighi or Ikhwan, “just Muslim”. Fédération nationale des musulmans de France (FNMF, National Muslim Federation of France)
(5) Popular expression for the Royal power in Morocco and its institutions (justice, administration, armies, police…). Formerly, the government of the Sultan.

(6) Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (Union of Islamic Organizations of France)
(7) Followers of Abdessalam Yassine were involved in the assassination of two far-left students and activists of the UNEM (Union Nationale des Étudiants du Maroc) – National Student Union of Morocco: Maâti Boumli  in November 1991 in Oujda and Mohamed Aït Ljid Benaïssa in March 1993 in Fès.
(8) Originally “Alliance pour les droits de la vie” (Alliance for Human Life) founded by Christine Boutin.

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