Mohamed Allal al-Fassi

views updated

Mohamed Allal al-Fassi

The Moroccan nationalist leader Mohamed Allal al-Fassi (1910-1974) was one of the founders and later the president of the Istiqlal party, an erudite Islamic scholar, and an author.

Mohamed Allal al-Fassi was born in Fez on January 10, 1910, into a family which descended from a companion of the prophet Mohammed and included hundreds of famous Islamic scholars, as well as the first governor general of Moslem North Africa. Allal al-Fassi's father was a doctor of divinity and curator of the famous library of Qarawiyin University in Fez. His mother also belonged to a famous family with considerable influence in northern Morocco.

As a youth, Allal al-Fassi was one of the most fervent, gifted, and revolutionary theologians and nationalists in Morocco. Beginning as a lean boy with piercing blue eyes and blond hair, he developed into a stout spokesman for Morocco's traditional middle class. His personal evolution accurately reflected the transformations of Moroccan nationalism. His eloquence stirred small businessmen, artisans, and traders, who helped support him and the movement. His profound knowledge of Islamic traditions and his writings made him one of the most respected scholars in the Arab world. But his early puritanical drive and his desire to reform and revitalize Islam alienated him from many Moroccan political leaders.

In 1930, five years after he had published his first book of poems, Allal al-Fassi completed his examinations for a divinity diploma at the University of Fez. In the same year he led the attack against France's Berber policy, which appeared designed to intensify divisions in Morocco's population; arrested, he spent 13 months in prison. After he was freed, he became the president of the Movement of Moroccan Action, then of the Nationalist party. By 1937, as a result of his political activities, he was exiled to Gabon and the Congo, where he remained until 1946. During these years he learned French. After nine years of exile he returned to Morocco only to clash with Istiqlal leaders and Sultan Mohammed V. Forced into exile again, he moved to Cairo. In addition, he traveled to Europe, Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and America, attempting to solidify his position as a Moroccan nationalist spokesman. For several years until 1953, Allal al-Fassi lived in the international city of Tangier, then moved back to Cairo. There, he championed the cause of armed resistance against the French in Morocco.

In 1953 when other politicians turned against the armed Moroccan terrorists who attempted to wrench their country free from France by employing urban guerrilla tactics, Allal al-Fassi became the only important Istiqlal leader to ally himself with them. When France granted Morocco its independence in March 1956, the Istiqlal needed Allal al-Fassi to negotiate with terrorist leaders and win them over to the party. After independence, therefore, he was reintegrated into the Istiqlal. By 1959 he became president, after more radical elements led by the trade unions split off. On June 2, 1962, he became minister of Islamic affairs, a post he resigned on January 5, 1963. In May 1963 he was elected to the parliament, which was disbanded in 1965.

As titular head of the Istiqlal, he then commanded the loyal opposition to King Hassan II. He and his followers campaigned for seven years against Hassan and constitutional reforms that ended parliamentary government, and he remained an outspoken proponent of Morocco's territorial claims to Spanish Sahara and Tindouf. Before Allal al-Fassi could see any real results of these years of work, however, he died of a heart attack May 19, 1974, during a visit to Romania to meet with President Nicolai Ceaucescu.

Further Reading

For Allal al-Fassi's early nationalist activities see John P. Halstead, Rebirth of a Nation: The Origins and Rise of Moroccan Nationalism, 1912-1944 (1968), and, for his later years, Douglas E. Ashford, Political Change in Morocco (1961). One of Allal al-Fassi's books, first published in Arabic in 1948, was translated as The Independence Movements in Arab North Africa (1954). □