Rocking the foundations of Islam
The verdict, which was returned by a court in Marrakesh, 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 witnessed by the Moroccan arts and culture scene recently. A few months ago, 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.
Following the release of his book about Al-Bukhari, Rachid Aylal became the target of vicious threats. Some of these threats were made in public while other critics ridiculed the contents of the book. Aylal revealed that his book-signing event in Marrakesh had also been barred upon the order of the city's governor.
Mostafa bin Hamza, head of the Baath Islamic Institute for Sharia Studies, has undermined the book and labelled its writer "ignorant". He has also offered a financial reward to anyone producing a work of research that acclaims Al-Bukhari, unlike Aylal's book which strips the prominent Sheikh of his sacred aura.
Defamation and death threats
"Even before the book was published, I began receiving dozens of death threats on a daily basis, phone messages from anonymous numbers and fake Facebook accounts on Facebook," admits Aylal. "I don't know why these people think that Islam is represented by a single person."
After the book was banned, Aylal had no option but to depend on a few trusted associates to handle delivery of the book to buyers in utter secrecy. They would conceal copies of the book to avoid confiscation, a process that Aylal has described as a "struggle".
"The book will be delivered to buyers, whenever and wherever they want, despite the ban and against all the odds," says Aylal, who has since managed to increase the number of 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. According to this logic, for 200 years after his death Muslims remained without the full version of Islam and it was Al-Bukhari who made it complete."
"Some people are trying to drag Morocco down into a swamp, suppressing a whole range of freedoms. But it wonʹt work. Morocco chose its path a long time ago and there is no way back... especially with the 2011 Constitution, which was a huge victory for Moroccans."
Repression or "spiritual security"?
Political researcher Marwan bin Fares sees "spiritual security" not as a scientific concept, but rather a term that is used to serve the state's religious and political interests. According to bin Fares, 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 Shias, Kharijites and Christians, among others. It also is used by institutions such as the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, the Mohammadia League of Scholars, as well as institutions affiliated to the state that tow the official line."
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 to the 283-page book, which was published by Dar Al-Watan, describes many legends and stories cited by Sahih Al-Bukhari as "mythological", claiming that not even the Salafists are unanimous in upholding them.
The book consists of five chapters featuring a variety of research that delves into contentious issues. "My work tackles the religious heritage and the real status of Al-Bukhari," Aylal explains. "The Prophet 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 Koran and whoever has written 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 documentation of the Sunnah delayed for around 100 years after the death of the Prophet, peace be upon him, if they are as significant to the Sharia as Salafist sheikhs and others argue?"
Aylal claims that Salafists do not regard the Sunnah as detailed interpretations of the Koran, but rather as a doctrinal source that overrules the Muslim holy book. Theoretically speaking, they are the second source of Sharia after the Koran, yet practically they are undisputedly the prime Sharia source for Salafists, while the Koran is merely perceived as a complementary work.
Aylal wonders whether "we are dealing directly with the sayings of the Prophet, or with narrators' interpretations of what the Prophet said", reminding us in the process that the mental and intellectual abilities of each narrator differed.
Nothing to do with the Koran
"The worst crime of the hadith is that it causes Muslims to abandon the book of Allah, replacing it with a doctrine and work of reference for faith and worship," says Aylal. "We will end up with a different religion based on the hadith, which has nothing to do with the Koran except for formalities."
Aylal attempts in his book to define hadith, saying the Islamic doctrine should be based on what Allah, not the Prophet said. It refers to verses of Koran 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 whom he never met?
Aylal says that his research on Al-Bukhari was triggered by his interest in "criticising the religious heritage that we have inherited from our parents and grandparents."
He believes that Sahih Al-Bukhari is the product of myths and dreams that had enthralled Al-Bukhari since his childhood. Historians believe he lost his sight at a young age. Afterwards, Ibrahim Khalilullah appeared to his mother in a dream, telling her, "Allah has given your son back his sight for your frequent weeping and praying."
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.
Aylal's book also highlights another hadith narrated by Abu Huraira, a companion of the Prophet, according to which the latter cursed his followers. 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 Sura Ad-Duha, "And He found thee in need and made thee independent", a hadith narrated by Aisha and cited by Al-Bukhari reads, "Allah's Messenger died while his iron armour was mortgaged to a Jew for thirty sas of barley".
"Fragile freedoms, embattled by the regime"
The artist KhadijaTanana has been shocked by the ban imposed on the book, following so soon after the censorship of her own "Kama Sutra" work. "Everything that is happening in Morocco springs from a bleakness – the result of strict education based on faulty religious beliefs," she says. "This is a real setback. We fear for our fragile freedoms, embattled by the regime."
Tanana said the term "spiritual security" was invented by the regime for fear of the Islamists. "How can a society develop while mouths are muzzled and hands are tied?" she asks.
Moroccan writer and intellectual Bouzid El-Ghali echoes similar sentiments. "It's strange that such a ban has been imposed by a government that includes ministers, including the Human Rights Minister, who were once led the fight for freedom... and today they are more oppressive than those 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 has actually done the writer a huge favour, saying he does not see it as a setback. "Despite Wahhabist attempts to disrupt the cultural scene, Morocco can pretty much claim to be at the intellectual forefront of the Arab world."
The Moroccan Association of Human Rights has deplored the ban on the book, saying it takes Morocco back to the inquisition era. Human rights activist Tarek Saoud feels the ban has made taboos more dominant and restricted free writers and thinkers. He also questions why the state has not opened an investigation into the threats received by Aylal.
To conclude, human rights activist Rachid Antid points out that books inciting terrorism, including some by Ibn Taymiyyah, are available at every bookstore. "The war against enlightenment is waged by state officials and not just extremist organisations and parties."