A few folks have asked me about the murchidates program (women religious leaders) here in Morocco, so for SISTERS Magazine’s June issue I spoke to a student (grandmother of seven, masha Allah!) of the program. By the time she told me that she “would be nothing” if she hadn’t learnt to read through the program, R’kia and her interpreting son were both crying. I, of course, remained stoically professional. Below is the full article from SISTERS and you can also read about the production of and watch the documentary, “Class of 2006,” about the murchidates program online at the PBS site.
Grandmother of seven, R’kia Irda, grew up in a rural valley of the
Atlas Mountains and never attended the mosque as child. Her
mother died when she was very young, and left her with no one
available to take her to the mosque or to school. She had never
learnt to read and only memorised a few of the shortest surahs to
recite in her prayers.
As a young teenaged mother, R’kia moved to a rapidly developing
neighbourhood in Casablanca. Like many young women emigrating
from the countryside, she seldom left her home – and never without
her husband – and she kept the tradition of staying away from the
R’kia was in her forties when her oldest teenage daughter began
her journey to the deen by attending the Friday prayer and a host
of lectures at the mosque. R’kia began to join her; first for the Friday
prayers and later attending the women’s classes by herself. Every
Friday for over a decade, R’kia has regularly gone to the mosque for
In 2007, Morocco commenced the free nationwide Mourchidate
programme to educate women; it included lessons on Islam as well
as a literacy campaign. R’kia heard about this programme at Jumu’ah
and was excited about the opportunity to learn to read.
When the programme was first announced the excitement
surrounding it was tinged with controversy. There was unease about
women teaching religion, about exactly what would be taught and
even disagreement about who should benefit from the programme.
With Morocco’s illiteracy rates amongst women being about 60%
in 2007, some people who supported the program felt that “old
women should be sacrificed” and that the resources would be better
used directed at younger women and children.
R’kia heard about this problem – that some people wanted the old
women to be excluded – but she says that many women had long
been campaigning for a literacy program and by the time it was
formally announced at her masjid, they were assured that the classes
were going to include grown women.
Looking back, she says she “would be nothing” if she hadn’t learnt
how to read. Through the Mourchidate classes she can now read in
Arabic, she has better learnt the surahs she previously only heard
and she is also learning many longer surahs. She has learnt the duas
for the different positions of prayer and she can now understand the
lectures she attends.
Recently the literacy program began testing its pupils to determine
the success of the program and its participants. Last week Grandma
R’kia anxiously prepared for her first exam ever. As of today she hasn’t
received her results yet, but for her they are superfluous. For the
literacy programme at the mosque has enabled her to learn to read
and she can now continue to learn her religion and better herself.