Normative and Religious Pluralism in Moroccan Islam

This cluster of long-term research topics examines the coproduction of normativity and faith/spirituality within the law-and-religion nexus. It references law as a way of knowing multiple Islamic worlds. Law and religion are addressed as contested sovereignties, relational to one another and to some extent mutually constitutive; this is expressed in permutations within and between religious and legal registers. Particular attention is given to the normative power of technology and matter and their integration into religious-legal repertoires.

This approach focuses on pluralism within the sphere of Islam. The inspiration for this project was not sophisticated Islamic jurisprudence; instead, it arose from the multiplicity of Islamic normative repertoires encountered while doing ethnography in settings where people happen to be Muslims. Here, spirituality is entangled with normativity such as otherworldly law (spirits, etc.) as an everyday practice and requires navigating the legal challenges of complex plural legal configurations of which Islamic normativities are a part. Normativity inherent in various forms of religiosity and spirituality contributes to the transposition of religious law in new contexts.


The research highlights the importance of religion as a legal doctrine but also as a repertoire of knowledge for local ordering. Tenets of faiths, religious doctrines, and eschatological ideas have legal properties that take on specific forms in various contexts – for instance, in situations of dispute and conflict. Additionally, such interfaces between religious law and normative religion can be seen in the production of truth and evidence, as well as risk management and the interplay with other legal regimes of ordering.

Today, where a religiously conforming lifestyle is becoming increasingly important, religious normative standards are measured and analysed in accordance with the standards of a secular-rational modernity. There is a palpable strain to align the reasoning and practices of believers around the globe with Islamic legal thinking in its multifariousness. Legal responses to the achievements of modernity, of technology, innovation, and scientific knowledge consider questions of conformity and public reception while at the same time opposing the materiality of neoliberal capitalism.

Thus, the material semiotics of inner-Islamic legal pluralism are undergoing transformation as a result of worldwide changes in conditions of life, the increasing technicization of lifeworlds, and the global mobility of humans and things. Changes in the material ontology of things as they inscribe themselves in legal subjectivities and everyday legal practice do not go unnoticed either by ordinary believers or by Islamic legal scholars. Depending on whether the ‘other-than-human’ is considered animate or inanimate, for instance, very different legal hybridities may emerge as a consequence of the way the normative power of matter interacts with the ones of spirituality and doctrines of salvation and eternal life.

Legally classifying such new components in Muslims’ lifeworlds has become a controversial issue and has contributed to the fragmentation of Islamic legal reasoning. Different attitudes towards the blessings of modernity can be seen in the various responses, whether to integrate them into existing ongoing legal discourses or adopt innovative approaches in legal reasoning.

The Anthropocene and a globalizing but pluriversalizing world order bring with them new legal challenges, as is reflected in discussions in diverse areas of Islamic law: topics include Islamic eco-law, animal and environmental protection, and green halal; changing legal attitudes towards gender; and the lawfulness of the use of modern technologies, such as AI-related devices, in various realms of human lifeworlds. Moreover, a multiplicity of Islamic normative scripts have emerged to deal with bio-medical topics that require regulation to comply with Islamic law, such as medical technologies, biotechnology, genetic engineering, and human experimentation.

The research examines the mobilizing and framing strategies that reflect Islamic normative diversity in the Souss region in south-west Morocco. Such ‘practicing or doing law’ has even intensified as Islamic legal registers have encountered the variety of transnational legal regulations. Moreover, Islamic movements, faith-based NGOs, and Islamic networking play an important role in the discourse on Islamic normativities across the globe. Domestic and transnational debates on the concept of ‘Moroccan Islam’ and its relationship to various strands of political or transnational Islamic activism merge into one another.

A variety of currents, protocols, and practices contribute to the diversity of Islamic normativity, including:

  • the orthodox Islamic law of Malikiyyah madhhab in Morocco and its fuqaha
  • the normative power of religious doctrine and tenets of faith beyond Islamic law proper
  • integration and indexing of Islamic law in state legal order and the judiciary, i.e. the state’s version of Islamic law, including colonial inventions of Islamic law
  • the normative approaches of Sufi-oriented Moroccan religious congregations (turuq) and their spiritual interpretation of local customary law
  • transnational Islamic movements such as Salafiyya
  • everyday Islamic normativity generated in daily human interaction and practices
  • Islamic law as a matter of debate between Moroccans at home and those living abroad
  • the impact of other non-religious legal repertoires within plural legal configurations: idiom shopping, code switching, sematic shifts, translation

Landmarks or cornerstones structuring the time frame of the discourse considered in this research include the emergence of Salafiyya activities in rural Morocco in 1999; the terrorist attacks on 11September 2001 in the United States, 16 May 2003 in Casablanca, and 28 April 2011 in Marrakech; the reconciliation process (IER) in Morocco following the enthronement of King Mohammad VI (January 2004 – December 2005), which addressed grievances from the ‘Years of Lead’ (1960s–1980s); the emergence of the Arab Spring (December 2010) in Morocco in the form of the “20 February Movement” (2011); and the installation of a new government under the leadership of the Islamic party PJD after national elections in November 2011. The emergence of Daesh, the militant jihadi Islamist movement that proclaimed an Islamic state and worldwide caliphate in 2014, attracting adherents from all parts of the world including Morocco, and the turbulence that has seized the Middle East and North Africa in recent years have intensified inter-Islamic debates on normativity. Coping with the pandemic situation during Covid-19 and with crises such as anthropogenic climate change from an Islamic legal point of view have also turned out to be arenas where Islamic normativities are being challenged to demonstrate that they are contributing to the improvement of human lives and societies.

This research analyses the reverberations of these events in the rural periphery with respect to their interaction with state and global governance institutions.


2022 ‘The Place of Forgiveness in Conflict Management: Scale-Bound Institutional Arrangements in the Moroccan Nomosphere’, in: Maria-Sibylla Lotter and Saskia Fischer (eds.) Guilt, Forgiveness, and Moral Repair. A Cross-Cultural Comparison: Cham: Palgrave Macmillan: 285-306.

2017 ‘Translating evidentiary practices and technologies of truth finding: oath taking as witness testimony in plural legal configurations in Morocco’, in: Ben Hounet, Yazid and Puccio-Den, Deborah (eds.) Truth, Intentionality and Evidence. Anthropological Approaches to Crime, Abingdon: Routledge: 112-129.

2017 ‘Translocal, faith-based dispute management: Moroccan-Canadian struggles with normative plurality‘, in: Colom González, Francisco and Gianni D’Amato (eds.) Multireligious Society: Dealing with religious diversity in theory and practice. Abingdon: Routledge, 213-235.

2016 ‘Technologies of truth finding: provision of evidence in local dealings with crime and deviance in rural Morocco’, Cahiers d’anthropologie sociale 13: 60-77.

2014 ‘Translocal, Faith-based Dispute Management: Moroccan-Canadian Struggles with Normative Plurality’, RECODE Working Paper Series N° 27 (24pp.):

2013 ‘Religious Subtleties in Disputing: spatiotemporal inscriptions of faith in the nomosphere in rural Morocco’, in: Benda-Beckmann, Franz von, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, Martin Ramstedt and Bertram Turner (eds.) Religion in Dispute: Pervasiveness of Religious Normativity in Disputing Processes. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 55-73.

2012 ‘Normative Ordnungen, multiple Identitäten und religiöse Interpretationsmuster unterwegs zwischen Marokko und Kanada, in: Jörg Gertel und Breuer, Ingo (eds.): Alltagsmobilitäten. Aufbruch marokkanischer Lebenswelten, Bielefeld: transcript, 373-388.

2011 ‘Salafiyya Activism in the Moroccan Souss: Legal Framing, Demand for Justice and Social Integration of an Islamic Movement’, in: Werner Zips and Weilenmann, Markus (eds.): The Governance of Legal Pluralism. Empirical Studies from Africa and Beyond, Berlin et al.: Lit Verlag/Transaction publishers, 35-60.

2009 ‘Religious Message and Transnational Interventionism: Constructing Legal Practice in the Moroccan Souss’, in: Kirsch, Thomas and Turner, Bertram (eds.): Permutations of Order: Religion and Law as Contested Sovereignties. Farnham: Ashgate, 185-203.

2008 ‘Islamic Activism and Anti-Terrorism Legislation in Morocco’, in: Julia Eckert (ed.): The Social life of Anti-terrorism Laws. The War on Terror and the Classifications of the «Dangerous Other», Bielefeld: transcript, 163–191.

2007 ‘Imposing new concepts of order in rural Morocco: Violence and transnational challenges to local order’, in: Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and Pirie, Fernanda (eds.): Order and disorder: Anthropological perspectives, Oxford and New York: Berghahn, 90–111.

2007 ‘Islamic Activism and Anti-Terrorism Legislation in Morocco’, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Papers No. 91 (23 pp.).

2006 ‘Lokales Ethos und doktrinaler Islam in Südwest-Marokko’, in: Annette Hornbacher (ed.) Ethik, Ethos, Ethnos. Aspekte und Probleme interkultureller Ethik, Bielefeld: transcript, 333–365.

2006 ‘The legal arena as a battlefield: Salafiyya legal intervention and local response in rural Morocco’, in: Hans-Jörg Albrecht, Simon, Jan, Rezaei, Hassan, Rohne, Holger-Christoph and Kiza, Ernesto (eds.): Conflicts and Conflict Resolution in Middle Eastern Societies – Between Tradition and Modernity, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 169–185.

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