As the country attempts to recover from the deadly earthquake on September 8, Moroccan Islamists are drawing public attention with a highly controversial statement that indirectly attributes the catastrophe to “sins,” “disobedience,” and “transgressions” against God.
On September 24, the PJD issued a routine statement praising the efforts made by public and private institutions to support earthquake relief efforts. Much like previous statements, this one contained numerous references to Islam and Islamic preaching. Towards the end, it implied that people should repent for their sins, suggesting that the natural catastrophe could have been a divine punishment.
“We must also reflect on ourselves to return to Allah because every affliction that befalls a person serves as a warning,” the statement says.
The statement also reads: “The right course of action is for us to reflect as a nation and consider whether what has occurred may be due to our sins, disobedience, and transgressions, not only in the individual sense but also in the collective and political sense.”
In addition to blaming the earthquake on individual sins, the PJD statement further implied that the calamity could have been the result of “not only individual transgressions but also sins, disobedience, and transgressions in the political sense, those that exist in public life, elections, responsibilities, public administration, and more.”
The statement triggered widespread backlash, with Moroccan netizens accusing the party of exploiting religion for political gain.
“…You continue to use religion for political gain. How can it be rational for your party to claim that the earthquake, in which innocent children, women, and men were killed, is a punishment for our sins, individually and collectively?” one netizen wrote.
Hours after the party issued the statement, Abdelkader Amara, a prominent politician within the PJD and former Minister, announced on his Facebook page that he was leaving the party.
“With a heart filled with pain over what’s happening in the Justice and Development Party, I hereby announce my resignation from the party and all its entities from this moment,” he said in the post shared on September 25.
Responding to the controversy, PJD’s Secretary General, the highly controversial Abdelilah Benkirane, known for his populist rhetoric, posted a video on September 26, clarifying that the statement “received praise from the fair-minded in general,” while “secularists” and “opponents” chose to focus on what was said about the relation between committing sins and natural catastrophes.
He added that he is “not foolish enough to claim that what happened is a punishment for these inhabitants,” explaining that “he loves Moroccans and even shows sympathy for cats and other creatures when they are harmed.”
Benkirane’s statement did little to appease public anger, as Moroccan social media users largely considered it “infuriating.”