The Mourchidates, the Mauritanian Women religious guides responsible for deconstructing radical discourse and preventing violent Extremism.

In Mauritania, Islam plays a key role in preventing violent extremism and fighting terrorism. In response to the terrorist attacks that struck the country between 2005 and 2011, Mauritania has implemented a comprehensive approach that includes, among other things, the mobilization of religious leaders to fight radical ideology and promote moderate Islamic practice. Despite the fact that this method has been successful in keeping Mauritania safe from terrorist attacks, the President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, has warned that vigilance is still essential. "The terrorist threat has not completely disappeared in Mauritania,” and sleeper cells continue to be dismantled. 

As part of its contribution to the prevention of violent extremism and in support of the Mauritanian government's efforts, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has established a network of Mourchidates - religious guides and women community leaders - in collaboration with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Education, the National Antenna for the Fight Against Radicalization of the G5 Sahel, and the Association of Women Heads of Families.

Thus, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs trained fifty Mourchidate women from Nouakchott and neighboring Mauritania in "alternatives to violent radical ideology," i.e., theological arguments deconstructing violent extremist groups' extreme views. As a result of this training, they have received crucial concepts on violent extremism, tipping moments, and arguments from alternative discourse to deconstruct radical ideologies such as "Takfir, Hakimya, Caliphate, Imamat, Jihad, treatment of non-Muslims, Territory of Islam, and War." because of this training. They have been chosen for their knowledge of religious matters and are mostly either teachers in Quranic schools, graduates in Islamic sciences, or community leaders. They will be responsible for preventing violent extremism and clearing up confusion about many Islamic concepts used by violent extremist groups in mosques, Quranic schools, prisons, high schools, and homes.

The Mourchidates work in close collaboration with the regional directorates of Islamic affairs and original education to which they refer complex cases of radicalization.  In addition to this mission of prevention of violent extremism, the Murshidats also advise women on jurisprudence on issues that concern them primarily and issues of early marriage, gender-based violence, marital conflicts, and the positioning of Islam on various social issues, etc.

This initiative is implemented within the framework of the UNODC and UNESCO project "Strengthening Women's Leadership in the Prevention of Violent Extremism through Criminal Justice, Social Cohesion and Cultural Identity" with the financial support of the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF). It is part of the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 16, respectively on gender equality, peace, justice, and effective institutions and the UN resolutions on "women, peace and security" as well as on the integration of the gender dimension in the fight against terrorism and transnational Organized crime. 

Testimonies from Mourchidates

Mrs. Kake M'Baye, 53 years old, lives in Trarza, a region bordering Senegal and known for having been one of the strongholds of radicalization in Mauritania. The town of Boutilimit, which saw many people radicalized and commit the terrorist attacks that struck Mauritania in 2005, is located in this region. This Mourchidate is part of the "Daars" that is to say that she teaches the Holy Quran to women who meet twice a week in her house.  According to her, these women have a low level of education, know very little about the messages of Islam, and are therefore easily susceptible to being corrupted by radical groups.

Mrs. Mariame Karasse  47 years old and a teacher in a Koranic school, lives in Zouerate, a town bordering Western Sahara and Algeria. This area is confronted with numerous social problems that could in the long run lead to the recruitment of certain young people to extremist groups. This Mourchidate is convinced that "violent extremism is a threat to all societies because it undermines the physical and moral integrity of people." Also, she "chose to be part of the network of women Mourchidates to help the community and particularly young people not to fall into traps of terror groups.

Mrs. Mouna Bint Alban, a 24-year-old Murchidate, comes from the Tnwagyu tribe, a tribe known for its knowledge of Islamic sciences.  Mouna opened a Mahadras because, she "wanted to make the messages of Islam accessible to all. Mouna recalls that the thinking of extremists is contrary to the values of Islam and results from a misunderstanding of the religion: "Extremists often use Takfir speeches to justify their acts and hatred towards others - that is to say, they say that certain people are disbelievers and thus justify violence against them. However, the Qur'an condemns the Takfirists". She adds that her role "is to correct these misinterpretations of the Koran and show these young people that Islam calls for tolerance".

Fatou Bint Cheinka Issa El Bal, a teacher in a Mahadras in Selibaby - an area located near the Malian border - teaches Islam to children, youth, and women. In 2020, she came across a suspicious individual in her neighborhood mosque who was promoting extremist ideas in the mosque. Fatou quickly notified the authorities, explaining that he was not a "faithful person that she was used to seeing and that his behavior was suspicious". It turned out that this individual was a member of Al Qaeda who had reached Mauritania via Ould Yengé, a town located only 2 km from Mali. He was quickly arrested by the authorities. Following this discovery, the police set up a security system for several months to monitor the mosque.

Takla Mourchidate, from Hodh El Chargui - one of the area’s most susceptible to radicalization - reminds us how important it is to make people understand the holy Qur’an. She explains that in Mauritania, this role is mainly played by women who oversee teaching the basics of Islam. In her Mahadras, composed of 164 students, Takla "contributes daily to reinforcing the knowledge of Islam among young women and boys to keep them away from deviant ideas. She recalls that one of the young boys who attended her Quranic school "began to speak harshly to his parents, telling them that they were not following the true religion of Allah. She quickly referred the boy to her brother - an imam - "to talk to him and steer him away from obscurantism.