Millions of Dreams in the Maghribi Land

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  • Moroccan Ambassador Ouadia Benabdellah

    Moroccan Ambassador Ouadia Benabdellah

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta,

    Written byNia S. Amira, an Indonesian author, journalist, and linguist. She writes on culture, international affairs, multiculturalism and religious studies. Her articles have appeared in over thirty media, published in Europe, Asia, and the US.

    It seems a long time ago, but I remember the wonderful stories that grandmother once told me as a child; the story of one thousand and one nights, the Prophet’s companions, and the most memorable story was that of Ibn Battuta, a geographer and explorer who lived in the medieval period. Ibn Battuta was born on 24 February 1304 and died at age of 65 in Marinid, Morocco, his homeland.

    The evidence to corroborate the relationship between the practice of Islam in Morocco and Indonesia is exemplified by the similarities between the richly-coloured wooden carvings that are found on the roofs of some mosques in Morocco and with those on buildings of cultural or heritage interest in Indonesia, such as the Sunan Gunung Jati Mosque in Cirebon and Said Naum Mosque in Jakarta.

    The close relationship between Morocco and Indonesia actually dates back to Battuta's visit to Tanah Rencong, Aceh in 1345. Batutta met Sultan Al-Malik Al-Zahir Jamal-ad-Din of Pasai, and wrote, in his diary, that the island of Sumatra is rich in camphor, betel nuts, cloves, and tin. Ibn Batutta lived in a wooden house in the Sultanate of Pasai for two weeks before continuing his journey to China, making a stopover in Malacca for several days, using one of the sailing ships owned by Sultan of Pasai, who also provided all the equipment for this Moroccan explorer.

    Many people say that Morocco is distant from modernity, but this is too simplistic. In fact, this country is unique. It is located on the African continent, thus resulting in a cosmopolitan population of 33.8 million, due to the nationalities who stopped and made their homes in the country. The very tough Berber tribes who live in the Sahara Desert, located in the western part of the country, are native Moroccans. There are six predominant languages used in Morocco – Arabic, Berber, Moroccan Arabic, Hassaniya Arabic, and French, which is a relic of colonialism. Almost all strata of society can communicate using these six languages.

    H.E. Ouadia Benabdellah is the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco, who has occupied his post in Jakarta since 11 November 2016. This 58-year-old Sidi Slimane man is striving to establish a harmonious bilateral relationship between Morocco and Indonesia, despite any challenges.

    The friendly residents of Jakarta, its hot and humid air and heavy traffic were the first impressions that Benabdellah had of the capital. After a few months, he already felt empathetic to the Indonesian population, who are accustomed to the chaotic street conditions in Jakarta.

    It is not easy for Benabdellah to decide on his favorite Moroccan or Indonesian food, as, from his perspective, every dish has a distinctive flavor, incorporating a variety of spices.

    Just like food, Benabdellah, who always looks cheerful, even laughs when asked about his favorite vacation spot in Indonesia, although he mentioned Lake Toba, Bali, Lombok, Yogyakarta and Bandung, and perhaps the next destination will be Garut in West Java.

    As with Indonesia, 99 percent of Moroccan people are Muslim and, under the motto of God, Country, and King, this blessed country upholds the institution of royalty, currently headed by King Mohammed VI Saadeddine Othmani.

    Morocco is also known as Al-Maghribi that, in Arabic, means the place where the sun sets. The reason for this appellation is due to the beauty of the sunset, clearly visible from the beaches located on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

    Rabat is the capital of Morocco and, like the capitals of other countries, the rhythm of life is always interesting, especially due to the mix of cultures in Morocco. Berber has a strong traditional side, yet is synthesized with European culture. The capital city of Rabat is crowded with beautiful art deco-style office buildings and is replete with luxury hotels, fine restaurants and fashionable places to visit.

    Casablanca, located in the western part of Morocco, is the largest city in the country and faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is also a port and commercial city. The remnants of the French colonial legacy are evident and Casablanca is regarded as a city of art, with many art deco buildings having been transformed into art galleries and museums, complementing the natural beauty of the beaches.

    Casablanca is full of charming Mauresque-style buildings that are a mélange of Moorish and European art deco. The Moors arrived in the middle-ages and lived in Al-Andalus (read: Spain), Morocco and Africa. The majestic Hassan Mosque is the most beautiful icon of Casablanca, completed in 1993, topped by a 210-meter-high minaret, making it the tallest religious structure in the world. At the top of this, a laser beam is directed towards the city of Mecca. Casablanca, with a population of 3.36 million, truly pampers its visitors, providing many extraordinary items that deserve to be collected as typical souvenirs from this Berber land.

    A Spanish merchant founded Casablanca in 1575 at the site of a village called Anfa, which was the place to which robbers came from the north coast of Morocco. An earthquake devastated this city in 1755, then Sultan Alawi rebuilt it, and now Casablanca is like a beautiful woman who often polishes her face to look more beautiful. The city has grown to become the largest economic and industrial center of Morocco. Behind the city walls, there are brick houses constructed by settlers of French descent, and the narrow streets are an impressive place to explore.

    Benabdellah, who delivered a general lecture at one of the campuses in Malang and Jakarta, spoke a great deal about his beautiful country, which is also one of the fastest-growing centers of Sufism, especially in Fez (Fes). Morocco in Africa may initially seem very distant from the Indonesian people. However, Muslims will find much that is familiar, especially those who wish to join their Moroccan brethren after performing Umrah.

    The long history of the Moroccan Empire and indigenous culture, synthesizing that of the Arabs, Berbers and Saharan Africans, together with European influences, has been internationally acknowledged. The Moors ruled the Andalusian region of Spain from the early 8th century to the end of the 15th century – almost 800 years – leaving world heritage sites, the value of which has been recognized by UNESCO, namely the Alhambra Palace and Mezquita Mosque. The influence of Moorish culture reaches far beyond the city and state boundaries – Sevilla, Córdoba, Granada and Cádiz are renowned throughout Europe and North Africa as great centers of art, architecture and history, famed for their high level of art and charming architecture.

    In early January 2018, Benabdellah, the smiling diplomat said, during the interview at his Embassy, that there are many beautiful places in Morocco that should not be left unvisited. He urged tourists to make seaside tours to the outskirts of the Mediterranean, and to undertake religious tours (Sufi tourism), mountain tourism, skiing, wellness tourism, culinary tours, desert tours, and golfing circuits.

    Fez is slightly different from Rabat and Casablanca, being populated by many scientists, priests, and craftsmen. Fez has an excellent history and culture, with a population of over one million. In Fez, around 70,000 people choose to live in the so-called Medina, which is filled with donkeys, as in the old towns of Central Asia. Fez is one of the centers of religious tourism and, according to Benabdellah, many Indonesian students are studying in this marvelous city.

    Fez is undeniably attractive, due to its long, colorful, unbroken walled alleys, which lead to courtyards housing beautiful cool fountains, and air that is filled with the scent of aromatic marinated dishes coming from citizen’s homes, rooftops that almost reach the sky, and the artisans who never stop creating masterpieces, keeping their doors open to enable guests to admire the beauty of their creation. It is not easy to become enamored of Fez, and even Erwina Wigneswara Pidekso, chief of one of the largest Sharia Banks in Indonesia, commented that she wanted to return to Morocco, which is replete with beauty.

    Benabdellah added that there is a longstanding relationship between Morocco and Indonesia. He loves both jazz and Sufi music, and his objective is to deepen the bilateral relations between the two countries, not only in the fields of economy and tourism, but also in terms of art and culture. In July 2017, renowned calligrapher Filali Baba, one Henna artist and one silversmith, came to Jakarta, where they demonstrated their skills and received rave reviews from the Indonesian people. The Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco plans to hold other major events in the coming months, such as performing arts, music, and cookery.

    Benabdellah, who also graduated in Business Management from a renowned campus in France, indicated that Morocco wants to enhance the level of its trading relations with Indonesia. Morocco needs more imported Indonesian tea and coffee. As the world's number one producer and exporter, Morocco is always ready to ship phosphate to Indonesia so it may increase agricultural yields. Of course, there are many business sectors that can be developed together in the future, to the mutual benefit of both countries.

    As a person who likes to travel and come to understand the life and culture of a population, the man who adores the color blue spoke about the famous Argan oil. If Indonesians want to look around 15 years younger, then they must fly immediately and find the original Argan oil in the corners of Moroccan cities, and feel the greatness of the oil that is used to season food, especially by the Berbers. The high y-tocopherol of the oil also serves to make Argan oil; a complementary medicine for cancer patients. The Moroccan government is set to increase Argan oil production from about 2,500–4,000 tonnes by 2020.

    There are myriad connections between our countries. If, in South Jakarta there is Casablanca Road or Jalan Casablanca, then on the busy main road of Rabat city, there is Soekarno Street or Rue Soekarno, located just beside the largest post office in Morocco and named in honor of the first President of the Republic of Indonesia who rallied the power of third world countries during the 1955 Asian-African Conference in Bandung, West Java.

    Come to Morocco and be ready to fall in love with this fascinating country.


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