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Driss Moussaoui: Moroccan psychiatrist with a mission

Psychiatrists in Morocco can't ignore Islam. Driss Moussaoui was one of the first modern psychiatrists in this North African country. He delivered the LUCIS annual lecture on 12 April.

Where does Morocco stand?

‘There was a incident in Casablanca recently where a number of people forced their way into a house and beat up two homosexuals there.' This is how Moussaoui started his lecture for the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society (LUCIS). ‘Both the homosexuals and the perpetrators had to appear before the judge. The judge gave the homosexuals a three months' suspended sentence. The perpetrators were given six months, which they did have to spend in jail.'  Moussaoui used this anecdote to show the position of Morocco.  

The only psychiatrist in Casablanca

Moussaoui, who is now in his sixties, studied in Rabat and then in Paris. In 1979 he set up the Psychiatric Centre at the Ibn Rushd University in Casablanca, where he was Director until 2013. 'I probably seemed a bit mad, because I was the only psychiatrist in Casablanca.’ Although he still treats patients, he didn't talk about this aspect of his work in his lecture. He focused on his activities in the community. 

Driss Moussaoui

Female problems

In 1968 Moussaoui started the magazine Kaliman. It was completely devoted to women, and dealt with such issues as prostitution, paedophilia, young girls being used as slaves and domestic violence against women by their husbands. Moussaoui hoped that by bringing these problems to light, they might become less prevalent. After three years the finances had run out and he had to stop publication. 

Pregnant outside marriage

In the same period Moussaoui supported the nurse Aïcha Echchenna who took up the cause for the 572 women and girls - and their babies - every year who become pregnant outside marriage. Echchenna was banned by traditional Muslims on the grounds that she was encouraging prostitution, but in 2000 she was honoured by the Moroccan state. 

Relationship between Ramadan and health

Moussaoui's research focused on such issues as the relationship between Ramadan and health. He came to the conclusion that some psychiatric diseases, such bipolar disorders, are at odds with Ramadan. A person suffering from a bipolar disorder benefits from regularity, including in such areas as when they eat their meals and keeping to a day and night rhythm. Moussaoui therefore advises his bipolar patients to refrain from participating in Ramadan.

Staffing at the medical faculty

Moussaoui was also on the boards of a number of national and international networks as a means of publicising his message. This drive to communicate his opinions - which is typical of Moussaoui and his colleagues at the medical faculty who had been trained in Western practices - was not always appreciated. In 1991 the still existing extremist Islamic group Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane occupied the faculty. The occupation fizzled out.

Democracy and Modernity Collective

In the wake of the attacks on 11 September 2001 in the US, Moussaoui  and others set up the Democracy and Modernity Collective in 2003. This organisation advocates a Modern Islam that moves with the times, and the banningof hatred, extremism and racism. The message is that it's better to engage in dialogue than conflict. Soon after this a number of explosions took place in Casablanca, which according to Moussaoui proved that also in Morocco tensions about Islam were present. In response, the Collective organised a series of debates to which they invited leaders of all faiths. It was a success, and peace reigned again.  

Against the old traditions, in favour of Darija

The fight against traditional healing of diseases is still not over. 'If you are ill, you go to a doctor, which is what Muhammed did, too,' says Moussaoui. And he is now fighting for the recognition of the Moroccan language Darija. 

One of his patients was mentioned in his talk. 'Faith always has to be a subject in discussions,' he says. 'It doesn't matter which faith, and I don't ask.  Faith is something between an individual and God; it has nothing to do with anyone else. But the role that belief plays for a patient is relevant.' 

LUCIS taking broader approach

Petra Sijpesteijn, Director of LUCIS, said that by choosing Moussaoui as a speaker, LUCIS has chosen the route of a broader approach; academics from the LUMC were also invited. 'It seems to be a good move,' she said to the audience of 35 to 40 people. 'I can see people here today who I have never previously seen at a LUCIS event.'  


About Driss Moussaoui

Professor Driss Moussaoui is the founder of the Ibn Rushd University Psychiatric Centre in Casablanca, where he was Director from 1979 to 2013. From 1992 to 2013 he was also Director of the Casablanca WHO Collaborating Centre in Mental Health.

Moussaoui was Chairman of the Moroccan Society of Psychiatry and the Arab Federation of Psychiatrists, and co-founder of the Democracy and Modernity Collective (2003). He has written or co-authored 11 books and more than 150 articles in international scientific publications. 

In collaboration with the WPA Executive Committee, in 1999 Moussaoui  took the initiative for the Jean Delay Prize. He is currently Scientific Director of the series of  International Anthologies of Classic Psychiatric Texts (World Psychiatric Association).

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