Translated by Hisham from هل يوجد في المغرب حرية دينية وعقائدية؟
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to practice his or her religion freely and in public.
According to the Constitution, Morocco is a Muslim state. Islam is an important component of the Moroccan identity indeed. Thanks to the teachings of Islam, the various cultural and religious elements of the Moroccan society managed to successfully and harmoniously coexist. History shows that Morocco is a model in the way it has brought civilizations and various faiths together on its soil and for hundreds of years.
The fact Moroccan Jews still live side by side today with Moroccan Muslims, share the same culture and customs since millennia is best proof for that. The Moroccan judiciary for example, permits the Jewish community to have special offices within Moroccan courts where Jewish judges deal with issues such as marriage, divorce, inheritance. Moroccan Jews, and according to their own admission, are probably amongst the few ones in the world still allowed to rule by their holy book, the Torah, in matters such as those mentioned above.
This, of course, couldn’t have been possible without the Islamic Shariah, which urges for the respect of the beliefs of the People of the Book. Furthermore, the Islamic religion teaches us to respect the freedoms of others and not to coerce people into one’s own belief:
“There shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” Surah Al-Baqara – verse 256.
“Had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe.” Surah Yunus – Verse 99.
Instances of tolerance, coexistence and respect for others’ beliefs are countless and varied in Islam and there is an estimated one hundred verses dealing with this very matter, present in more than thirty-six chapters, not to mention the Prophet’s (peace be upon Him) biography and tradition.
As for the expulsion from Morocco of Christian evangelists it was a matter of Law and ethics since those who were targeted by the missionaries were helpless children and orphans who, by virtue of being born in Morocco and under its Constitution, were to be considered Muslims. They were still at an age that does not yet allow them to choose.
The incident was not the first on record in Morocco: In the 17th century, and according to historical documents, [King Mohammed bin Abdullah Alaoui, founder of the city of Essaouira, sent an urgent missive to the city’s governor]: “the Jewish dhimmi community of the city of Essaouira enjoyed privileges provided to it by Islamic Law, which also protected it from attempts of conversion by Christian missionaries. The issue was brought to Our attention by prominent Jewish traders who operate in the port of Essaouira. They say the missionaries who newly arrived into the city conspired to infiltrate their community and corrupt their poor children who were urged to abandon their religion, and were offered money. They pursued their proselytizing entreprise untill they brought about two hundred of them, boys and girls, and started teaching them their readings and offered to protect them and asked them to leave their homes. I want you to speak with their Bashador and do whatever you need to do to keep them away from Our blessed lands.” (1)
Everyone knows that there are a lot of Christian missionaries operating in Morocco. They have succeded in converting many citizens of this country. Morocco does not work to expel them all or even to block their websites because those who are over the age of majority are free to embrace the religion they want. Some of those who converted say they are reluctant to disclose their Christianity in public. But that is only a matter of customs and traditions because Moroccans accept Christian foreigners and Jewish Moroccans, but are not yet used to Moroccan Christians. In comparison, Arab and Islamic countries in the Middle East, for example, are more keen to accept the Christian Arabs, but I do not think they will accept a Jewish Egyptian or Lebanese or Syrian or Jordanian. Again, it is a matter of cultural and political sensitivities.
The fact that some Moroccans broke the fast in public last Ramadan didn’t bring any legal action against them, contrary to what the neighboring country [Algeria] did when it imprisonned Christians on charges of breaking the fast in public before dusk during the holy month. It is a historic fact that fasting during Ramadan was never enforced on any Christian.
In 2008, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor (U.S. Department of State) reported that Morocco continues to encourage tolerance and to enhance dialogue between religious groups. The report also noted that Jewish and Christian communities were able to practice their beliefs openly, pointing out that the Moroccan authorities granted fiscal privileges, allocated plots of land and offered tax credits for imported materials necessary for the activities of large religious groups especially Jews and Christians.
Moroccan Law also protects places of worship from [external] violence and guaranties the possibility to worship openly and/or privately, as it is clearly provided by the Constitution and the Penal Code, both drafted shortly after the country’s independence in 1956. In any case, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by Morocco, states that everyone has the right to exercise his or her religion openly.
According to a report issued in 2010 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a U.S. organization monitoring religions and minorities’ rights in the world, Morocco has 33 places of worship [for non Muslims], which is far more than any other Arab country, and which denotes the freedom to practice religious rites enjoyed by religious minorities. The report also noted that non-Muslims lived amongst Muslim populations and that they were able to practice their religion in public.
In Morocco as in other countries across the globe religion is often used to conceal the real motives behind many political conflicts. Politics are behind many of the seemingly cultural, ethnic and ideological conflicts we see around us. It’s time to work together wisely and respect each other. Any person, whether religious or non religious, before pleading for respect should ask her or himself whether he or she respects others; whether he or she respects the country where he or she lives; whether he or she respects the rights of the majority before asking for the rights of the minority. Morocco can not be Germany or Turkey or America, because each country has its own cultural and historical singularities. Everything can not change overnight, but everything changes with time and anyone who wants to drag Morocco into a conflict of religions and civilizations, I will beg him or her to read the history of Morocco and the traditions of Moroccans in order to discover that we are an open society that accepts others, but that knows how to face every problem. We have so far always emerged victorious.
1: ”Mohammed bin Abdullah and the Building of the City of Essaouira” by Dr. Abdul Karim Karim, Faculty of Literature, Rabat.