Freedom of religion is considered by many to be a fundamental human right. Though the Moroccan Constitution provides for the freedom to practice one’s given religion, Islam is the official state religion and conversion from it and proselytizing to its practitioners are strictly forbidden.
Historically, Morocco was home to a large Jewish community, but following the creation of Israel in 1948 and subsequent riots against Jewish populations in Eastern Morocco (as well as encouragement by Zionist organizations), nearly 200,000 Jews emigrated there. Though relations between the two countries remain cordial, and Jews of Moroccan descent travel freely to Morocco, there has been very little reverse emigration, despite an invitation from former King Hassan II for Moroccan Jews to return to their homeland.
The past year has seen a swift downfall in religious freedom. In 2009, Moroccan authorities investigated a number of native Shi’a residents under the auspices of potential links to Iran, while in early 2010, a number of foreign Christian missionaries–some of whom had been in the country for over ten years–were expelled. At the same time, Moroccan Christians and Bahá’í complain of persecution, and Moroccan atheists–a small group of whom demonstrated in 2009 by eating publicly during Ramadan and were met with arrest–largely disagree that their country provides them the freedom not to practice. And Morocco’s small Jewish community, though stable, is at risk of dwindling further as emigration to Israel and the West continues.
This month we are asking: What role should the state have in defining Islam in Morocco, or should this be a matter left entirely to individual conscience? What about Moroccans who don’t consider themselves Muslim, or who want to be free to interpret their faith in a unique way? What civil right protections are needed, and how would we get there? Should religion and belief ever be a matter for the state?