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Morocco: Are Christians at Risk?

In early March, observers watched as around 20 long-time Christian orphanage workers were expelled from the country they called home. The incident, and others which followed it, have brought to light the debate surrounding Christianity in the Kingdom.

While the official Moroccan line is that 98.7-99 per cent of the population is Muslim (the remainder being approximately 1% Christian and 0.2% Jewish), that statistic includes ethnic Europeans residing in Morocco. Proselytizing is illegal, as is conversion away from Islam. Still, foreign Christians are allowed to practice freely, and a number of churches, mostly from the era of French colonization, remain. In contrast, the country's tiny Jewish population is almost entirely native, and is also allowed free practice of their faith.

Despite guarantees of freedom, it would appear that the government is taking a stronger approach of late to proselytism, both real and perceived. The Moroccan Dispatches shares a recent incident in which an Egyptian Catholic priest was expelled from the country:

Evangelicals have operated for years in Morocco, with their main purpose being the conversion of Muslims. Catholics have operated for longer, but purposefully have not engaged in proselytizing. So it came as a surprise that a Catholic priest was also detained and then exported during last week's crackdown.

The blogger shares a message he received from a Catholic priest working in Morocco:

On Sunday the 7th of March, five minutes before mass began; the police in the city of Larache entered our friary and arrested one of our confrères, Rami Zaki, a young Egyptian friar still in initial formation who was spending a year with us. He was ordered to go with the police, had no possibility to collect anything, and was given no explanation for his arrest…

…When Rami was put on the plane, his passport was taken from him and given to the pilot who later surrendered it with Rami to the police in Cairo. He was detained by the police in Cairo for another seven hours for interrogation before he was permitted to telephone his community of friars. From Sunday, the morning of his arrest, to Tuesday afternoon, when he was released – a total of more than 50 hours – Rami was deprived by the police in Morocco and Egypt of any of his human rights.

In another post, the blogger demonstrates that the public has joined in the crackdowns, citing a recent incident in which a cross was removed from its site of many years:

Where a cross was once hung in Meknés

Where a cross once hung in Meknés

This is the place where a cross used to hang in Meknes’ medina. The Catholics who teach Moroccans languages and career skills in this building do not engage in proselytism but have caught up in the anti-Christian sentiment following the recent expulsions of Christians. Last week, the cross was knocked down and beaten into pieces.

On a positive note, Moroccans who have benefited from their services have volunteered to reconstruct the cross.

In a more recent post, the same blogger assesses a TelQuel article on the situation, and says of it:

In the main article, it points out that most Moroccans convert to Christianity more as a result of Arabic media and not from foreign missionaries. This jives with my experience: a number of Moroccans I know have had long conversations with Christian missionaries about religion and none have converted. Some defended Islam while smoking hashish just to piss off the Christians, it that gives you an idea of how many Moroccans understand their Islamic identity. This observation about foreign missionaries, of course, undermines the rationale behind the recent expulsions of many foreigners.

To conclude, the blogger notes the recent media crackdowns and laments:

Other media critical of the government have been shut down recently. And the same could happen to Tel Quel. But as long as they are still around, there will be at least some debate and critical thinking about current events.

8 comments

  • slave of Allah

    peace be upon you all !
    most muslims understand the muslim teachings and would never convert to chrestianity .however ,evangeliclas have found despicable ways of converting people to chrestianity by targetting the children who have no deep understading of islam maybe no understanding at all.they themselves say ”when in Rome do as the romans do” .they have to abide by the laws of the kingdom and as Islam is the backbone of this nation they have no right to come even near it unless by reverting to it by will and full conviction.
    they can practice their religion like any other muslim as the prophet muhammad (pbuh) granted them this right.

  • jay Kactuz

    SOA

    If you want despicable, go look in the mirror. Why the need for laws against people exercising free choice? What are Muslims afraid of?

    Sady you are just like most Muslims. Where you dominate you made ‘apostasy’ laws so that people are forced to follow a religion by force instead of by conscience. In the West, Muslims tell people that Islam is tolerant, yet as soon as they are a majority they impose their laws, limit human rights and make non-Muslims into third-class citizens (after women).

    Thank you for your declaration of bigotry and intolerance. I wish all Muslims were as honest as you.

    Yes, Christians and all non-Muslims are at risk

    • Jay, just a quick response. Morocco does have a Muslim majority, but I can assure you having resided there that women and non-Muslims are not “third-class citizens.”

      I do personally feel that the laws against conversion are unjust, and particularly the expulsions, but I’m not a fan of missionary behavior either and believe that if one is to choose religion, it should be freely and without influence.

    • As a long-term expat businessman in the region, I will second Jilliam’s observation. Xians are in no way 2nd class citizens (or residents) relative to Moroccan law, effective or applied. Generically the law is fairly a-religious – which is not particularly a surprise when one realizes 90% of it is taken from the aggressively secular French code civil.

      Indeed in many respects one is advantaged (as a foreigner) over locals relative to certain kinds of business transactions in law (practice is more complicated, but the imperfections apply to everyone, i.e. the powerful screw over in court others on an equal opportunity basis).

      Sadly commentators like Jay think Saudi Arabia represents the typical case throughout the region. It doesn’t. It is rather the aberration.

      As for the non-proselytism law, I rather tend to situate the particular form in the Maghreb in the context of being colonised and rendered actual 2nd class citizens in their own country by a Xian colonial power that did in fact effectively discriminate against Muslims.

      There is then a great deal of sensitivity that goes well beyond Charia or any religious theory, and is rooted in a past that the generation in power remembers from own-experience.

  • […] following paragraph comes from an article entitled Morocco: Are Christians at Risk? It is interesting to note what has gotten more results in Morocco. We definitely believe in putting […]

  • jay kactuz

    Jill and L, I stand by what I said. Either human rights are universal or they are not. Either there are basic values that supersede so-called cultural habits or then morality is relative to time and place, which of course implies there is no such thing as absolute morality. Anything goes. I doubt if you want to go down that long and painful road.

    There is also the problem of coherence. If Muslims have a right to discriminate then they should not open their mouths when any non-Muslims suggest that Muslims follow cultural norms when they emigrate. Or is it that rights and respect are a one-way street, good for some but not others?

    Finally, there is something called honesty. SOA, for all his bigotry, is at least honest. It will be a cold day in hell when Muslims get up in the West and say “Yes, Islam is intolerant, we say one thing and do another, we discriminate and oppress even as we tell you how tolerant Islam is”.

    Regarding this incident, let me give you a link:
    http://www.elpais.com/articulo/internacional/7000/ulemas/marroquies/tachan/terrorismo/religioso/proselitismo/cristiano/elpepuint/20100411elpepuint_6/Tes

    Here we have 7000 Muslim leaders saying that Christians talking about their faith is “moral rape” and “religious terrorism.” OH? And Morocco is considered a “moderate” Muslim country. Some moderation!!

    Lounsbury, Did I mention Saudi Arabia? I think the article was about Morocco. Yes, Arabia is a little more extreme, but that doesn’t excuse the lesser but still significant (and unacceptable) bigotry and discrimination in other Islamic countries. In no way is what SA does an aberration. The point I am making is that this discrimination is generalized – it is part of Islam. In the case of Morocco, it exists, it is easily visible and it is getting worse.

    I would also add that the concept of “some discrimination is ok” because Europe colonized Morocco” (even if over 50 years ago) is moral relativism at its best, or worst. Note that whatever the sins of 19th and 20th century European colonialism – and they were many – I can’t remember any interference with Muslim religion. The colonialism was political and economic, not religious. Note that the colonial or conquest argument would be a lot more effective if you ignore Morocco’s role in 800 years of Iberian subjugation. Your moral relativism would be credible if applied then to all situations. Perhaps then Moroccans in Europe should accept native habits. Van Gogh would have approved.

    Jillian, I would be the first to say that Morocco is among the most tolerant (relatively speaking) of Islamic nations, but the fact is that it, like so many other Islamic societies, is getting more intolerant. You have been putting up with me here at GVO for years. You understand that these are important issues and, to me at least, you are doing your part to bring these issues up for discussion. I doubt if you will be thanked for some of your posts. I do.

  • Manus McManus

    I think the Morroccan Authorities have totally forgotten that Morocco has adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

    Article 18

    •Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    and when we are at it I wish the Moroccan Regime have a look at Article 19:

    •Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

  • Knight

    Jillian C. York & The Lounsbury,

    You people need to wake up!

    You’ve been asleep to long. In case you haven’t noticed there is a war going on and these people are dangerous.

    A word to the wise is enough.

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