For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan is a period of reflection, community, and of course, fasting. But for nonbelievers in countries where fasting is the norm — or even a requirement — Ramadan can be a difficult burden to bear. Last year, Global Voices reported on a group of Moroccan activists, the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties (whose French acronym, MALI?, also means “what about me?” in darija). The group had attempted to protest Moroccan law, which requires Muslims to fast, by publicly eating a sandwich at midday.
This year, as the Economist reports, the fight continues. According to the article, though protesters do not intend this year to stage a public demonstration, they are continuing their efforts online, with a Facebook group, and offline as well.
An interview with the group's leader, Ibtissame “Betty” Lachgar, was published by Jeune Afrique and translated into English by the Morocco Board. When asked if she regrets the protest of last year, Lachgar replied:
Not at all. Our mission was a success, and many people have expressed their support. It opened the debate on Article 222 of the Penal Code, which prescribes a penalty of imprisonment for those who openly break the fast in public during the month of Ramadan. We are not against Islam, but we are for freedom of conscience. For every Moroccan, whether atheist, Christian or Muslim, to be treated in an an equal footing.
In the comments section, reader “MoroccoGurl” is one of few who express support for Lachgar:
I invite my fellow Moroccans on this site to be open-minded about this issue. I am assuming most readers either live in the US or another western country. We wish for equal treatment of Muslims and we should strive for equal treatment of non-Muslims or non-religious in our country of birth. We can argue about reasons behind this movement and how it's simply more courteous to avoid eating in front of a fasting crowd but the fact remains that there is an actual law obliging people to hide the fact that they don't fast in Ramadan. If one is content with practicing his religion there is no reason to be offended others don't.
Still, it's clear from comments around the blogosphere that Lachgar and supporters have a long fight ahead of them. On the both the Morocco Board post and the Economist post, numerous commenters expressed derision at MALI's campaign.
Another commenter on the latter claimed that things aren't so bad:
For decades, in addition to Jews, Christians and any other religion who are not obliged to fast, there are also Moroccans who do not fast but no one has ever been penalized. What’s to be respected is the feelings of this majority of Muslims. We are not against the idea of not fasting, and everyone is free to do what he believes in, but he should in turn consider the freedom of others. And when we eat in public, while the majority fast, this is a little bit wired and touches the freedom of this majority. There are many restaurants opened for non-fasters from foreigners and Moroccans who do not fast, and they could go there and practice their complete freedom without being attacked. We never heard of someone being attacked at his home because he eat during Ramadan, though, there are many Moroccans known for their neighbors that they don’t fast, but since they respect them by eating in their houses, no one would attack them.
A recent blog post by Moroccan blogger Kacem El Ghazzali says differently, however. El Ghazzali, a self-described atheist, writes:
During the last few years of my adolescence, every year during Ramadan, State and society declare the onset of the month of fasting, and because I’m non religious those commandments do not concern me, which is why I find myself compelled to have my food secretly, surrounded by four walls, merely separated by the distance between my knees and my back (in a sitting position): the walls of the toilet that I usually attend to discharge my noisome feces. I have to spend an hour approximately in that bathroom to nourish myself from the leftovers of the s’hour (early meal taken before dawn during Ramadan); it’s a difficult position, but it’s still much better than spending the whole day in a struggle entitled “the battle of the empty stomach”.
I cannot eat publicly, and you cannot imagine what would possibly happen to me if I ever did.
Blogger Youssef Debbagh chalks up the dissent to Morocco's Generation Y who, Debbagh writes, “prefer dialogue, leadership and a decision on a model in regulatory networks and influence.” The blogger continues:
Les Y marocains n’hésitent pas à accroitre de plus en plus leur champ de libertés individuelles, même au risque de choquer ou de bouleverser l’équilibre socio-culturel du Royaume. Le meilleur exemple de cela est l’initiative du mouvement alternatif des libertés individuelles (MALI) qui, en utilisant Facebook, a décidé de défier l’autorité de l’état en rompant le jeûne en public durant le mois de Ramadan.