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ICC NOTE: A woman from Casablanca : “We have to live as if we were criminals,” People who reveal their conversion risk being banished by their families and marginalized by their communities.

Moroccan Christians celebrate Christmas in secret

German Press Agency

December 13, 2006

By Mouhsine El-Hassouni, Rabat- “I discovered Christianity by accident,” a young Moroccan woman says. “I found a Bible on my night table in a French hotel room, and what I read appealed to me. On the same trip, I met a Moroccan Christian, and we had a long discussion.”

The woman, who wants to remain anonymous and whom we’ll call Lina, has converted to Christianity.

But like hundreds of her sisters and brothers in faith, she has to practice her religion secretly in Muslim Morocco.

At the moment, Moroccan Christians are preparing to celebrate Christmas clandestinely at home, possibly in the presence of a pastor who also has to hide his faith.

“We have to live as if we were criminals,” says a young Christian woman from Casablanca . People who reveal their conversion risk being banished by their families and marginalized by their communities.

The number of Moroccan Christians is impossible to determine exactly, but one thing seems certain: practically all of them are Protestants.

“Protestantism is an individual choice, while one becomes a Catholic at birth,” a convert called Sofia says.

The Christians are divided between those who perform their rites in Arabic and those who do so in French. The two groups have little contact with each other.

Some of the Christians discovered their faith accidentally, while others have been converted by churches, mostly Baptists from the United States , who send dozens of missionaries annually to Morocco .

Converts are baptized secretly in Morocco ‘s churches, which are reserved for foreigners.

Converts like Sofia stress that they do not want their faith to offend Moroccan society or Islam. Moroccan law does not prohibit conversions to other religions, although only Judaism is recognized officially in addition to Islam.

The Moroccan authorities are aware of the Christians’ activities, and appear to have become more tolerant of them.

“Earlier, police used to call us for questioning and watch us closely, almost harassing us,” Lina explains. “Now it feels as if they wanted to protect us from aggressions by (Muslim) fanatics.”