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Freedom constrained by tradition

ICC Note:

“The fact is, religious freedom in Morocco simply does not exist. The West is presented with a façade that is now exposed. However, Morocco will continue to ensure that all other religions are hidden, suppressed and eliminated.”

By Rachel Ferchak

2/6/2011 Morocco (UPI) – Many countries around the world have “religious freedom,” yet that freedom does not have the same definition as it does in the United States.

The North African country of Morocco is one example.

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy in which King Mohammed VI is the head of both government and religion. The Moroccan Constitution says the country is an Islamic state that also grants the right for citizens to worship freely.

“The margin of religious freedom in Morocco is narrow. People cannot choose their religions,” says Mohsine El Ahmadi, professor of sociology at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech.

“Since you are born a Muslim, you must remain a Muslim,” continues El Ahmadi in reference to the culture of Morocco. “You cannot change your religious affiliation. If you do, you have to keep it secret.”

Citizens are entitled to their own opinions; however, the law prevents anyone from shaking the faith of the majority or proselytizing — sharing personal beliefs. According to El Ahmadi, the Constitution of Morocco is ambiguous and the Islamic Law [Sharia], which also plays a major role in the government, has many interpretations.

That same ambiguity causes problems for Christians within the country, says El Ahmadi. “There is no constraint on Christians coming or living in Morocco. But for Moroccans who converted to Christianity, they cannot show their new religion publicly.”

Conversion from Islam and proselytizing are frowned upon in Morocco for cultural, political and religious reasons.

In 2010, more than 100 foreign workers, including Americans, were deported from Morocco without due process of law. The Moroccan government said it did not violate its laws, but the U.S. government stepped in. In a statement by Representative Frank Wolf at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) Hearing on Human Rights and Religious Freedom in June 2010, the U.S. threatened to withhold $697.5 million in funding from Morocco for not abiding by principles of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an aid organization that provides grants to countries to help reduce poverty and build economic growth.

Immediately after the deportations, many Christians in Morocco went underground for fear of backlash from the Moroccan government, says Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East. Since then, the foreign press and foreign governments have pressured the Moroccan government to halt the deportations.

“To this day, the US government tries to keep a close eye on it,” says Clay. And though Christians still keep a low profile, many worship services have started again.

While the U.S. government is monitoring the situation for American and foreign missionaries, it has been reluctant to step in on behalf of Moroccan Christians because it is a “religious issue,” says Logan Maurer, ICC regional manager for Southeast Asia.

Maurer says there have been numerous incidents concerning the Moroccan government tracking or following Moroccan Christians. One example is Rachid, a native of Morocco who was forced to leave the country after the Moroccan government interrogated and threatened him.

In his testimony at the TLHRC hearing, Rachid said, “What forced me out are still the realities Christians and other non-Muslims must face every day. The fact is, religious freedom in Morocco simply does not exist. The West is presented with a façade that is now exposed. However, Morocco will continue to ensure that all other religions are hidden, suppressed and eliminated.”

The future of Christianity in Morocco is uncertain, particularly because of the recent unrest in the North African region. Maurer says that the uprisings and protests could cause positive or negative effects for Moroccan Christians.

“It’s both an opportunity or a crisis, because it may come about that Christians have more freedom, but it may come out as the opposite.”

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