‘Moroccans still cannot set foot in a church’ – Moroccan Catholics call on King Mohammed VI to give them equal rights

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The Association of Christians of Morocco calls on King Mohammed VI to reduce religious differences and allow Catholics to fully live according to their religious beliefs.

“Only foreigners have the right to be Christians in Morocco. Moroccans still cannot set foot in a church,” said Fatima Laraki, a Catholic from Tangier who is aware of the danger faced by those who practice a religion other than Islam in Morocco. Like her, many Moroccans continue to live their Catholic faith clandestinely, in Tangier, Rabat, or Casablanca, reported El Confidential.

The Moroccan Constitution of 2011 recognizes freedom of worship, but only acknowledges the existence of Muslims or Moroccan Jews. Worse, article 220 of the Penal Code punishes anyone who attempts to convert a Muslim to another religion with up to three years in prison.

In addition, article 222 of the same law provides for sentences of up to six months for those who break the fast publicly during Ramadan. In 2010, dozens of evangelicals were forced to leave the kingdom, accused of breaking the faith of Muslims. In the same year, the Egyptian Rami Zaki, a Franciscan, was also expelled from Larache.

Moroccan Christians no longer want to hide

Moroccan Christians have now gathered in an association of various persuasions and requested that the former secretary-general of the National Human Rights Council, Mohamed Sebbar, meets with the government to gain rights, including allowing them to give Christian names to their children, bury their members in Christian cemeteries, exempt their children from being taught Islam in schools, and allow them to marry inside churches and not mosques. 

According to Moustapha Soussi, founder of the Christian Association, the government has not yet reacted to this proposal. However, it has not failed to salute the efforts of King Mohammed VI for “religious tolerance among Moroccans, whatever their belief is”.

The danger facing Christians for practicing in their faith is well-documented, and was a topic addressed in the New York Times in 2019:

Moroccan Christians have long been ostracized, sometimes rejected by society and closely scrutinized by the state. They are not officially banned from churches. But to practice their faith openly is to invite harassment and threats, even — or especially — from relatives.

While almost no one is being arrested because of their beliefs these days, most feel constrained from freely attending churches and publicly performing rituals like baptisms, weddings and funerals in accordance with their beliefs. But priests and pastors face possible accusations of proselytizing, a crime in Morocco, simply by having Moroccans attend Mass.

“Freedom of religion and conscience are inextricably linked to human dignity,” said Pope Francis in a visit to the Morrocan city of Rabat in 2019 in a speech he gave in front of the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, who for his part, said he was the guarantor of “protection of Moroccan Jews and foreign Christians living in Morocco“.

In recent years, some Moroccans who arrived in Spain have requested political asylum because of their Christian religion. Spanish courts usually reject these claims. For the judges, granting them political asylum would amount to indirectly accusing Morocco of not respecting fundamental rights and would thus contribute to blurring the delicate relations with the kingdom.

There are between 2,000 and 50,000 Christians currently in Morocco, and despite the difficulties they face there, Morocco is generally seen as one of the more liberal Middle Eastern countries. in others, Christians face severe persecution, which has led the regions Christian population to fall dramatically over the last two centuries. 

Title image: Pope Francis and King Mohamed VI arrive at the Mohammed VI Institute, a school of learning for imams, in Rabat, Morocco, Saturday, March 30, 2019. Francis’s weekend trip to Morocco aims to highlight the North African nation’s tradition of Christian-Muslim ties while also letting him show solidarity with migrants at Europe’s door and tend to a tiny Catholic flock on the peripheries. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

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