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Freedom Of Religion


The constitution stipulates that Islam is the official state religion, and provides for freedom of religion. According to the constitution, the king is the "Commander of the Faithful and the Supreme Representative of the Muslim community." The King has the responsibility of protecting Islam in the country. Non Muslim communities openly practiced their faiths with varying degrees of official restrictions. The law proscribes efforts to proselytize Muslims. However, voluntary conversion is not prohibited by civil law. The country has a population of 34.8 million, of which 98.7 percent is Muslim, 1.1 percent Christian, and 0.2 percent Jewish.

There is widespread consensus among Muslims regarding religious practices and interpretation. However, some dissenters challenge the religious authority of the King and call for the establishment of a government more deeply rooted in their vision of Islam. The Government views such dissent as political rather than religious in nature, since critiques relate largely to the exercise of power.

There were no clear-cut instigators of the 1984 riots and demonstrations; apparently a great degree of spontaneity was involved. During and after the disturbances some 1,500 to 2,000 persons — many of them students and opposition politicians — were arrested for fomenting the rebellion; but their roles were not made clear, and many were released shortly thereafter. Few people gave credence to Hassan's charge, in a televised address to the nation, that a combination of Marxist-Leninists, Israelis, and the Iranian government was to blame for the uprisings. He also lashed out at the people of Marrakech as being unfit to receive a monarch and threatened those in the north by referring to his earlier use of force to crush separatists in the Rif in 1958.

Although there was little evidence that the Iranian government was involved in the 1984 disturbances, the king's display on television of pro-Iranian leaflets that had been circulated among demonstrators pointed to the potential threat posed by Islamic fundamentalist opponents. The growth of religious-based opposition to the commander of the faithful (amir al Muminin) began in the late 1970s and early 1980s; before then, the Moroccan government was believed to have given support to Islamic groups as a counterbalance to the influence of Marxist-Leninists in the universities.

Observers linked the growth of radical Islamic fundamentalism to the 1979 overthrow of the shah of Iran, in which Islam was displayed as a revolutionary force, and to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan later that year, which badly damaged the prestige of the Soviet Union and its Marxist- Leninist allies in the Third World. The fundamentalists were generally characterized as young, educated, and often strongly militant. Some were university students, and some had formerly been Marxist-Leninists who had embraced Islam partly because of their disenchantment with the Soviet Union or with the USFP and its leadership's cooperation with the monarch.

More than 20 Islamic fundamentalist groups were said to be active in the mid-1980s. Many of them, while urging a purification of Muslim practices and greater morality, remained loyal to the king. Others were more militant, demanding an end to corruption, Western influence, social injustice, and the monarchy. Among the best known of the radical Islamic associations was the League of Islamic Youth, which had been officially banned after being linked to the murder of a leading USFP politician in 1975. Its senior personality, Abd al Karim Mati, was in exile, but in 1983 the group returned to prominence when 71 members of an activist element — the "Jihad Squad" — were arrested on conspiracy charges after circulating literature calling for the overthrow of the government; some were sentenced to death and others to long prison terms.

Another prominent politico-religious expatriate, Mohammed el Basri, served variously as an Istiqlal resistance leader, newspaper editor, and founding member of the socialist party. From a base in Switzerland, Basri reportedly maintained contact with radical religious groups elsewhere in the Islamic world and with the Iranian revolutionary government. Perhaps the most widely known Islamic dissident within the country was Abdessalam Yacine, a writer and an editor whose activism had brought him harassment and prison sentences.

The authorities reacted to the perceived threat mainly by attempting to keep track of the Islamic associations and their members. Although the government believed that it had the groups thoroughly penetrated, it was reported that during the early 1980s many of the radical fundamentalists, in a desire to avoid government surveillance, had become more discreet, meeting secretly and discarding the beards and garments that had previously made them easy to spot.

Most observers in the mid-1980s did not believe that the fledgling Moroccan fundamentalist sects had the potential to develop into a broad-based movement of the kind that had swept to power in Iran. Although figures on membership were unavailable, it was generally thought that the fundamentalists constituted only a small minority in Morocco. Expansion was hampered by the authorities' actions as well as by the lack of unity among the fundamentalists themselves. Most importantly, the continued popularity of established Moroccan religious institutions and the widespread acceptance of the king as commander of the faithful appeared to rule out the coalescing of religious forces against the government, as had occurred in Iran. The further growth of fundamentalism among the radical intelligentsia, however, seemed likely.

The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) monitors and provides guidance on Friday mosque sermons and the Qur'anic schools to ensure the teaching of approved doctrine. At times the authorities suppress the activities of religion-oriented political groups but generally tolerate activities limited to the propagation of Islam, education, and charity. The Government requires that mosques close to the public shortly after daily prayer times to prevent use of the premises for unauthorized political activity, and mosques comply. Only the Government can authorize the construction of new mosques, although most mosques are constructed using private funds.

The Government continued training of female spiritual guides (mourchidaat), a program begun in 2006, in part to promote moderate Islam. The Government has stated that their training is exactly the same required of male imams. Their status is equal to the imams, although they do not deliver Friday sermons in mosques, do not lead group prayers, and focus much of their work on meeting various needs of other women.

On November 10, 2008, the MEIA informed Parliament that it had signed an agreement with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) that gives the latter the power to "protect mosques as secure places of worship." Authorities stated that these measures have eliminated the exploitation of mosques for political propaganda, such as distributing pamphlets, raising funds for illicit organizations, and disseminating extremist ideas. Some local mosque leaders reported that this step has little or no affect on the majority of local Muslims who attend daily prayers. However, those who adhere to a non-Malikite form of Islam felt pressure from authorities not to voice publicly their religious ideas in local mosques. There were reports that those who did not conform to the Malikite majority were watched and followed closely in an effort to ensure they did not espouse extremist ideology.

The Government restricts non-Islamic religious materials and proselytizing. Several small religious minorities are tolerated with varying degrees of official restrictions. The Government monitors the activities of mosques and non-Muslim religious groups and places some restrictions on individuals and organizations when it deems their actions to have exceeded the bounds of acceptable religious or political activity. There are an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 Shi'a Muslims, most of them expatriates from Lebanon or Iraq, but also a few citizen converts. The predominately Roman Catholic and Protestant expatriate Christian community consists of approximately 5,000 practicing members, although some estimates are as high as 25,000. According to Jewish community leaders, there are an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Jews, approximately 2,500 of whom reside in Casablanca.

There are two sets of laws and courts with authority over marriage, inheritance, and family matters--one for Muslims and another for Jews. The family law courts are administered, depending on the law that applies, by Muslim and rabbinical authorities who are court officials. Parliament is responsible for any changes to these laws. The judges who preside over Islamic family law courts are trained in Shari'a (Islamic law) as it is applied in the country.

Personal status matters as defined by the country's interpretation of Islamic law are applicable to all other citizens. Christians inherit according to civil law. Jews inherit according to Jewish religious law. There are no legal mechanisms that recognize the country's Christian community in the same way the state recognizes its Jewish community. Non-Muslims must formally convert to Islam before they can marry a Muslim or adopt children in the country.

The Ministry of Interior continues to monitor proselytizing activities, especially those of Shi'a Muslims and Christians. On April 2, 2009, a government spokesman stated, "the Kingdom, whose foundations are grounded in Islam and the Sunni Maliki rite, can never tolerate serving as a hotbed for spreading Shi'ism and Christian proselytizing. The fight against Christian proselytizing in accordance with law cannot be considered among human rights abuses, for it is an action aimed at preventing attempts to undermine the country's immutable religious values. The freedom of belief does not mean conversion to another religion."

In March 2009 the Government seized Shi'a literature, interrogated Shi'a Muslims, and closed a private Iraqi school, in a stated effort to stop the spread of politicized Iranian Shi'ism. The Government detained and interrogated a group of female citizens who had converted from Islam to Christianity and expelled five female Christian missionaries.

Jewish citizens openly practiced their faith and lived in safety throughout the country during the reporting period. Many citizens of all religions believe that the country is enriched by its centuries-old Jewish minority and were increasingly vocal expressing that view. Muslim citizens study at Christian and Jewish schools. Muslim students constitute the majority at Jewish schools in Casablanca, and a hospital run by the Jewish community provides care to low-income citizens regardless of religion.