The Plight of Moroccan Christians Forced
to Practice Their Faith in Secret
Saint Peter's Cathedral, Archdiocese of Rabat, Morocco.
When Mohamed Al Moghany, a Muslim man from El Hajeb city in Morocco’s Archdiocese of Rabat, converted to Christianity, his employer, gun in hand, threatened to kill him.
When Mohamed filed a complaint with the police, he was told to keep quiet about his conversion to Christianity and threats were made against his family.
When he had a similar disagreement with his employer six months later, Mohamed was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. Meanwhile, his wife was also cross-examined about her faith practices and inclinations.
Mohamed’s encounter highlights the plight of an estimated 32,200 Moroccan Christians who, have to practice their faith in secret due to various limitations imposed on them by the leadership of the Northern African Kingdom, officials of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International have reported.
According to ACN’s July 21 report obtained by ACI Africa, Morocco’s leadership “considers Christianity to be a danger” and has designated the Malekite rite of the Sunni Islam as the state religion.
While the North African country’s 2012 constitution guarantees freedom of worship, “it penalizes conversions to any religions other than Islam,” a situation that the President of the Moroccan Association of Rights and Religious Liberties (MARRL), Jawad Elhamidy says, “puts the small Christian community in a difficult position.”
“The penal code holds that all Moroccans are Muslims, so those who convert to Christianity face legal problems, beside threats to their security,” Jawad has told ACN.
“Some Moroccan Christians are arrested three times a week and subjected to bullying and harassment at the police station. For the most part, they are released after interrogation or after they have been put under pressure to return to Islam; those who refuse face insults and abuse,” Jawad has been quoted as saying.
He explains, “When an allegation of blasphemy is made, it can become very dangerous for Christians in custody; there can be violence, and some Christians are held for several days, and police make threats that spouse and children would be arrested too.”
Besides victimization because of conversion, the MARRL President says that Moroccan Christians worship in “secret house churches to avoid state sanctions or harassment from society.”
Public worship would see the Christians risk being accused of proselytism, the leadership of ACN says and adds, “Proselytizing on behalf of any faith, except Islam, is illegal” and attracts a punishment of six months to six years in prison.
Another reason for the secretive worship, according to ACN officials, is because while the estimated 40,000 foreign Christians living and working in the country are allowed to practice their faith, they do not have the “right to preach their faith to anyone.”
Church leaders receive a weekly warning from the authorities not to welcome Moroccans, or they will be held accountable for proselytism, a situation that has seen foreign Clergy ministering in the county discourage Christian citizens from attending their churches, Jawad has disclosed ACN.
He explained, “If a Moroccan enters a church, one of two things can happen: either a policeman sitting in front of the church arrests him or her, or the cleric in charge of the church asks the person to leave, unless the purpose is tourism.”
As a measure seemingly aimed at discouraging public worship, Jawad notes that the government “does not give permits to build new churches.”
There are some 44 churches in the country, which were built during the French protectorate era (1912-1956), some of which have been turned into meeting halls and municipal headquarters, ACN leadership reported.
“Also, the government restricts the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deems are inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam,” ACN officials note in the July 21 report.
“Not all religious minorities are treated the same way. There are some 2,400 Jews living in Morocco, with Judaism enjoying full legal recognition,” ACN officials note.
According to Jawad, authorities treat the Jewish community with respect for two reasons – first because it is economically strong, and, secondly, the government uses its toleration of Judaism to whitewash the abuses targeting other religious minorities.”
Christians in Morocco account for less than one percent of the 36 million population. Catholics constitute two thirds of the Christian population and are spread across the Archdiocese of Rabat and the Archdiocese of Tangier.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa