Morocco minorities call for religious freedom

Jews, Christians, in Morocco press for recognition of their religious rights.


Ibn Danan Synagogue in Morocco
Ibn Danan Synagogue in Morocco

Representatives of Morocco's religious minorities on Saturday urged the government to clarify the law on freedom of worship in Morocco, where Islam is the state religion.

Their statement came after an unprecedented meeting in the capital Rabat.

"The Moroccan state still places barriers when it comes to legal reforms concerning minorities," Jawad el Hamidi, the coordinator of the Moroccan Commission of Religious Minorities, told AFP. "There is a kind of fear of opening this door and having a discussion - even civil society is still reluctant to talk freely about this topic."

Religious minorities - mostly Christians, Jews and Baha'is - count for less than one percent of Morocco's population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

But Saturday's forum brought together academics, researchers, human rights activists, preachers and representatives of religious minorities to demand recognition of their rights.

"We suffer repression and harassment," said Hamidi, adding that some media had referred to those present as "atheists" and "homosexuals."

The meeting's venue had to be changed and some speakers also withdrew after "pressure," organizers said.

Since the creation of Israel and the independence of Morocco, what was the largest Jewish community in North Africa has dwindled to fewer than 5,000 members.

Most Moroccan Muslims who convert to Christianity practice their new faith in secret.

There are no official statistics on Moroccan Muslim converts to Christianity, but the US State department estimates their numbers at between 2,000 and 6,000.

Expat Christians worship freely and are protected by the authorities - providing they do not evangelize, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

Mohamed Said, a Moroccan convert to Christianity, said his ultimate goal was to see the country's constitution explicitly recognize freedom of religion.

"This congress, in my opinion, is a beginning...a small breakthrough," he said.