U.S. State Department’s Report on Moroccan Religious Freedom 

On August 10, 2016, the U.S. Department of State released its latest annual report on religious freedom in every country in the world for 2015. Here are the key points of what it said about Morocco.[1]

The Report on Morocco

Morocco with its population of 33.3 million people (July 2015), estimates that 99% are Sunni Muslim and 1%, Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahais.

“The constitution declares the country to be a sovereign Muslim state and Islam to be the religion of the state. The constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, and says the state guarantees the free exercise of beliefs to everyone.”

“The law grants recognition to Sunni Maliki-Ashari Muslims and Jews as native populations free to practice their religion without any specific requirements to register with the government. The law requires [all other] religious groups not recognized as native, which includes non-Maliki-Ashari Muslims (i.e., Shia) and Christians, among others, to register before they are able to undertake financial transactions or conduct other business as private associations and legal entities.”

“Registered churches and associations include the Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, French Protestant, and Anglican Churches, whose existence as foreign resident Churches predates the country’s independence in 1956 and which operate within the officially registered Council of Christian Churches of Morocco (CECM).”

“The constitution states the king is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of freedom of worship. It prohibits political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments from infringing upon Islam. The criminal code prohibits the use of ‘enticements’ by non-Muslims to try to convert Muslims to another religion. The minister of justice reaffirmed the freedom to change religions as long as no coercion was involved, but said Christian evangelism remained prohibited because missionaries had offered material inducements to the poor to convert them.”

“The government reportedly detained and questioned Moroccan Christians about their beliefs and contacts with other Moroccan Christians, including incidents in Rabat and Fes. The government also continued to deny registration to local Christian, Shia, and Bahai groups. Representatives of minority religious groups said fears of government surveillance led adherents of the Christian, Bahai, and Shia faiths to refrain from public worship and instead to meet discreetly in members’ homes. The government allowed foreign Christian communities to attend worship services in approved locations. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued to control the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by the broadcast media. The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. The government arrested several individuals for eating in public during Ramadan.”

“Although Jews said they continued to live and worship in safety, participants in a pro-Palestinian rally in Casablanca in October staged a mock execution of individuals dressed as Hasidic Jews. Christians reported pressure to convert from non-Christian family and friends. Two Muslim actors received death threats for appearing in a U.S.-made movie about the life of Jesus. Members of the Shia community said in some areas they were able to practice their faith openly, but most members of the community practiced discreetly. Bahais reportedly practiced their faith discreetly and avoided disclosing their religious affiliation.”

“The U.S. government promoted religious tolerance in its bilateral strategic dialogue [with the Moroccan government]. The Ambassador, embassy and consulate general officers, and visiting U.S. government officials met with senior government officials, including the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs, to discuss tolerance of minority religions. The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with Muslim religious scholars, leaders of the Jewish community, prominent Christian visitors, Christian foreign residents, leaders of registered and unregistered Christian groups, and other local religious groups to promote religious dialogue.”

Conclusion

With Sunni Muslim as the state religion under Morocco’s constitution and 99% of the population’s being Sunni Muslims, it would appear to this non-Moroccan Christian outsider that it would be easy and non-threatening for the Moroccan government to allow virtually unfettered religious freedom to all others (Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahias). However, Morocco does not do so. Therefore, I believe the U.S. government, while observing all diplomatic niceties, should endeavor to persuade the Moroccan government to provide more religious freedom to the other religious groups.

Any U.S. efforts at attempting to persuade Morocco should refer to Morocco’s ratification or accession in 1979 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides the following in Article 18: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

  1. “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”
  2. “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”
  3. “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”[2]

That U.S. effort should also mention that under the ICCPR, Morocco as a state party has submitted periodical reports regarding its implementation of the treaty to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which after review and consultation with the party issues its Concluding Observations on that implementation. The last such Concluding Observations by this Committee, which were issued on December 1, 2016, said the following about freedom of religion in Morocco:

  • “39. The Committee is concerned by reports that restrictions are placed on the practice of religions other than the official religion. It is also concerned about provisions in the Criminal Code that criminalize actions contrary to the Muslim religion and the introduction of new offences to the draft Criminal Code that further extend the limits imposed on freedom of religion and expression (arts. 18 and 19).”
  • “40. The State party should eliminate any legislative provision or discriminatory practice that is in violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and ensure that the draft revised Criminal Code now under discussion is fully in accordance with article 18 of the Covenant.”

Finally this outsider also suggests that discussions with the Moroccan government on this subject should refer to the January 2016 Declaration of Marrakesh about religious minorities in Muslim majority countries that was discussed in a prior post.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2015: Morocco (Aug. 2016). The annual reports on the same subject by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom do not comment on every country in the world and Morocco is one such country that is not covered. (U.S. Com’n Int’l Religious Freedom, Annual Report (April 2017) (Morocco is not on list of countries covered by report, pp. iii-iv).

[2] The ICCPR and other international instruments regarding religious freedom were briefly reviewed in International Law Regarding Freedom of Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2012).

Morocco Promotes Moderate Islam with the Declaration of Marrakesh

A prior post noted that as part of its tripartite counterterrorism strategy, Morocco was promoting moderate Islam that directly condemned others who said the faith justified acts of terrorism. In early 2016 this was made express at a conference entitled “Religious Minorities in Muslim Lands: Its Legal Framework and a Call to Action” that was held in Morocco’s fourth-largest city, Marrakesh. The product of the conference was the Declaration of Marrakesh. Here is an examination of this important document and of the reactions it produced.

 The Declaration of Marrakesh[1]

The conference was precipitated by the organizers’ recognizing that “several predominantly Muslim countries [in recent years] have witnessed brutal atrocities inflicted upon longstanding religious minorities. These minorities have been victims of murder, enslavement, forced exile, intimidation, starvation, and other affronts to their basic human dignity. Such heinous actions have absolutely no relation whatsoever to the noble religion of Islam, regardless of the claims of the perpetrators who have used Islam’s name to justify their actions: any such aggression is a slander against God and His Messenger of Mercy as well as a betrayal of the faith of over one billion Muslims.”

Therefore, the conference was to “focus on the following areas: (1) Grounding the discussion surrounding religious minorities in Muslim lands in Sacred Law utilizing its general principles, objectives, and adjudicative methodology; (2) exploring the historical dimensions and contexts related to the issue; and (3) examining the impact of domestic and international rights.”

The Declaration’s two-page Executive Summary (in English) states in its preamble the following:

  • “WHEREAS, conditions in various parts of the Muslim World have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one’s point of view;”
  • “WHEREAS, this situation has also weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort its fundamental principles and goals in ways that have seriously harmed the population as a whole;”
  • “WHEREAS, this year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, and the people of Medina, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith.”

The Declaration then declared a “firm commitment to the principles articulated in the Charter of Medina, whose provisions contained a number of the principles of constitutional contractual citizenship, such as freedom of movement, property ownership, mutual solidarity and defense, as well as principles of justice and equality before the law” and whose objectives are in harmony with “the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

As a result the Declaration affirmed “that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries” and issued the following calls for action:

  • “Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world . . . [should] develop a jurisprudence of the concept of ‘citizenship’ which is inclusive of diverse groups. Such jurisprudence shall be rooted in Islamic tradition and principles and mindful of global changes.”
  • “Muslim educational institutions and authorities . . . [should] conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addresses honestly and effectively any material that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies.”
  • “[P]oliticians and decision makers . . . [should] take the political and legal steps necessary to establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens, and to support all formulations and initiatives that aim to fortify relations and understanding among the various religious groups in the Muslim World.”
  • “[The] educated, artistic, and creative members of our societies, as well as organizations of civil society, . . . [should] establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorities in Muslim countries and to raise awareness as to their rights, and to work together to ensure the success of these efforts.”
  • “[The] various religious groups bound by the same national fabric . . . [should] address their mutual state of selective amnesia that blocks memories of centuries of joint and shared living on the same land . . . [and] rebuild the past by reviving this tradition of conviviality, and restoring our shared trust that has been eroded by extremists using acts of terror and aggression.”
  • “[The] representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations . . . [should] confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification, and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry.”

 Responses to the Marrakesh Declaration[2]

A preliminary examination of responses to the Declaration revealed a huge split in opinions about its importance and validity.

In April 2016 the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which represents 57 Muslim countries, endorsed the Declaration and summit urged all member states “to establish inter-governmental bodies for social peace, inclusion, intra-social tolerance, security and harmony.” The World Council of Churches, a global ecumenical organization claiming nearly 600 million constituents across 150 countries, through its General Secretary, Reverend Olav Fykse Tveit, called the Declaration “a very timely and significant text with an important message for us all.”

The U.S. Institute for Peace also welcomed the Declaration and made the following recommendations: “ensure greater visibility and awareness of the Declaration in the Muslim world; encourage the creation of, and buy-in for, a more specific roadmap for implementation; ensure that the Declaration is associated with a movement; support indigenous organizations’ efforts to use the Declaration as a tool for advocacy; support efforts by indigenous Muslim organizations and actors to use the Declaration as a tool for education; [and] non-Muslim states and organizations must play a supporting, rather than leading, role.”

A negative review, however, was provided by Sheikh Michael Mumisa, a research scholar at the University of Cambridge’s Trinity Hall and one of Britain’s top Islamic scholars. He starts by pointing out that the two-page English-language “Executive Summary” omits most of the much longer original Arabic-language source document that emphasizes the need for careful examination of the Qur’an, the hadith corpus in the original Arabic before coming to any conclusions. The Declaration’s emphasis on the Charter of Medina, in his opinion, is also flawed because it fails to recognize that it was “a purely secular document” as the “product of deliberations, consultation and consensus between the various communities of Medina, not of divine revelation.” Thus, the Charter should be the basis for concluding that “modern Muslims should be able to develop their own constitutional laws through deliberation, consultation and other democratic processes without the need to invoke divine revelation.” Instead, the Declaration takes the Charter as sacred and interpreted in accordance with “inclusivist” texts while ignoring other “problematic” and “exclusivist” texts. Mumisa also said the Declaration is the latest in a long line of Muslim declarations that have “provided PR cover to the various governments and religious establishments . . . in the worst violations of Islamic principles and fundamental human rights.”

Another negative reaction was voiced by Prof. Sami Aldeeb, a Swiss-Palestinian expert on Islamic law, who said the Declaration would be toothless unless a series of fundamental legal reforms were enacted by Muslim countries to truly end discrimination against their religious minorities.” Otherwise, he thought, it was merely “propaganda” and “a waste of time.”

Amjad Mahmood Khan, a California attorney and UCLA law professor, https://law.ucla.edu/faculty/faculty-profiles/amjad-mahmood-khan/ opined that the Declaration “fails to provide any roadmap for Muslim-majority countries to engender meaningful reforms.” In addition, he says, “life as a Christian in Morocco remains underpriced. No church is officially recognized in Morocco, the Moroccan Penal Code criminalizes Christian proselytization, and a Christian woman can neither inherit her husband’s assets nor bequeath anything to her children.” Another criticism was the Declaration’s failure to include the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights’ “robust protections for religious freedom and freedom of expression” and thereby “indicates a troubling unwillingness on the part of some of the Morocco Conference attendees to jettison legislation aimed at criminalizing insults to Islam.”

A lengthier negative review was published by Andrew Harrod, author of over 150 articles online and in print concerning various political, religious, and international relations topics. He said the Charter of Medina was “little more than a tribal alliance between the early Muslim community and Medina’s various Jewish tribes. . . [regulating] blood money payments” and having provisions against religious freedom. Harrod also asserted that Christians in Morocco “face harassment and imprisonment, often called a “second baptism” and that Moroccan law prohibits a Christian wife from inheriting from a Muslim husband and bequeathing to her Muslim children.” Criticism of some of the attendees at the conference was also voiced by Harrod.

Framework Speech by His Eminence Shiekh Abdallah Bin Bayyah

The negative comments by Sheikh Michael Mumisa prompted me to examine what he says is the original source document for the Declaration: (in English) the “Framework Speech” or “Abridgement of the Rights of Religious Minorities in Muslim Majority Communities: Its Legal Framework and a Call to Action” by Shiekh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, a Mauritanian professor of Islamic studies at the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and a specialist in all four traditional Sunni schools. This speech is available in 16 pages in English in the Booklet on the conference website.[3] Below is a photograph of Shiekh Bayyah. 

 

Perhaps there is more substance in the original Arabic version, but I failed to see in the English translation the basis for Mumisa’s opinions . For example, on pages 08 and 09 Shiekh Abdallah Bin Bayyah with references to passages in the Qur’an asserts the following as “Values of Islam in Dealing with Others:” kindness; honor; cooperation, solidarity and rectification; reconciliation; human fraternity and interaction; wisdom; commonweal; being just with others; mercy; and peace.

The Shiekh also relies on the Charter of Medina, which he says “is merciful to creation, reaffirms wisdom, calls for justice; or secures the commonweal for all—not just Muslims but for every citizen there, regardless of religion, or race.” Therefore, he continues, the Charter “is the foundation for an inclusive, multicultural, multi-religious society in which all individuals enjoy the same rights and shoulder the same responsibilities, which are outlined in a just constitution.” Now, he says, these values find expression in the U.N. Charter and its amendments, including “a declaration of human rights and international treaties,” which “are considered universally adopted by all nations.” (P. 11)

The conclusion of the Shiekh’s speech says the following:

  1. “Enough of bloodshed and fighting one another for survival, as that will lead only to annihilation; instead, let us all cooperate for survival.”
  2. “The accusation that Islam oppresses minorities has no basis in sacred law or in history.”
  3. “The actions of criminal groups . . . have stolen the name of Islam; . . . their real name should be ‘the terrorist organization.’”
  4. “The Eastern Christians exist to remain, and they were born to live.”
  5. “Academics and scholars of various faiths . . . [are] developing a historical charter that may serve as a basis for contemporary conceptualizations of citizenship.”
  6. “Constitutional citizenship . . . is . . . committed to a mutuality that ensures freedom and guarantees societal peace.”
  7. “[Let] peoples of all faiths . . . establish an alliance for peace—spiritual and psychological peace, the kind that inspires us to do good in the world. [As Hans Kung, the noted Christian theologian said], ‘There can be no peace in this world without peace among the religions.’
  8. “We want to improve the conditions of peoples everywhere.”
  9. “We want to end these killings and other attrocities. . . . ‘No!’ to terror and terrorism.”

Conclusion

 Others more knowledgeable about Islam need to sort through the above criticisms of the Declaration, but I find it a remarkable and praiseworthy statement that needs to be heard in the U.S. and around the world.

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[1] The Marrakesh Declaration: The Conference Aims (Jan, 25-27, 2016); The Marrakesh Declaration: About (Jan, 25-27, 2016); The Marrakesh Declaration: Organizers (Jan, 25-27, 2016); The Marrakesh Declaration: Executive Summary (in English) (Jan, 25-27, 2016); The Marrakesh Declaration, The Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Countries: Legal Framework and a Call to Action: Conference Aims (Jan. 25-27, 2016); The Marrakesh Declaration: The Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Countries: Legal Framework and a Call to Action (Jan. 25-27, 2016); Marrakesh Declaration, Wikipedia; Alami, Muslim Conference Calls for Protection of Religious Minorities, N.Y. Times (Feb. 3, 2016).

[2] OIC endorses Marrakesh Declaration, MarrakeshDeclaration.org (Apr. 15, 2016);  Hayward, Understanding and Extending the Marrakesh Declaration in Policy and Practice, U.S. Inst. Peace Special Report (Sept. 2016); Mumisa, The Problem with the Marrakesh Declaration, By Michael Mumisa (Shaykh), Muslimwise (May 9, 2016); Coakley, Cambridge scholar criticizes Marrakesh Declaration on Muslim treatment of religious minorities, AnglicanINK (May 11, 2016); Khan, The Marrakesh Declaration: Promise and Paralysis, Georgetown J. Int’l Affairs (Mar. 2, 2016); Szerman, The Marrakesh Declaration and a Critique of It, MEMRI (Feb. 23, 2016)  Harrod, Islamic Declaration Offers Slim Religious Freedom Hop, Juicy Ecumenism (Feb. 17, 2016).

[3] Bayyah, “Framework Speech” or “Abridgement of the Rights of Religious Minorities in Muslim Majority Communities: Its Legal Framework and a Call to Action”Marrakesh Declaration, Booklet (Jan. 25-27, 2016).

An Exciting Introduction to Morocco 

Last month my wife and I went on a wonderful two-week tour of Morocco with Overseas Adventure Travel. Here is the OAT map for the tour:

We were impressed by the country’s fascinating history and people, its beautiful architecture, cities and rugged Atlas Mountains, the immensity of the rolling Sahara Desert along its southern border and its current construction boom.

While there we also learned of Morocco’s recent re-establishment of its diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country about which I have written a lot, and of Morocco’s membership in the African Union, both related to Morocco’s lingering conflict over the Western Sahara, which was the subject of a recent U.N. Security Council resolution, all of which were discussed in recent posts.[1]

Also fascinating was the country’s religious profile. Its population of 33.7 million is 99% Sunni Muslim with 1% Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahias. In every town the mosques’ minarets were the instantaneously recognizable tallest structures.[2]

Our OAT tour guide told us that the current king, Mohammad VI, has been leading efforts to ensure that Muslims in Morocco are not encouraged to join extremists groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda. All imams have to complete an education course at the capitol at Rabat that is organized and administered by the government’s ministry of religious affairs (The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco) and that excludes the extremist ideologies promoted by ISIS and Al Qaeda.

We also were told that neither the government nor the Muslim leaders discriminate against Christians or Jews, and we visited a synagogue in Fez. On the other hand, we were told, the Christians and Jews are forbidden from preaching or proselytizing or evangelizing in public.

Previously I had learned that the five “pillars” of Islam are (1) shahada, declaring as a matter of faith and trust that there is only one God (Allah) and that Mohammad is God’s messenger; (2) salat, saying the Islamic prayer five times a day; (3) zakat, giving to the poor and needy; (4) slym, fasting during the month of Ramadan; and (5) haji, making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Although in Morocco I only experienced hearing the call to prayer over a minaret’s loudspeaker, I came to see these pillars of faith as similar to various practices of Christian spirituality, as ways of reinforcing a believer’s connections with God (Allah), and as ways that help believers live in accordance with the will of God (Allah). These pillars and practices, in my opinion, also rest on the belief that no one is perfect, that all find it too easy to stray from the path of faithfulness and that all need reminders of God or Allah’s way.

I felt fortunate that my Minneapolis church (Westminster Presbyterian) has warm relations with a local mosque and that we have hosted at least two worship services including its leaders. [3]

After returning to the U.S., I conducted research and discovered more about the previously mentioned government ministry; Morocco’s positive relations with international anti-terrorism groups; the important Declaration of Marrakesh promoting respect for religious minorities in Muslim countries; the most current U.S. State Department’s assessment of Morocco’s religious freedom; and the nature of current U.S.-Morocco relations. These topics will be explored in subsequent posts.

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[1] Cuba and Morocco Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2017); U.N. Security Council Orders More Negotiations About the Western Sahara Conflict, dwkcommentaries.com (May 9, 2017).

[2] CIA World Factbook, Morocco.

[3] Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 2, 2015); A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness, dwkcommentaries.com (May 15, 2017).