What things are taboo in Morocco

MoroccoThe king's new faith

"King Mohammed VI. Wants to support the existence of us Christians here in Morocco. That is part of the spirit of tolerance that he cultivates. Morocco wants to position itself at the head of a movement that promotes a liberal, tolerant Islam and mysticism, Sufism At the same time, one clearly distinguishes oneself from radical currents such as the Wahabi ones. " (Bernhard Coyault)

"The openness to modernity, tolerance ... these are all complex questions for which we Muslims in Morocco need time. We focus above all on education. Future generations will find it easier to respect those who think differently and to respect their freedom. All of this cannot be forced, it takes time and has to grow. We are talking about long-term strategies. " (Aisha Haddou)

"In a speech given by the Moroccan youth, the king clearly stated that all three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, belong to Morocco. As a Catholic monk, I am currently being invited to talks by Muslims more and more often. That is positive Marrakech even held an international symposium on the rights of religious minorities. " (Father Jean-Pierre)

Marrakech. In the old royal city in the south of Morocco, snake charmers, traders and beggars cavort between medieval adobe buildings and historical mosques on the famous "juggler square" Jemaa El Fna. Only a few steps further you can see luxurious 5-star hotels. Since members of the international high society settled in Marrakech in the 20th century, the city has been a tourist magnet.

Breeding ground for fundamentalism

The external contrast reflects the social tensions in the background. They are a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism. In 2011 there was an attack on a tourist café on Jemaa El Fna. Since then, things have remained calm in Marrakech.

The central market square Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech, Morocco. (imago / imagebroker)

In his endeavor to break the ground for the propaganda of extremism, the Moroccan king relies not only on security measures, but also on dialogue and education, emphasizes the apostolic nuncio of Morocco, Vito Rallo:

"Mohammed VI repeatedly urges members of all religions to form a common front against the fanaticism of the jihadists. He encourages the Moroccans to defend a tolerant Islam that lives up to their own tradition. The king does not have the attacks Called forgivable madness. "Anyone who uses the Koran to justify violence and aggression" is 'not a Muslim!' "

More than 90 percent of the approximately 35 million inhabitants of Morocco profess the Sunni direction of Islam. Members of Jewish communities and Christian churches form minorities that make up just under one percent of the population.

In 2016, King Mohammed invited hundreds of leading Muslim scholars from 120 countries to Marrakech to discuss and support the situation of religious minorities in Islamic states.

In a statement that all participants adopted at the end, it says:

"Anyone who abuses religion in order to use violence against minorities in Muslim countries is in contradiction to Islam! ... In view of the serious crises that humanity is suffering from today, we underline the urgent need for cooperation. ... We therefore call on the representatives of the various groups Religions and denominations to confront all forms of fanaticism together. "

Declaration of Hope

50 non-Muslim observers from different world religions were also invited to Marrakech, including several church representatives. The reactions were almost without exception positive. The declaration is an important step, emphasizes the Islamic scholar and Jesuit Felix Körner:

"The Marrakech Declaration is very persuasive. It brings good arguments. That is why one can expect that a real impact will be achieved here. In addition, there is the fact that many from different countries and groups have signed, which gives it weight again . It is a document that is a beacon of hope because it says something great, but it also needs to be promoted further. "

Morocco is a multiethnic state: the nomadic tribes on the edge of the Sahara are just as much a part of the country as the Berbers of the Atlas Mountains, which begin right behind Marrakech. Between cedar forests and high plateaus lie small villages in which Berber families live as simple shepherds, farmers or agricultural workers. It is not uncommon for there to be a lack of educational opportunities. Because every worker is needed in families, and the way to school in a larger town is difficult to cope with.

Wealthy young people in the cities, on the other hand, enjoy all the advantages of high Arab culture and find a wide range of courses there. For example, in Ifrane, a small town in the Atlas Mountains, there is an elite state university that promotes interreligious dialogue in a special way: Al Akhawayn. The university campus includes a chapel and a mosque. The latter is supervised by Imam Slimane Khanjari:

He says: "In Morocco the religions have always lived together in peace. So there is no doubt in my mind: Those people who are currently wreaking havoc here have either misunderstood Islam or have distanced themselves from it in their hearts. A real Muslim Those who take their religion seriously cannot do anything that leads to hatred or destruction. Because our religion teaches us mercy, peace and love. "

The university as a door to the world

They try to pass these ideals on to around 2,000 students at the university, explains Slimane Khanjari. Almost 98 percent of young people are Moroccans and Muslims, about 2 percent come from other countries and beliefs.

The American professor Karen Thomas-Smith is particularly responsible for them. She is President of the Protestant Church of Morocco and at the same time pastor at the Ecumenical Chapel of Al Akhawayn:

"Our Evangelical Church in Morocco emerged from the Reformed French Church. Today it includes all Protestant traditions that are represented in the country. We are a small church that has only about 3000 believers. They come from different nations and mostly just live temporarily in Morocco. The positive thing is that we are very ecumenical. I lead ecumenical services in the university chapel every week, in which all Christian students take part, be they Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox. "

Students in conversation on the campus of Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. (Abdelhak Senna / AFP)

At the university she teaches "comparative religious studies", explains Karen further. The courses would be attended by students of all religions and subject areas and would provide insight into the teachings of different faiths. After completing basic studies, you can even specialize in this subject:

"Al Akhawayn is a state institution that was set up by the royal family. They want qualified training that opens a door to the world for young people. It is about a generation of young Moroccans who are able to deal with those who think differently To hold constructive dialogues and to work together. It's about peace and the future. That is the vision of our university. "

Dialogue with diploma

It is not far from Ifrane to the royal city of Fes. Already in the Middle Ages it was a respected center of Islamic spirituality and learning. A theological university, old Koran schools and the grave of the well-known mystic Ibn Arabi bear testimony of this to this day. The picturesque old town of Fes with its historic Jewish quarter has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The University of Fes-Sais is located in the new town, the Ville Novelle. The modern state institution is open to everyone and has more than 20,000 students. At the "Faculté de Lettre", the humanities faculty, the Moroccan professor Said Gaffaiti has set up an institute for comparative religious studies. He says:

"First we set up courses here in which the students learn Hebrew and study the Jewish religion. Then we started making comparisons between the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Today we are the first institute in Morocco to offer a master’s degree. Degree in Hebrew Studies and Comparative Religious Studies. Around 200 young people are enrolled with us this year. They come from all over Africa. "

View of the old town of the royal city of Fes, Morocco. (imago / imagebroker)

The subject is well received by the students, says Gaffaiti. Some already had a degree in Islamic Studies and now wanted to acquire an additional qualification for practical work in dialogue:

"For me the dialogue begins with getting to know others. I have to see, experience how Christians, Jews or other believers live their religion. Then I can understand them better. A special way of specializing and working for the world for us in Morocco is currently the work in comparative religious studies. "

Change of religion as a taboo

A modern express train connects Fes with Morocco's capital Rabat on the Atlantic coast. The royal palace, in which Mohammed VI resides, is located there between ministries and embassies. In the center of the city there is a large cathedral: Saint Pierre. Here is the official residence of Bishop Landel.

The Catholic Church in Morocco was threatened with extinction after the withdrawal of the colonial powers in the 20th century. But now, says Vincent Landel, she has recovered.

Vincet Landel describes the situation as follows: "Today our church has around 30,000 members nationwide from many nations. But only a few are Europeans, most are students from African countries. We run 15 schools, all of which have a good reputation. Their around 15,000 Almost all students are Muslims. In these schools we teach the Koran, among other things, as required by the Moroccan curriculum. But we remain a Catholic school and we also talk a lot with the students about God's love for all people and about ethical values. "

There are 30 Catholic parishes in all of Morocco, and Caritas social aid institutions are being set up, the bishop emphasizes. Christians could live their faith absolutely freely nationwide - with one restriction: Muslims should not be proselytized. Evangelical groups that allegedly or actually violated the regulation have been expelled from the country several times in recent years.

Because in Morocco - as in many Islamic countries - a Muslim citizen who changes his religion breaks a taboo. Such a "apostasy" could once be punished with death as high treason. In the spring of 2017, the highest "Council of Muslim Scholars" in Morocco decided not to criminalize any change of faith.

Moroccan Christians on their way to a service in a Protestant church in Rabat, Morocco. (Fadel Senna / AFP)

Against the will of fundamentalist circles, King Mohammed created more religious freedom. Vincent Landel welcomes the move on behalf of all Christians:

"It is the government's official wish that the Catholic Archbishop represent all Christians in Morocco. I am responsible to the government for Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well. That is often not easy, but positive. Basically, the Muslims are pushing us too this demand to achieve unity among us Christians. "

"As believers we must learn from one another"

The ecumenical study institute "Al Mowafaqa", which can be found in Rabat not far from the cathedral, also takes this concern into account. His name means something like "walking towards each other", explains director Bernhard Coyault.

"Our institute is a remarkable institution. It was founded jointly by the Protestant and Catholic Churches in 2012 and inaugurated in 2014. Christian students from all churches receive classical training in theology here - with a special emphasis on the Islamic tradition of Morocco. All of our courses are ecumenical and at the same time open doors for interreligious dialogue. "

The students' degrees would be reviewed by universities in Paris and Strasbourg. Then, according to the evangelical theologian Coyault, the young people in the parishes of Morocco could take up their duties. The institute, which King Mohammed himself approved, shows another peculiarity, says Coyault:

"In addition to the extensive theological study, we offer a five-month advanced training course for pastors and other interested parties: It ends with the" Al Mowafaqa Certificate ", which certifies the participants' competence in the" Dialogue of Cultures and Religions ".

Mohammed VI relies on political and religious dialogue: Reception of French President Emmanuel Macron. (imago / E-Press PHOTO.com)

The dialogue of cultures that the Moroccan king is striving for is also to be supported by a Muslim dialogue center founded in Rabat in 2016: the "Institut du Dialogue interreligieux". The director is a Muslim religious scholar, Aisha Haddou. She studied Islamic and Christian theology in Morocco and Belgium.

"We support research and training in the field of interreligious dialogue. Our employees are Christians, Jews and Muslims. Specifically, we ask what each religion can contribute to solving current problems: environmental protection, the role of women, peace. I think "The future lies in this approach. We must learn from one another as believers, and I am sure we can complement each other for the good of humanity."

Fear of identity

The dialogue center is part of the "Rabitá des Ulemá", a highly respected Moroccan research institution. It stands for a tradition-conscious and at the same time liberal Islam. You work with international universities, explains the Muslim Aisha Haddou:

"We have to cooperate to ensure a solid interreligious education. This applies to Morocco as well as Europe. There there is fear of Islam, Islamophobia. Here there are sometimes prejudices against Christians because of the colonial era. We have to overcome all of this. "

But the situation in Morocco is complicated, adds Aisha. The Dialog-Institut is located in Rabat between the new town and the old town and thus symbolically between modernity and tradition. The opening that open-minded sections of the people long for, according to Aisha, often appear to conservative circles as a threat:

"Many Moroccans today are afraid of losing their identity if the country changes too much. That is why extremist currents suddenly find an open ear here. We have to learn to combine traditions and innovations. And above all we have to ask what happens within us religion is going wrong. It's not just about tolerance towards others. We have to work on our own understanding of identity. "

The fear of a loss of identity is currently mixed in Morocco with the dissatisfaction of socially disadvantaged groups and - not least - ethnic tensions between Berbers and Arabs.

This constellation forms a gateway for IS and other radical currents that are pushing into the country with a lot of capital underground. For months, the potential for conflict has been discharging repeatedly in public protests.

The fundamentalist pressure is growing

The Moroccan professor Mariam Ait Ahmed has set herself the task of offering young people who are prone to violence new, constructive perspectives through education. She teaches at the state universities of Rabat and Kenifra. The religious studies scholar emphasizes that there are around 500 students in her courses there every semester:

"We reach young people who have been negatively influenced by the media or their friends. This is more important than ever. We have a lot of people who have a tendency towards extremism. Some are still undecided. I always try to make it clear to them what Islam really teaches, and that, for example, it says in the Koran that one should have dialogues with people of different faiths ... And I show them that religion is always about people: they should become a better person, if the extremist youth recognize that , they often change radically. "

Mariam Ait Ahmed has already received many international awards and peace prizes for her work. She lectures all over the world, from the USA to Qatar to the Philippines. The king, Moroccan culture and Islam are strong ties that have united the people in their homeland for centuries, according to the professor. However, if the fundamentalist pressure continues to grow, it could provoke an acid test.

To prevent this, the king's reform plans would have to reach the socially disadvantaged sections of the population as quickly as possible. Morocco's monarch wants to prove that a tolerant, enlightened and dialogue-ready Islam, as it corresponds to the Moroccan tradition, can be enforced with state regulations. It's a risky experiment. The king does not have much time.