"How Do You Survive Your Life With Christ?" Moroccan Christians Speak

By: Leah Farish

For the approximately 8,000 Christians living in Muslim-majority Morocco, restrictions on religious freedom are not as severe as in many other Muslim cultures, but are still an everyday source of instability, fear, and alienation. In recent interviews summarized below, Moroccan Christians spoke out about how this persecution severely limits not only their right to worship freely and openly, but also their ability to engage in economic activity and contribute to the social flourishing of their communities. 

Although Morocco is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which gives adherents the right to practice and manifest their faith, Morocco interprets that through the lens of their penal code’s Article 220, which criminalizes proselytizing. Expatriates are given more latitude in the Kingdom, though a large deportation of foreign nationals was carried out in March of 2010. Sub-Saharan Africans are allowed greater religious liberty within Morocco than are Arab Berber, Sahrawi, or ethnic Moroccans, and can be seen worshipping at their own churches openly on Sunday mornings in any large city. Christian black Africans seem to be largely ignored, as a function of anti-black prejudice.

Additionally, Morocco’s well-liked monarch, King Mohammed VI, claims direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed and as such is defender-in-chief of the Muslim faith. While his reign has been commendably enlightened in many important respects, complaints against the King are illegal. Some Moroccans say that the King has recently faced pressure, from a strident Muslim element in his Parliament, to muzzle minority faiths.

Over the last year and a half, Moroccan Christian adult citizens, 29 in all, were asked open-ended questions about their lives under Moroccan rule. Legal prohibitions—combined with Moroccan Christians’ experience of social ostracism, workplace discrimination, and government suspicion and punishment—made these interviews difficult to conduct and somewhat dangerous for the participants.. The respondents included schoolteachers, a university professor, an engineer, a physician, homemakers, small business owners, shopkeepers, and laborers.

We asked: 

What would your church or ministry be like if restrictions on their faith were not in place? 

Some unique answers included “I would sing loudly” [1] and “Maybe some of us will involve in politics”; one would start a school, adding, “We would put a cross up in that school.” Nine said they would have a building for their church [2]; 16 said the church would grow or grow “very fast”; nine said they would open a school; six said the church would start a business to help support itself; ten said they would do “social work;” and a total of eight others specified such desired projects as opening an adult training center, to offer things like parenting classes, literacy classes, counseling, and job training. Eight responses assured us that they would in essence be able to have “a great impact on society” or words to that effect, if given more freedom. One said, “I could go back to my village and teach about health.” A place to have large gatherings, somewhere to go and “pray any time,” and a place to “be able to welcome Muslim friends” interested six.

Does persecution affect your future plans?

As Francis Fukuyama has observed, trust is necessary for certain kinds of economic development and for large, ambitious projects. Many Moroccan Christians live in distrust and instability. Of the 29 respondents, 16 said it was hard to make long-term plans, with four others making similar statements such as that persecution kept them from having “a clear vision” of the future. Six indicated that they move often to avoid detection or the consequences of practicing their faith, and 12 said they were essentially watching for opportunities to leave the country. Two volunteered that they have no savings or insurance. One said, “We are very few, and fear to enter in business relations with other people.” For a cohesive and sociable society like Morocco, these are the poignant statements of outsiders. As Anthony Gill and Timothy Shah have noted, religious freedom attracts (and retains) human capital and other resources, including merchants. This survey portends a potential drain on Morocco’s resources if religious freedom is not enhanced.

Having children is one of the primary reasons people plan for the future and work for better economic conditions. Moroccan Christians see a dark future for their little ones, and face daily dilemmas about how to rear them. As one parent says, “For sure they grow in fear and are careful not to reveal their faith to others.” Parents say they don’t expect their children to get significant opportunities in Moroccan schools or jobs if they are known Christians, thus propelling them in the direction of the United States or Europe.

Success in business requires several qualities. Readiness for innovation, proactive personality, generalized self-efficacy, stress tolerance, autonomy, and locus of control have significant correlations with business creation and business success. When people are unable to plan, are under menacing scrutiny, and do not feel a locus of control within themselves, these entrepreneurial qualities are inhibited. In turn, such inhibited people cannot model these qualities for their children. Shah and Gill point out that religious freedom directly leads to “bundled flourishing”—it enhances the capabilities, well being, and overall utility of individuals.Among Morocco’s Christians, we hear them describing the opposite situation.

Would you feel more confident in developing business contacts, expanding your own business, investing in business projects, and /or being a leader in your workplace if you felt your religious views were protected?

Of the 29, 19 said yes; another said, “I don’t do business”; one said “No—I feel scary to do such business,” and one insisted, “When people find I am a Christian, they won’t do business with me.” One of the yes responses added that at this time, she only does business with Christians. When asked what sorts of things respondents would do if they had more freedom, several just declared that they would work hard. One said he wants to own a small sports center for children. These are fairly common in the cities of Morocco, usually run by non-governmental organizations, but some are for-profit. Another said she wanted to open a school.

If you or your church members were victims of a violent or discriminatory act that is illegal, would you feel comfortable contacting law enforcement about it?

Thirteen said no, with one replying, “How can someone not recognized by the government go to the court to ask for justice?” Four said they could get justice if the underlying issue was not about their faith. Two were not sure. Thirteen said yes, they could contact law enforcement. One respondent mentioned that if her village found out she were a Christian, she would be killed. A pastor said he moves about with a bodyguard. When we consider Shah and Gill’s assertion that repression of religion contributes to instability and violence, we see that Moroccan Christians feel that instability.

Life for believers in Morocco has become more atomized since April of 2010, when the High Council of Ulema, a group of 7,000 Muslim leaders, declared Christian evangelism to be “moral rape” and “religious terrorism” and followed these statements with crackdowns and confiscations. Our survey found that in the last few years, Christians are meeting in smaller groups (16 respondents mentioned this), and two each mentioned taking longer than before to include a new person in religious activities, acting very carefully (including doing baptisms in homes), and changing meeting places from time to time. While they are using social media, phone apps, and personal computers to find inspiration and training, and to share ideas with both churched and unchurched contacts, their limited communications and small-group meetings mean that they cannot significantly “pool” human capital or develop broad leadership skills.

Conclusion

Responses to our questions show that Moroccan Christians see themselves as held back from commercial activity and community service that they would very much like to do because of government restrictions. These responses corroborated what Dennis Hoover and Thomas Farr suggest: “The socio-economic benefits of industrious religion do not provide advantages only to the religious themselves.” The participants express desires to plan, invest, build, teach, serve, and contribute in all sorts of ways to their larger society. In addition, they may also be kept from developing skills and from flourishing within their own ranks because of the limitations placed upon them.

When asked what they would like to find out from other persecuted Christians around the world, one replied that she would ask, “How do you survive your life with Christ?” We might well ask, “How does Morocco survive by quenching it?"

[1]  During worship services, windows are routinely closed, partly to shut out the ubiquitous calls to prayer and partly to muffle the church singing indoors. Some Christians traveling together in cars take the opportunity to sing vigorously together while none can hear them.

[2] Sadly, one said that a building would only become a target, and that society was not ready for people to be “different.” 

Leah Farish is a civil rights attorney who has practiced and published in the area of religious civil liberties for thirty years. 

This piece was originally authored on March 14, 2016 for the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

Permanent Link: https://www.religiousfreedominstitute.org/cornerstone/2016/7/26/how-do-you-survive-your-life-with-christ-moroccan-christians-speak