Middle East Resources

Are Christians Persecuted in Morocco?

Translated from Arabic
By Bassam Michael Madany
22 August 2018

It’s always encouraging to read of Christian leaders in Muslim-majority countries who speak openly and boldly about their faith. I find this report worthwhile, to share with my fellow-missionaries to Islam.

Recently, the German-Egyptian writer and human rights activist, Hamed Abdel-Samad visited Morocco and spoke on current issues regarding religious freedom and the plight of minorities.

During July 2018, Abdel-Samad interviewed a prominent Christian Moroccan human rights activist, Muhammad Sa’eed. The interview was archived on Box of Islam No 146.

The following are excerpts from the interview, translated from the Arabic text.

Q (Hamed Abdel-Samad)

How do you explain the fact that the Arab conquest of Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, did not result in the disappearance of the Christian Churches of the area, while Christianity disappeared in North Africa?

A (Muhammad Sa’eed)

Christianity does exist in Morocco. After all, I am a Moroccan Christian as many of my people are Christians.

Q

Are there any statistics of Moroccan Christians?

A

While there are no official statistics for the number of Moroccan Christians, yet according to the Pew Foundation their number is around 6000; while Human Rights Watch places that number at 25000. A Moroccan official estimated that the number of Moroccans who regularly visit Christian websites, was 150000 in 2012. We may conclude that there are thousands of Moroccan Christians.

By the way, I don’t like the term of “minorities” when referring to Christians or any other religious groups not belonging to the majority Sunni population of Morocco.  We are all Moroccan citizens. 

Q

How would you describe the history of Christianity in North Africa?

A

Christianity’s history in North Africa belongs to two distinct periods: the early centuries and that of the 19th century.

The Early Centuries

During the early centuries of the Christian era, some famous Christians leaders and theologians were North African natives, such as St. Augustine, St. Tertullian, and Saint Cyprian. They all had a tremendous impact on Christian and Western thought.

Q

Going back to my earlier questions, why did the Arab conquest of Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, did not result in the disappearance of the Christian Churches of the area, while Christianity disappeared in North Africa?

A

I must add that Christianity didn’t disappear from Morocco soon after the Islamic conquest. The suppression of Christianity began in the 13th century during the Almohad Caliphate and continued until the 16th century. The Almohads did their utmost to obliterate the Christian presence in Morocco.

The Nineteenth Century

A

In the Treaty of 1854 between the Moroccan Sultan Al-Hasan and the British Government, Christian missionaries could work among the Jewish population. Some Jewish converts began to witness among Moroccan Muslims which resulted in their conversion.

The Roman Catholic Church converted some Moroccans, among them was Mohamed Ben Abdeljlil who studied the Koran at the University of al-Karaouine. In 1922, he entered at Gouraud High School run by Franciscan fathers in Rabat, and converted to Catholicism and was baptized on April 7, 1928 in the chapel of Franciscan college of Fontenay-sous-bois, taking the Christian name Jean, with sponsor of French orientalist Louis Massignon. 

Q

How do those Moroccans who have crossed over to Christianity get acquainted and communicate with one another?

A

Christians meet in house churches. We are all believers by conviction. We have real churches, even though we don’t meet in church buildings. We are churches in the New Testament definition of the church. We are families of men, women, and children who meet regularly for worship. We are organized churches with bishops (ministers), elders, and deacons.

All we ask for is to meet openly in peace. We are not officially persecuted by the authorities. I have been a Christian for the last 18 years, and I’m open about it. It used to be different during the 1970s and the 1980s, but things have changed. No convert is now being arrested since the promulgation of the 2011 Constitution.

Q

Does the media refer to you as a defender of minorities?

A

Yes, I’m known as a defender of all groups, Bahais, Ahmadis, Shiites, as well as of Mulhideens (Unbelievers) 

Q

How do you explain the rise of Sunni extremism?

A

Thanks to Petro-dollars, Saudi Wahhabism has impacted Moroccan Muslims. We have been inundated by Salafist books and recordings.  This represents a counter-attack on Modernization. Moderate Islam is not the solution; we need ‘Ilmaniyya (laicism) i.e. where the State remains neutral vis-à-vis religious affiliation.

Hamed.TV Published on Jul 9, 2018
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlCOwdNS9Mw                                        
Note: As of 19 July 2018, this archived interview on YouTube, had 26,857 views.