Middle East Resources

Moroccan Christians Cautiously Celebrate Christmas

26 December, 2016

Bassam Michael Madany

In Morocco, the online dailywww.hespress.com. had an interesting item on the 26th of December, 2016.It reported how Moroccan Christians had “Celebrated Christmas in a Cautious Manner.”  A Westerner might wonder why the word “cautious” needed to be used to define any Christmas celebration which is one of the most joyous times of the year. But Islamic countries in general are slow to extend the right to practice a religion other than the state imposed one. So these brave Christians were going against the tide and we can all hope that the political authorities will not make things difficult for them in the future. Here are some excerpts outlining the various celebrations.

“In Casablanca, a few kilometers away from shops that exhibited Christmas trees, while many Moroccans were buying presents for the coming New Year.  Several Moroccan who have embraced the Christian faith, were meeting secretly at a house church to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, according to the Christian religion.

Prayers & Hymns

“It was 4 in the afternoon, when celebrants began arriving, from Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir, and Marrakech. The Christian guide who accompanied Hespress’ reporter explained, “I don’t know most of them, and probably they don’t know me either; but soon, we’ll all get acquainted and feel quite at home!

“Worshippers sat at tables that were decked with flowers and candles. Copies of the Bible and Christmas hymns were available. The meeting was officially begun with a season of prayers by ‘believers’ who praised the Lord for his many blessings; followed with supplications for the spread of peace throughout the world. Another person offered a prayer for forgiveness, and for the safety of the country.

“With the prayers, over, a tall young man stood up, he had a rather dark skin; his accent revealed that he was an Amazigh, (a descendent of the original inhabitants of North Africa.) He held a copy of the Bible in his hand, and began extolling the virtues of Jesus Christ, and the wonderful things he had brought to mankind. He ended by exhorting the worshippers to spread love and compassion among mankind.

“Three young men stood up accompanied by a young lady; they lead the congregation in the singing of Gospel hymns. This gave impetus to some members to offer supplications in colloquial Arabic: ‘O precious Jesus, hasten the day when our land would praise thy name! O Most High God, bless Morocco, thy church implores Thee to have mercy on our country, and keep evil from it, and shower thy blessings on its people.

Cautious Celebrations

“This year’s celebrations took on a special form. Moroccan Christians from several churches in the kingdom, decided to go public and meet in a large hotel for the occasion. They asked the authorities for a permit to hold their Christmas celebrations; however, it was denied, without any reason being given! This did not stop some Christians from bringing their cause to the attention of the media. For example, M. S. explained to Hespress, ‘Christianity in Morocco is still young; this leads believers to be secretive in their worship services. Some, on the other hand, have decided to go public and fight for their rights.’

“Going public isn’t an easy matter. For example, Sarah is married to a Moroccan Christian; they have three sons, and have undergone a great deal of persecution after their conversion. Their children had a rough time at school. Finally, the family moved to another town seeking peace and a better life. Sarah and her friends share their bitter experiences with one another. Some had lost their jobs, while others, were shunned by their own people.    

God Is Love

“The experiences of converts are varied; their persistence in their faith is anchored in the belief that ‘God Is Love.’ This is based on the Gospel’s teaching about God’s love for mankind. 

“As R. put it: ‘I was converted 12 years ago; I grew up in a practicing Muslim family, but there were certain things didn’t sit well with me, such as discrimination between rich and poor. For some time, I led a life of uncertainty. A critical point was reached with the rise of Irhab (Terrorism.) How could a God command the killing of people!? That led me to begin a study of religions; finally, I chose Christianity whose God is Love.’ Following his conversion, he began to witness among his neighbors, and formed a group of similar believers. They met at his home on Sundays for prayers; both individuals and families have joined the house-church, they number sixty souls!

“The story of forty-eight-year old H. F.  is quite different. At present, he sells fruits in an area of Casablanca. Back in 1994, he was an active member of an Islamist organization in Morocco. At one point, he was contemplating going to Afghanistan for Jihad against the Russian invaders. ‘I changed my mind about that plan; but continued to perform my duties by doing the Five Daily Prayers until 2004. By chance, I met some converts to Christianity; I put some questions to them about their faith. Months later, I met other Christians who were meeting at a coffee house. I put further questions to them. Their responses brought me to faith in this heavenly religion. In August, 2008, I was baptized, received forgiveness of sins, and began a new life.’”

Christians around the world who read such accounts are thrilled that the Christian faith has penetrated into this part of the Arab world!  Amid all the mayhem occurring in the Middle East and Europe perpetrated by Jihadis, there is still good news to report and thanks to Hespress, for reporting it. 

Western missionaries had labored for decades in many parts of Morocco, from Tangiers in the north to Marrakech and Fes, in the south. I personally have many fond memories of visiting some of such missionary endeavors in this beautiful country.   In what seems ages ago in 1975 I flew to Malaga, Spain, to visit the recording studios of the Gospel Missionary Union which had a mission organization in a suburb of the city. From there, I traveled by ship to Tangiers for a brief visit with mission workers. I continued by bus south to Casablanca, Rabat, and to Meknes, having fellowship with Christian workers all along the way, many of whom had labored in Morocco for years. I’ll never forget an experience on the long bus ride from Meknes back to Tangiers.  Before leaving the station, for what I knew would be a very long ride, I was trying to decipher the Moroccan dialect being spoken by the families on the bus, always hoping for possibilities to communicate. Amidst all the children, parents, and luggage, and chickens squawking in cages on the roof of the bus, there came suddenly into the bus a blind beggar asking for alms.  He was chanting in perfect Classical Arabic the praises of the Prophet Muhammad!  I wondered how much the passengers understood the beautiful Arabic this blind man was chanting!  They listened intently, without uttering any word, while their faces manifested approval of that litany of praise!

In 1977, while in Malaga, I was invited to speak at a conference of resident Christian missionaries in Casablanca.  I gave a lecture on my own radio ministry in the Arabic-language, which also included sending out Christian literature all over the Arab world It was a wonderful occasion to meet brothers and sisters who were engaging in Christian evangelizing and works of mercy especially noteworthy in the various orphanages they had built and operated. 

At the time, it did not appear that missions in Morocco were threatened.   But as the Islamic religious authorities’ influence continued to gain traction, more roadblocks were put in the way of the Christian communities’ projects in the country.  The Moroccan king, who is the head and guardian of the Muslim community was no doubt feeling pressure to heed the religious authorities.

Thus, it was that beginning in the late 1980s, restrictions were placed on Christian missions, particularly its orphanages, which eventually led to the closing of all them. This was particularly traumatic, not only for the many children, some of whom had only known the orphanage experience, but also for the Christians who cared so deeply for them. But all foreign missionaries were forced out in March, 2010.

But the seed of God’s word had been sown. With the onset of new communication tools including the Internet and other social media, the Gospel is making inroads all over the earth.  A Moroccan convert known as Brother Rachid has been an effective new voice in missions via the new communication technology. We witness now the rebirth of the Church in North Africa. I am reminded of my favorite passage of Scripture, where Saint Paul reminded Timothy, that despite all opposition and various setbacks, no force can ever frustrate God’s plan for the salvation of His people.

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

“If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” II Timothy 2: 8 - 13

Note

Brother Rachid’s ministry is televised every Thursday on Satellite TV station, Al-Hayat. It is archived on YouTube, and may be watched on: http://v1.brotherrachid.com/en-us/. While most of the shows are in Arabic, some are in English.

Brother Rachid authored “ISIS and Islam: Through the Eyes of a Former Muslim” A review of the book is available on: http://www.unashamedofthegospel.org/review-brother-rachids-book.cfm

For information about the closing of the Christian Orphanages in Morocco:

https://theagetocome.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/christian-orphanage-forcibly-shut-down-in-morocco/