Morocco is seen as a model of tolerance, but Christians still face a range of pressures. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A Moroccan couple who converted to Christianity and recently married, ignoring threats from people in their conservative hometown, have demanded legal recognition of their union, Reuters reports.

The Maghreb nation, which is 99 per cent Muslim, is officially an Islamic state – King Mohammed VI holds the title of ‘Prince of the believers’ – and only Muslim and Jewish marriages are currently deemed legal.

“We are running the risk of being accused of fornication punishable under the penal code,” said Adam Rabati, following his marriage to Farah Tarneem on 4 June, in a house used for a church in Ain Atiq district, on the outskirts of the Moroccan capital Rabat.

His new wife, who embraced Christianity two years ago, explained that they have not yet been able to obtain a legal marriage as doing so would mean contradicting their faith.

“We suffer from discrimination by authorities which do not recognise us as Moroccan Christians, coupled with social pressure and harassment because of our choice of faith,” she said.

Freedom of speech and expression is generally respected in Morocco, as long as Islam, the monarchy and territorial integrity are not criticised. The kingdom is seen as a model of tolerance, offering training to preachers from Africa and Europe on moderate Islam to counter extremism, but Christians still face a range of pressures.

By law, only foreign Christians are allowed to collectively worship in churches – many set up during the French colonial era – and proselytism is punishable by up to three years in prison.

“We want to be treated on an equal footing with Moroccan Jews,” Chouaib El Fatihi, coordinator of the Christian committee at the Moroccan association for religious rights and freedoms, told Reuters.

“We want to be recognised as Moroccan Christian citizens and to enjoy the right to legal marriages and burial ceremonies according to our religion,” he said.

Despite the country’s pledge of moving towards religious pluralism, the tiny minority who have converted to Christianity face marginalisation from their community.