Square next to the Hassan II Mosque in the city of Casablanca in 2010. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco, in a 2010 photo. (World Watch Monitor)

A conference taking place in Rabat, Morocco, tomorrow (18 November) will focus on the problems religious minorities are facing in the Muslim-majority country.

Muslims account for 99 per cent of the population, according to US Department of State figures, and the remaining 1 per cent experience “marginalisation and exclusion”, according to Jawad El Hamidi from the Moroccan Committee for Religious Minorities, which organised the conference.

“[They are] facing a number of problems despite the King’s positive vision towards religious pluralism,” he told Morocco World News.

Moroccan Christians, estimated to number 2,000-6,000, have become more vocal about their situation recently.

“We are asking for the right to give our children Christian names, worship in churches, be buried in Christian cemeteries and marry according to our religion”, a spokesperson for the newly established National Coalition of Moroccan Christians said in May.

Freedom of speech and expression is generally respected in Morocco, as long as Islam, the monarchy and territorial integrity are not criticised.

But Christians still face a range of pressures. The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 said Christians are “occasionally detained and questioned about their beliefs and contacts with other Christians” or pressed to abandon their faith.

“Fear of government harassment and reported societal, familial, and cultural pressure led some local Christians, Bahais, and Shia to refrain from public worship and instead meet discreetly in members’ homes,” the report added.

In November last year, a prominent Christian activist survived an assassination attempt. Mohammed Saeed Zao is well-known for promoting the rights of Christians and has featured in many media interviews about comparative religion and religious freedom.

In Morocco, newly Christian converts can face lots of harassment from family, but also from security forces.

According to Article 220 of the Penal Code, any attempt to stop one or more people from the exercise of their religious beliefs, or from attendance at religious services, is unlawful and may be punished by three-to-six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams (55-135 US dollars).

The Article applies the same penalty to anyone who “shakes the faith of a Muslim”, or converts him to another religion. Islam is considered the religion of the Kingdom, with King Mohammed VI holding the title of “Prince of the believers”.

The Church in Morocco is predominantly composed of expatriates, while there is also a significant Jewish community. Registered Churches include the Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, French Protestant and Anglican denominations.

The protection of minority rights was also at the centre of another conference in Rabat, held between 24-26 October, which brought together Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious leaders to “build an environment of dialogue and understanding” in the face of growth of extremism and religious violence.

However, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2017 released by the Institute for Economics and Peace on Wednesday (15 November), Morocco was one of the countries “least impacted by terrorism” in 2016.