A Christian couple in Morocco recently married in a private ceremony facing threats from the local community in their hometown, as Islam is the state religion in this Sunni-majority country and only Muslim and Jewish marriages are deemed legal, Christian Post reports.
Christian convert Loubna and her husband Kamal got married this week, but their marriage will not be considered legal, while “fornication” is punishable under the country’s penal code, according to Reuters. The couple are part of a tiny minority who have converted to Christianity and are demanding legal recognition of their marriage. Islam is the religion of state in predominantly Sunni Muslim Morocco where only Muslim and Jewish marriages are deemed legal.
“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, was quoted as saying. “We want to be recognized as Moroccan Christian citizens and to enjoy the right to legal marriages and burial ceremonies according to our religion.”
Moreover, Loubna will have to wear a niqab (veil) when she appears in public in her hometown.
“From now on I have to wear niqab (face veil) if I want to walk in the streets of my hometown,” Loubna said after the ceremony.
The centuries-old tiny Jewish community is recognized in the constitution as part of the Moroccan identity. The roughly 3,000 Jews have their courts governing personal status matters as well as inheritance and burial.
Morocco, whose population is about 34 million, has roughly 3,000 Jews and an estimated 50,000 native Christians, according to the newswire. 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. Morocco is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy and its constitution recognizes citizens’ freedom of thought, expression and assembly as well as the freedom to “practice” their “religious affairs.” However, it also prohibits any criticism of Islam or any activity aimed at conversion of Muslims.
Adam Rabati and his wife Farah Tarneem, a Christian couple, refuse to get married according to the Moroccan family code based on sharia. In a Rabat suburb, the couple live in an apartment-turned-church receiving converts.
“We are running the risk of being accused of fornication punishable under the penal code,” said Adam, who does not have a legal marriage certificate.
Farah, who embraced Christianity two years ago, said obtaining the certificate includes traditions that contradict her faith.
“We suffer from discrimination by authorities which do not recognize us as Moroccan Christians coupled with social pressure and harassment because of our choice of faith,” she said.
The native Christian community is estimated by local leaders at more than 50,000 but no official statistics exist. In the wake of 2011 “Arab Spring” protests, Morocco adopted a new constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression and belief. The country has also marketed itself as an oasis of religious tolerance, offering training to preachers from Africa and Europe on moderate Islam to counter extremism.
“Authorities should not continue their double speak on religious rights,” said Mohamed Nouhi, head of Moroccan rights organization IMDH.
Laws also prohibit any individual from criticizing Islam on public platforms, such as in print, online media, or public speeches, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2017 International Religious Freedom Report. The U.S. State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report criticizes Morocco for restrictions on native Christians, Shi’ite Muslims and members of the Bahai faith. Responding to a Reuters request for comment at a regular news briefing, government spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi said Morocco is a country of religious tolerance and freedoms.
“The U.S. State Department report contains erroneous allegations and judgments that are not based on scientific data,” he said.
King Mohammed VI has invited Pope Francis to visit Morocco for the first time in more than three decades, according to Morocco World News, which also points out that Christians and Shia Muslims say they fear they would be harassed by the government if they held religious meetings in public, and therefore they choose to meet privately in homes.
In 2014, Morocco was in Open Doors World Watch List of top 50 worst countries for Christians. “Often, there is very little overt persecution of Christians in Morocco. Many converts from Islam face family pressure and societal ostracism, and religious education for children of Christian families is not provided,” Open Doors noted at the time.