The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect freedoms of worship and conscience, but restrict attempts to convert Moroccans from Maliki Islam. The constitution stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state and that the state guarantees the free exercise of religion. The constitution also designates the king as “Commander of the Faithful and Defender of the Community and the Faith” in the country.
All citizens, including members of Parliament, who are normally immune to arrest, may be prosecuted on charges of expressing opinions injurious to Islam. The law permits Sunni Muslims of the Maliki school to proselytize, but prohibits others from attempting to convert Sunni Muslims of the Maliki school to other religions. The government tolerates several small religious groups with varying degrees of restrictions, but prohibits the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials. The government monitors the activities of mosques and of non-Muslim religious groups, and places some restrictions on members of religious groups when it deems their actions have exceeded the bounds of acceptable religious or political activity.
The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) provides guidance on and monitors Friday mosque sermons and the quranic schools to prevent what the ministry considers inflammatory or extremist rhetoric and to ensure teaching follows approved doctrine. The government also monitors university campuses and religious activities, primarily those conducted by Islamists. At times the authorities suppress the activities of politically active religious groups, such as the banned yet tolerated Justice and Charity Organization (JCO, or al-Adl wa al-Ihsan), but generally tolerate activities limited to the propagation of Sunni Islam, education, and charity. The MEIA also tries to control the sale of what it considers extremist books, videotapes, and DVDs. The government requires that mosques close to the public shortly after daily prayer times to prevent use of the premises for unauthorized political activity. The government must authorize the construction of all new mosques, although mosques may be constructed using private funds. There are no known Shia mosques in the country.
By law, impeding or preventing one or more persons from worship or from attending worship services of any religion may be punished by six months to three years of imprisonment and a fine of 115 to 575 dirhams ($14 to $71). The law applies the same penalty to “anyone who employs enticements to undermine the faith of a Muslim or to convert him to another religion.” It also provides the right to a court trial for anyone accused of such an offense. Voluntary conversion is not a crime under the criminal or civil codes.
The law permits the government to summarily expel any resident alien it determines to be “a threat to public order” even where other laws require due process first. The government has cited this law in the past to expel or refuse entry to foreign Christians accused of proselytizing.
There is a separate set of laws and courts with authority over personal status matters for Jews, covering issues such as marriage, inheritance, and other family matters. Rabbinical authorities, who are also court officials, administer Jewish family courts. Judges trained in the country’s interpretation of Islamic law (sharia) administer the courts for personal status matters for those of all other religious groups. Christians, however, inherit according to civil law. There are no other legal mechanisms recognizing the Christian community (or other non-Muslims) in the same way the state recognizes the Jewish community. Non-Muslims must formally convert to Islam before they can become guardians of abandoned children. Pursuant to a 2012 Ministry of Justice circular, guardianship is restricted to qualified individuals who permanently reside in Morocco. According to the law, a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam.
The law restricting media freedom prohibits expression deemed critical of Islam. Such expression may be punishable by imprisonment.
By law only the High Council of Ulema, a group appointed by the king with representatives from all regions of the country, may issue scholarly religious decrees (fatwas). A separate, Brussels-based Council of Ulema provides religious guidance for some of the more than three million Moroccan citizens living abroad.
The MEIA employs over 500 chief imams and, since 2006, over 200 female Muslim spiritual guides (murshidat). Each chief imam manages two urban or rural zones covering an average of 70 mosques. Some murshidat hold leadership positions in mosques and other societal institutions focused on meeting the needs of other women. Their training is similar to that required of imams; however, the murshidat do not deliver Friday sermons in mosques or lead group prayers. They teach religious subjects, provide counsel on a variety of matters, including women’s legal rights and family planning, and manage programs in which men participate.
Political parties founded on religious, ethnic, linguistic, or regional bases are prohibited by law. The government permits several parties identified as “Islamically-oriented” rather than Islamist, and some have attracted substantial support, including the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), which is the largest political party in Parliament and heads the current coalition government.
The government does not recognize the JCO, an organization that rejects the king’s spiritual authority. The JCO advocates an Islamic state, continues to organize and participate in political demonstrations, and operates Internet sites, although the government does not allow public distribution of its published materials.
The government requires religious groups to register before they are able to undertake financial transactions or conduct other business as private associations and legal entities. Registered churches and associations include the Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, French Protestant, and Anglican churches. These churches existed before independence was regained in 1956 and operate within an officially recognized organization, the Conseil des Eglises Chretiennes au Maroc (CECM). AMEP member churches are not part of the CECM. The government permits additional foreign resident churches to form under AMEP auspices.
The government provides tax benefits, land and building grants, subsidies, and customs exemptions for imports necessary for the religious activities of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
The law on associations states that any association that seeks to undermine Islam is invalid.
The government permits the display and sale of Bibles in French, English, and Spanish. A limited number of Arabic translations of the Bible are available for sale in selected bookshops, but authorities often confiscate Bibles they believe are intended for proselytizing. The government does not allow the free public distribution of non-Sunni Muslim religious materials.
The government does not require the designation of religion on passports or national identity documents. There are no prohibitions on religious clothing or symbols in either the public or private sphere.
The government gives preferential treatment to Islam of the Maliki School and to Judaism. The government’s annual education budget funds the teaching of Islam in all public schools and Judaism in some public schools. The government also funds the study of Jewish culture and its artistic, literary, and scientific heritage at some universities. At the University of Rabat, Hebrew and comparative religion are taught in the Department of Islamic Studies. Approximately a dozen professors teach Hebrew throughout the country.
The MEIA continues to fund a graduate-level theological course, part of which focuses on Christianity and Judaism, and another course that trains both men and women to be counselors and teachers in mosques. Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, a royally-sponsored university, offers an advanced degree in Islamic studies with an emphasis in comparative religion to MEIA-selected imams and others. The program requires mastery of Greek and Hebrew.
By law all educational institutions must teach Sunni Islam in accordance with the teachings of the Maliki School. These include international schools, such as the French and Spanish schools. Foreign-run schools, however, have the option of not including any religious instruction within the school’s curriculum. Private Jewish schools are able to teach Judaism.
The monarchy supports the rehabilitation of synagogues throughout Morocco, an effort it deems necessary to preserve the country’s religious and cultural heritage and to serve as a symbol of tolerance.