Summary Paragraph: The government at times reportedly detained and questioned Christian citizens about their beliefs, some of whom reported authorities pressured converts to renounce their faith. In May Spanish media reported the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs used the term “virus” when referring to Christians and Shia Muslims in the country. On at least two occasions during the year, the government expelled foreign individuals accused of proselytism as “a threat to public order,” rather than prosecuting them under provisions of the law that prohibit “undermining the faith of a Muslim.” The government monitored, and in some cases restricted, religious activities of non-Sunni Muslims and non-Muslims. Some religious minorities, such as the Bahai community, engaged in religious practice without formal registration. In October media reported that authorities prevented the Bahai community from publicly celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of the faith’s founder, cancelling community leaders’ reservations of banquet facilities in Meknes and Tangier. The government continued to restrict distribution of non-Islamic religious materials as well as some Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. In January the MOI banned the sale, manufacture, and import of the burqa, according to press reports, but did not ban the wearing of the garment. The government cited security reasons for its decision. The government introduced new religious textbooks following a review by the MEIA and the Ministry of Education (MOE) to remove extremist or intolerant references and promote moderation and tolerance. The MEIA continued to guide and monitor the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by the broadcast media, actions it said were intended to combat violent extremism.
In July police sentenced prominent Shia leader Abdou El Chakrani to one year in prison for financial improprieties following his May 2016 arrest. Other Shia leaders said Chakrani was targeted for his religious beliefs and his attempt to register an association affiliated with known Shia leaders called Progressive Messengers. Authorities rejected the application in 2016. According to representatives of the group, the group’s goal was to defend the rights of religious minorities and to support religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity, as well as religious freedom.
On at least two occasions during the year, the government expelled foreign individuals accused of proselytism as “a threat to public order,” rather than prosecuting them under criminal law (for “undermining the faith of a Muslim”). In September authorities expelled two Dutch citizens following complaints from local citizens the couple were distributing Christian religious materials. The court ordered police from the Royal Gendarmerie to investigate. Residents informed police the two had encouraged conversions to Christianity, and police found Bibles and other Christian religious material in the home where they were staying. Upon receiving results of the Gendarmerie’s investigation, the court ordered the deportation of the two individuals under a section of law that permits the deportation of foreigners whom it deems to be a “threat to public order.”
The government allowed the operation of registered foreign-resident churches, but previously has refused requests by Shia Muslim groups to register as associations, which religious leaders and legal scholars said prevented those groups from legally gathering for religious ceremonies in public. There were no known Shia mosques. Shia representatives reported they had not attempted to register during the year.
Groups of Christian and Bahai citizens also reported they had not attempted to register with authorities, believing their requests would be denied. Nonregistered religious groups received varying treatment by authorities. Some said they had been able to practice their religion, while others reported authorities shut down their gatherings or prevented them from occurring. A number of religious groups reported they cooperated with authorities and occasionally informed them of planned large gatherings, for which authorities sometimes provided security.
In October, according to media reports, authorities prevented members of the Bahai community from publicly celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of the faith’s founder by canceling community leaders’ reservations of banquet facilities in Meknes and Tangier. The MOI stated that the group was not registered as an association and therefore did not have the legal authority to organize public gatherings.
Christian and Shia Muslim citizens continued to state fears of government harassment were one of the reasons they refrained from public worship and instead met discreetly in members’ homes. Foreign-resident Christian church officials reported Christian citizens rarely attended their churches, and the officials did not encourage them to do so, in order to avoid official accusations of proselytizing. Some Christian citizens reported authorities pressured Christian converts to renounce their faith by informing the converts’ friends, relatives, and employers of the individuals’ conversion. Christian citizens stated authorities made phone or house calls several times a year to demonstrate they had lists of members of Christian networks and monitored Christian activities. Foreigners attended religious services without restriction at places of worship belonging to officially recognized churches.
In May Spanish media reported the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs used the term “virus” when referring to Christians and Shia in the country. In a follow-up explanation, the minister explained he was using a medical metaphor to explain that the people of the country are “immunized” and resilient because of Sunni Islam, and that he did not mean to insinuate any religious practice or belief was a virus. He went on to say, “The dogma does not bother us. Only the existence of an eventual political agenda or political goals is dangerous.”
In January the MOI banned the sale, production, and import of the burqa, according to press reports. The government cited security reasons for its decision. The ban did not prevent individuals from wearing burqas or making them at home for individual use.
The MEIA remained the principal government institution responsible for shaping the country’s religious sphere and promoting its interpretation of Sunni Islam. The MEIA continued to provide government-required training and direction to imams and to shape the content of Friday mosque sermons by providing approved topics. It also monitored Quranic schools to prevent what the ministry considered to be inflammatory or extremist rhetoric and to ensure teaching followed approved doctrine. The government required mosques to close to the public shortly after daily prayer times to prevent use of the premises for what it termed unauthorized activity, such as gatherings intended to promote extremism. The construction of new mosques, including those constructed using private funds, required authorization from the MEIA. Authorization of the MOI was a requirement for the renovation or construction of churches. The MEIA employed more than 500 chief imams and more than 200 female Muslim spiritual guides (murshidat) in mosques or religious institutions throughout the country. The female guides taught religious subjects and provided counsel on a variety of matters, including women’s legal rights and family planning.
The government introduced new religious textbooks following a review by the MEIA and the MOE to promote moderation and tolerance. Modifications to the textbooks remained in progress. Jewish and Christian citizens stated elementary and high school curricula did not include mention of the historical legacy and current presence of their groups in the country. The government continued to fund the study of Jewish culture and heritage at universities. At the University of Rabat, Hebrew and comparative religion were course offerings in the Department of Islamic Studies. In September the minister of education announced that classes in the country’s schools would be suspended on Fridays from noon until 3:00 p.m. to allow teachers and students to attend Friday prayer.
The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as some Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. Its policy remained to control the sale of all books, videotapes, and DVDs it considered extremist. The government permitted the display and sale of Bibles in French, English, and Spanish. A limited number of Arabic translations of the Bible was available for sale in a few bookshops for use in university religion courses. Authorities confiscated Bibles they believed were intended for use in proselytizing.
The government continued to disseminate information about Islam over dedicated state-funded television and radio channels. Television channel Assadissa (Sixth) programming was strictly religious, consisting primarily of Quran and hadith (authoritative sayings and deeds ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad) readings and exegesis, highlighting the government’s interpretation of Islam.
According to observers, the government tolerated social and charitable activities consistent with its view of Sunni Islam. For example, the Unity and Reform Movement, which shares some leadership with the ruling Party of Justice and Development, continued to operate without restriction, according to media reports. The Unity and Reform Movement is the country’s largest registered Islamic social organization. The Justice and Charity Organization (JCO), a Sunni Islamist social movement that rejects the king’s spiritual authority, remained banned but largely tolerated. It is the largest social movement in the country despite being unregistered. The JCO continued to release press statements, hold conferences, manage internet sites, and participate in political demonstrations, including organizing in July the largest demonstration since the 2011 Arab Spring. The government occasionally prevented the organization from meeting and restricted public distribution of JCO’s published materials.
The monarchy continued to support the restoration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, efforts it stated were necessary to preserve the country’s religious and cultural heritage and to serve as a symbol of tolerance. In May the Mohammadia League of Scholars signed an agreement with the Vatican Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to create a joint committee to promote dialogue between Muslims and Christians. According to media reports, the committee planned to hold a symposium every two years, alternating between Rabat and Rome, and addressing hate speech, extremism and violence, and the exploitation of religion for political ends. In April and May the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH), the publicly funded national human rights institution independent of the elected government, met with some Christian citizens who requested greater respect for the rights of minority religions. Media reports of the meetings said the Christians stated they did not fear the government but rather extremists. In October Prince Moulay Rachid, brother of King Mohammed VI, met with the director and representatives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to discuss increased cooperation within the framework of the museum’s 2007 archival exchange agreement with the national library.
At a Catholic Mass in March in honor of the fourth anniversary of the pontificate of Pope Francis, the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs addressed the diplomatic corps and government officials, conveying a message from the king.