Religion is a fundamental element in Moroccan society. For this reason, on the
page dedicated to Customs and Traditions
It influences every little detail of daily life, beyond the spiritual and subjective character that permeates every Moroccan. Here we discuss in depth Islam in Morocco and what other religions have some presence in the country, which will help you get an idea of the situation you will find when you arrive in the country and also better understand the idiosyncrasies of their society.
The Kingdom of Morocco is a state that officially proclaims itself to be Muslim, as Islam is the only religion that has that status in the Constitution. Unlike other countries, especially those in the West (which declare themselves secular or non-denominational), Morocco does give institutional status to religion.
In the aforementioned Constitution, some articles make this clear. For example, it allows members of Parliament to be prosecuted if they question the Muslim religion. Moreover, it does not leave any door open to hypothetical changes, since “the Muslim religion cannot be the object of constitutional reform”. Therefore, the officialdom of Islam is as untouchable and immovable as the monarchical institution itself, which also cannot be questioned.
Regarding the monarchy, it should be recalled that the king and religion are closely linked in Morocco. This is because the Alawite dynasty, to whose lineage belong the current kings of the country, descends directly from Muhammad: its founder in 1631, Mulay Ali Sharif, had as his ancestor a Sherif of Tafilalet and, through him, the fourth caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib (son-in-law of Muhammad), husband of Fatima (daughter of Muhammad).
That is why the king holds the title of “Amir al-Muminin”, which means “commander of the faithful”, and is therefore the highest spiritual authority in Morocco. In this regard, it can, for example, undertake reforms to reorganize the ulema, i.e., religious officials who, after being educated in a madrassa, hold religious public offices, such as imams or judges who interpret the sharia (the normative body of Islamic law) to dispense justice in religious matters.
The latest reforms carried out by Mohammed VI have been aimed at eliminating the most fundamentalist currents of Islam from the religious establishment, as well as placing under his control all places of worship in the country, which number in the tens of thousands.
You may have already traveled to other Arab countries, or your religion may even be Islam and, therefore, you already know the keys to this religion. However, we take this opportunity to briefly explain its most important aspects so that you can understand the spiritual feeling of the Moroccans.
Every Muslim must believe in, respect and enforce five basic aspects of this religion, called the five pillars of Islam:
Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. In this way, all believers will be able to see in person the birthplace of Mohammed, the holiest city for this religion, located in Saudi Arabia. They must do it once in a lifetime, unless prevented by force majeure.
Muhammad (Abū l-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāšim al-Qurayšī for the Arabs) is the central figure in Islam: he is the last and most important prophet for this religion, and so he will always be, for none more is expected to come. This messenger of Allah was sent to Earth to update his message, previously spread by other prophets.
In addition to Muhammad, the main sacred figures of the Tanakh and the Gospel are also considered prophets in Islam. That is, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, whom he considers messengers of God on Earth. Likewise, it gives special recognition to other great characters, such as Adam, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Solomon, Elijah and John (the Baptist). The difference between Muhammad and them is that he is the last one, the “seal of all”, since after him there will be no more prophets.
However, it must be said that one of the particularities of Islam in Morocco is the high regard for the ‘marabouts’, i.e. religious figures from the past, but after Mohammed. They are not saints or prophets, but charismatic personalities to whom supernatural gifts or ‘baraka’ are attributed: they are preachers, warrior monks or spiritual references for other reasons. Their tombs are, in fact, places of authentic pilgrimage. In this regard, Moulay Bousselham and Moulay Abdeselam, in two villages of the same name, located in the north of the country, stand out.
The holy book for Islam is the Koran, considered the message revealed to Mohammed, the prophet of this religion. This message or revealed word of God was transmitted orally during the life of Muhammad (570-632), but after his death, during the time of the first caliphs (Abu Bakr and Osman), a compilation work was carried out that resulted in the current holy book. It consists of 114 chapters (azoras), each divided into aleyas.
In addition to the Qur’an, the other primary source sacred to Islam is the Sunna: a set of teachings and sayings attributed to Muhammad, showing his way of life (that’s the literal meaning of
) and is therefore an example for all Muslims to follow.
Within Islam there are different currents, which vary from each other by some theological details or related to the life and successors of Muhammad. This is so because the prophet did not give instructions on how his succession should be, so that after his death, conflicts and power struggles were unleashed that have reached our days. The two main currents are:
In Morocco, as we said, the official current of the state is the Sunni, although, paradoxically, Mulay Ali al-Sharif (founder of the Alawite dynasty, which reigns in the country) claimed to be a descendant of the fourth caliph Ali. However, there are very few Shiites in the country and with very little public visibility. Another current present but very much in the minority in Morocco is Salafism, considered a radical variant of Sunni Islam that emerged in the 19th century.
Yes, it is allowed to profess other religions in Morocco. This is recognized in the Constitution, which states that “the free exercise of worship is guaranteed to all”. However, this does not mean that the country has a multicultural and multi-religious character: it is estimated that barely 1% of Moroccans or residents in the country profess other faiths. Moreover, some voices denounce that this free exercise of worship is not really effective and that Moroccans who want to follow their own worship (whether of Shiite Islam or of another religion), encounter serious difficulties to do so.
Of all of them, two deserve special attention: Judaism and Christianity, because of their relations (not always peaceful) throughout history, and because that presence, although scarce, can be evident during your trip to Morocco.
In any case, Islam has many points in common with Judaism and Christianity, since it is considered the culmination of the two previous religions: it admits as God’s message their sacred texts, such as the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Bible, although with nuances.
Unlike other Arab countries, the Jewish community has enjoyed relative acceptance and tranquility in Morocco. And if we apply this to the relationship with the king and his government, the relationship can be described as good and close: for centuries, Jewish people have held very important positions in the Court, given their good academic preparation. And this can still be seen today: some positions of responsibility in the State apparatus are held by Moroccan Jews.
The first Jews arrived in the territory of present-day Morocco in very primitive times. For example, there is evidence of Jewish communities at the site of Volubilis, which was a large Roman city in the province of Mauritania Tingitana, where they may have arrived during one of the diasporas of that period.
But Morocco was also a land of welcome for the Jews many centuries later, when the medinas of the country already had
or Jewish quarters. In particular, it was a safe haven after the expulsion by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain in 1492 and by King Manuel I of Portugal in 1496. Some of the main cities that welcomed them were Fez or Azemmour.
The Jewish community in Morocco was large until well into the 20th century. But after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, most of its members left for this new country, in the massive migration movement known as the Aliyah. Today, it is believed that only several thousand Jews reside in the country, most of them concentrated in Casablanca, Morocco’s most populous city.
From a tourist point of view, the possibility of a trip focused on Judaism is fully feasible today. And many are the clients of our agency who opt for it, attracted by the important Jewish vestiges existing in Morocco. In particular, there are several fundamental aspects that make it possible to organize a trip of this type:
In Morocco there are kosher
In Morocco, there are kosher services, such as food establishments and, in particular, restaurants, so that a Hebrew tourist will end up finding services adapted to his daily habits in the big cities.
Christianity is the other major religion with a certain presence in Morocco. But it is in a very small proportion and is often the result of remnants left alive after the French and Spanish protectorates of the twentieth century. During this period, new churches were built to provide religious services to citizens from both countries who, residing in the new neighborhoods of Moroccan cities, needed sacred spaces in which to attend religious services, especially mass.
This is the case, for example, with the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rabat and the Church of Our Lady of Victories in Tetouan, both located in the former capitals of the aforementioned protectorates and of Catholic worship. To this must be added some temples erected and managed by the Russian Orthodox Church in more recent times.
On the other hand, there are no other historical traces of Christianity in Moroccan territory, although some saints of the Catholic Church were of Berber origin, such as St. Augustine. On the other hand, unlike other Arab countries closer to the Holy Land such as Egypt or Jordan, we cannot speak of holy places that arose in the early days of this religion, that is, during the Roman Empire and the later Byzantine Empire, when this territory had not yet been conquered by the first Arabs (this happened at the end of the 7th century). Therefore, there is no Christian pilgrimage route either.