Morocco’s Christian converts emerge from the shadows

Rachid (L) and Mustapha (2nd-L), Christian converts who did not wish to give their full name, leads prayers at a house in Ait Melloul near Agadir on April 22, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 30 April 2017
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Morocco’s Christian converts emerge from the shadows

MOROCCO: Moroccans who secretly converted to Christianity are demanding the right to practice their faith openly in a country where Islam is the state religion and “apostasy” is condemned.
At an apartment in a working-class part of the southern town of Agadir, Mustapha listened to hymns emanating from a hi-fi under a silver crucifix hung on the wall.
The 46-year-old civil servant, son of an expert on Islamic law from nearby Taroudant, was once an active member of the banned but tolerated Islamist Charity and Justice movement.
He said he converted in 1994 to “fill a spiritual void.”
“I was tired of the contradictions in Islam,” said Mustapha.
“I became interested in Christianity through a long correspondence with a religious center in Spain in the late 1980s.”
He went on to qualify as a Protestant pastor and received a certificate from the United States after taking a correspondence course.
Mustapha kept his faith secret for two decades, but a year and a half ago he published a video online in which he spoke openly about his conversion. The reaction was immediate.
“Family and close friends turned their backs on me, I was shunned at work. My children were bullied at school,” he said.
Converts to Christianity form a tiny minority of Moroccans. While no official statistics exist, the American State Department estimates their numbers at between 2,000 and 6,000.
Over the Easter weekend, Mustapha and a dozen fellow converts met for an “afternoon of prayers” in the living room of Rachid, who like Mustapha did not wish to give his full name.
Rachid, who hails from a family of Sufis — a mystical trend of Islam — embraced Christianity in 2004 and eventually became a Protestant pastor.
A father of two, Rachid said he became interested in Christianity when he was a teenager after listening to a program broadcast by a Paris-based radio station.
He researched Christianity at a cyber-cafe, contacted a specialized website and they sent him a copy of the Bible.
“I read the entire thing, studied the word of God, took courses,” he said. “At the age of 24, I was baptised in a Casablanca apartment.”
In April, Mustapha, Rachid and other Moroccan converts submitted a request to the official National Council of Human Rights (CNDH) calling for “an end to persecution” against them.
“We demand the right to give our children Christian names, to pray in churches, to be buried in Christian cemeteries and to marry according to our religion,” Mustapha said.
Islam is the state faith of Morocco but the country’s 2011 constitution, drafted after it was rocked by Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations, guarantees freedom of religion.
Foreign Christians and the country’s tiny Jewish community — of about 2,500 people — practice their faiths openly.
Moroccan authorities boast of promoting religious tolerance and a “moderate” form of Islam, and the country’s penal code does not explicitly prohibit apostasy — the act of rejecting Islam or any of its main tenets.
But in Morocco proselytising is punishable by law and anyone found guilty of “attempting to undermine the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another religion” can be jailed for up to three years.
“The subject is ultra-sensitive because it relates to the history of colonization and to the idea that Christianity constitutes a danger to the unity of Morocco,” a sociologist of religion told AFP.
But Rachid said the lines are shifting.
“The arrests have almost stopped, which is a big step,” he said. “Harassment has become scarce.”
Rachid, who says “I am Moroccan before being Christian, practices his faith openly and lives a normal life in a working-class district of Agadir alongside his Muslim neighbors.
Most Moroccans who have converted to Christianity live in Agadir and the central city of Marrakesh, and the majority have said they are Protestants.
With the exception of local Jews, Moroccans are automatically considered Muslims and King Mohamed VI holds the official title of Commander of the Faithful.
Mustapha said the 2011 constitution and actions by the king “in favor of tolerance and coexistence” have helped bolster human rights in Morocco.
But “the penal code, political parties and society have not followed suit,” he said.


Far behind in polls, Israel’s Livni quits politics

Updated 51 sec ago
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Far behind in polls, Israel’s Livni quits politics

  • Livni, who gained international recognition in part thanks to her past role as a negotiator with the Palestinians, also said she was bringing her Hatnua party to an end
  • She had recently helped lead Israel’s main opposition, the center-left Zionist Union alliance, but a split in January ended the arrangement that also included the Labour party

TEL AVIV: Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, whose party has trailed far behind in polls ahead of April 9 elections, announced Monday she was retiring from politics.

Livni, who gained international recognition in part thanks to her past role as a negotiator with the Palestinians, also said her Hatnua party would not run in the elections.

The 60-year-old said in a statement before journalists in Tel Aviv she was bringing her party to “an end ... knowing I did all I could for my beloved state and to unite the forces that would fight for it. It’s not up to me any more.”

Livni, who also previously served in the Mossad spy agency, narrowly missed out on becoming prime minister after 2009 elections.

She had recently helped lead Israel’s main opposition, the center-left Zionist Union alliance, but a split in January ended the arrangement that also included the Labour party.

Labour party leader Avi Gabbay dramatically announced then that he would no longer partner with Livni as she sat stone-faced next to him.

While the Zionist Union won the second-most seats in the last general election in 2015, it more recently tumbled in opinion polls.

Livni sought to mount a campaign for April 9 elections outside the Zionist Union, but struggled to gain any traction or form the large alliance she sought.

Labour and Gabbay have also faltered in opinion polls.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to remain premier after the elections, polls consistently show, despite a series of corruption investigations into his affairs.

The attorney general is however expected to announce in the coming weeks whether he intends to indict Netanyahu, and an announcement before the elections could shake up the campaign.

The right-wing prime minister’s main challenger is seen as former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and his centrist Israel Resilience party.