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Morocco - Religion

Morocco is an Islamic country, with 99% of its inhabitants being Muslim. Christians and Jews make up for the other 1% of the religious population. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today. Despite media portrayal of the religion based on fanaticism and terrorism using Islam as basis for their actions, Islam is a monotheistic religion of peace. In fact, Islam means peace and followers of Islam are known as Muslims, meaning submission. Allah is considered the proper name for God, but Muslims believe in the same God as the follower’s of Judaism and Christianity. However, Muslims believe in Allah as the one, and only true God; there is no God by God. Muslims also believe in angels, prophets (including Jesus, Abrahim, Adam, and Moses among others), heaven and hell, destiny, and use the Quran as their source of revelation to the Prophet Mohammed.

Prophet Mohammed is considered the final prophet and was given revelations by Allah through the angel Gabriel beginning in the year 610. Throughout the next 23 years of his life, Mohammed shared the continued revelations with the people and led crusades to help others receive the truth of the message from Allah. Thus, Mohammed became the messenger of Allah, and his deeds and actions are considered the best examples of how one should live on the right path while on earth. Along with the Quran, Muslims have a compilation of sayings and actions of the Prophet Mohammed called the Hadith that helps guide them in daily life.

There are five pillars of Islam that guide the religion which are testimony of faith, daily prayers, alms giving, fasting (during Ramadan), and pilgrimage known has Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The two major holidays for Muslims are Ramadan and Eid Al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from food, drink, smoking and sexual activity during the daylight hours for 30 days. At night, they enjoy great feasts beginning at sundown, and end the fasting with a huge celebration known as Eid Al-Fitr which can last up to three days. The Feast of the Sacrifice is celebrated at the end of the Hajj season when Muslims sacrifice a sheep in honor of Abrahim who was instructed to sacrifice his son for Allah, and given a sheep in his son’s place at the last moment. The family enjoys a portion of the meat, shares a portion with family and friends, and donates a final portion to charity.

Evidence of Islam is all around the country with minarets of the mosques penetrating the skyline of even the tiniest villages. In larger cities, there are several mosques on each block. The call for prayer known as the adhan, can be heard from several loudspeakers anywhere in the cities 5 times a day. During the day, when the hustle and bustle of the city is happening, it is less noticeable unless you are very near to a mosque. At dawn and in the late evening the sound of the adhan is more distinct. Some expats may wake up to the dawn calling when they first arrive, but will quickly be able to sleep through it if they so wish.

Unlike countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, men and women are free to worship as they see fit in Morocco. Women are not forced to wear a hijab (head covering) or even the more conservative face covering known as a niqab. More than half of the women make the choice to cover their hair partially and fully, more in smaller villages, less in larger more Westernized cities like Casablanca. Some women also choose to cover from head to toe covering their face, hands and feet.

Islam is also a religion known to give rights to women at a time when they were without even the most basic of human rights and suffering terrible tragedies as a result. These rights include the right to request and obtain divorce and retain all personal assets, to own property, and to become educated. In Morocco, women are allowed to walk freely among society, drive, attend school, and work in any sector they wish. Morocco continues to strengthen women’s rights through such measures as the Family Code.

The Moroccan government is a constitutional and democratic monarchy currently led by King Mohammed VI. However, Islam plays a significant and important role the structure of government and its decisions. Moroccan laws strike a balance of Islamic principles and civil law systems of the Western world. Morocco is taking a strong stand against Islamic terrorism, and working to make improvements to the living conditions of people who are susceptible to ideologies which breed terrorism due to their economic status in society.

It would be wise for an expat to familiarize themselves with the basics of Islam. Though know one in the country is forced participate in religious services and holidays, some nuances of the religion are important to respect. Such an example is interactions between the opposite sex including shaking hands or other forms of affection (kissing, hugging) between non-familial and non-married persons. A basic rule of thumb is not to shake the hand of an opposite sex Muslim unless it is extended it to you first. Kissing and hugging between the opposite sexes is also unacceptable, but fine and common for members of the same sex. Most Arabs, including Moroccans see eating with the left hand to be unclean because it is used for cleaning oneself in the bathroom. Looking directly into a woman’s eyes and asking about women in one’s family are also considered signs of disrespect. Finally, avoid walking in front of anyone performing daily prayers. There may be times when a person so devout will stop on the sidewalk or other public place to pray. They usually do this to the side so as not to obstruct passersby. Walking behind the person is perfectly acceptable as you are not expected to wait until they are finished. On the same note, don’t disturb someone in the middle of prayer unless it is a true emergency.

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