"When a church grows too large it must be split into two in order to avoid attracting attention.”
Morocco/Aleteia (Aleteia.org/ar) — Even though they bear Muslim names like Muhammad or Ali they are Moroccan Christians who continue to attend Mass in spite of the wrath of the Islamists and suspicions cast upon them by police.
‘Abd-al-Halim, the Moroccan Anglican Church’s coordinator, stated that “there are approximately one thousand of us who belong to approximately 50 independent churches in the larger cities of the Kingdom.” ‘Abd-al-Halim is a 57-year old doctor who converted to Christianity 16 years ago while he was living abroad.
“We have been able to observe our religious practices in secret," he said. "However, for security reasons we are forced to operate like a secret organization. When an individual church grows too large (more than 20 members) then that church must be split into two entities in order to avoid attracting attention.”
When ‘Abd-al-Halim returned to the country seven years ago he was surprised by the increase in conversions. He stated that, “In the ‘70s there were 400 members. Four years ago there were 700. Now there are more than a thousand.”
Most of these people belong to the middle class, work in the private sector or are engineers. However, there are also artists, housewives, students and younger unemployed individuals. Christianity was spread … in Morocco during the 3rd century before the advent of Islam in the 7th century. Now Islam is the state religion.
The Protestant church began to spread at the beginning of the ‘90s, when foreign missionaries arrived in Morocco. Today there are seven free churches in Marrakesh, six in Casablanca, five in Rabat and one in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.
A 30-year old man named Joseph explained that, “television and the internet are two very effective ways to proselyte. A soldier was converted to Christianity in my church thanks to the al-Hayat Network.” A businessman who converted to Christianity 19 years ago along with his family added, “Many of us view Islam as restrictive and not a true doctrine. On the other hand, we view Christianity as a religion of tolerance and love.”
He said that 60% of them converted to Christianity as a result of personal contacts, 30% via the television and internet and another 10% from missionaries. The three Christian channels that are broadcast in Morocco, which televise testimonies in a local dialect, religious music and sermons are Al-Hayat, Al-Mu’jizah and Sat 7.
In order to avoid drawing attention and hostile reactions religious meetings are held in apartments in middle class neighborhoods. ‘Abd-al-Halim explained, “We need to use discretion because most of the people cannot countenance the possibility that we are Arab but not Muslim. The most significant danger for us is ignorance.”
Likewise, they are threatened with Article 220 of the penal code which proscribes a punishment of six months to three years in prison for “anyone who employs incitements to shake the faith of a Muslim or to convert him to another religion.”
Joseph insisted that he had been summoned to the police station dozens of times. In spite of this he did acknowledge that the Kingdom “was the most liberal of the other Arab countries.” He added, “I believe that the King truly wants democracy.”
For his part, Radwan Bin Shakrun, chairman of the Council of Theologians in Casablanca expressed his extreme opposition to those new Christians and explained that “apostasy is the most serious of sins that can be committed by a Muslim.” With regards to the Islamists, they consider it as completely unacceptable. Hussein Daoudi, a deputy in the Islamic Development and Justice Party said, “The people do not accept converting from one’s religion and are opposed to it. However, he did allow that “as long as it remains on a personal level then there is no problem. The problem arises at the social level. Problems arise when proselyting occurs or when children or teachers come to school wearing crosses. Clearly this cannot be tolerated.”
This article from Aleteia’s Arabic edition was translated by Donald Puhlman.