The government reportedly arrested and deported an individual on accusations of proselytizing Muslims. The government discouraged conversion from Islam and continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as some Islamic materials that it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. Several individuals were arrested and sentenced for eating or drinking alcohol in public during the Ramadan fast. Government institutions, such as the MEIA and security services, monitored, and in some cases, restricted activities of Muslims and non-Muslims.
In February media reported that a U.S. citizen legally resident in the country for more than a decade had been arrested on allegations of Christian proselytizing in Al Hoceima. According to media reports, the individual was paying teenage girls to translate Christian materials into Tamazight (Berber) and Arabic, and police found him in possession of proselytizing materials. While media reported that authorities deported the individual to Melilla following a complaint by a neighboring Muslim cleric, the foreign ministry stated he was not arrested but “taken into protective custody” because neighborhood residents were threatening him with violence. The U.S. citizen departed the country without prosecution.
Also in February a court of appeals in Fez dismissed a charge against Mohammed El Baldi, a Moroccan convert to Christianity, on the grounds of lack of evidence. El Baldi had been arrested in 2013 for proselytizing to minors in Taounate and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of 5000 dirhams ($554).
In July five individuals were arrested in Souk El Arbaa for drinking alcohol and eating in public during Ramadan. They received the maximum sentence of six months in prison. Authorities made another arrest in July in Tiznit of an individual seen eating in public during Ramadan. The Tiznit case led to a sentence of five months in prison.
In September the government permitted its appointed caretaker to permanently resettle the approximately 30 remaining children from the Village of Hope (VOH) orphanage in Ain Leuhto to a center in Meknes acceptable to the foreign resident Christians involved with the VOH. The ultimate disposition of the children had not been settled since 2010, when the government expelled or declared persona non-grata, on accusations of proselytizing, seven foreign families who operated the VOH.
Foreigners attended religious services without restriction at places of worship belonging to officially recognized Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant Churches. Foreign-resident Christian church officials, however, reported that Moroccan Christians rarely attended their churches, and they did not encourage them to do so to avoid accusations of proselytizing. Fears of government surveillance led most Christian, Bahai, and Shia to refrain from public worship; most met discreetly in their members’ homes. Local Christians stated the authorities made phone or house calls several times a year to demonstrate they had lists of members of Christian networks and monitored Christian activities. Some Christian citizens reported authorities pressured Christian converts to renounce their faith by informing the converts’ friends, relatives, and employers of the individuals’ conversion.
The government continued to fund the study of Jewish culture and its artistic, literary, and scientific heritage at some universities. At the University of Rabat, Hebrew and comparative religion were taught in the Department of Islamic Studies. The monarchy also continued to support the rehabilitation of synagogues throughout the country, an effort it stated it deemed necessary to preserve the country’s religious and cultural heritage and to serve as a symbol of tolerance.
The government permitted the display and sale of Bibles in French, English, and Spanish. A limited number of Arabic translations of the Bible were available for sale in a few bookshops, but authorities often confiscated Bibles they believed were intended for proselytizing. The government did not allow the free public distribution of non-Sunni Muslim religious materials.
The government generally tolerated activities limited to the propagation of Sunni Islam, education, and charity. For example, the Unity and Reform Movement, the PJD’s social and religious outreach branch, operated without special restrictions. At times, the government suppressed the activities of politically active religious groups, such as the banned yet tolerated JCO. The JCO continued to organize through participation in political demonstrations and the management of internet sites, although the government occasionally prevented the organization’s meetings and restricted public distribution of the JCO’s published materials. The government monitored the activities of mosques and non-Muslim religious groups, and placed some restrictions on members of religious groups when it deemed their actions exceeded the bounds of acceptable religious or political activity. In February, for example, Salafi cleric Abu Naim was convicted of defamation and insulting a political figure when he pronounced takfir (anathematization) upon a prominent politician and vehemently denounced the political left, secularists, and certain media outlets.
The MEIA was the principal institution responsible for shaping the country’s religious sphere and promoting its interpretation of Sunni Islam valuing moderation and tolerance. The MEIA provided guidance to imams and monitored Friday mosque sermons and Quranic schools to prevent what the ministry considered inflammatory or extremist rhetoric and to ensure that teaching followed approved doctrine. The ministry tried to control the sale of what it considered extremist books, videotapes, and DVDs. The government required that mosques close to the public shortly after daily prayer times to prevent use of the premises for unauthorized activity.
Broadcast media covered prominently the government’s efforts to disseminate information about Islam over dedicated state-funded Quranic television and radio channels. The television channel Assadissa (Sixth) continued to function as a partnership between three governmental entities: the National Society for Radio and Television, the communications ministry, and the MEIA. Programming consisted primarily of Quran and hadith (traditional teachings) readings and exegesis, although it also covered health, family, youth, and social issues, highlighting the government’s interpretation of Islam in traditions and practice of the Islamic legacy. It broadcast this programming in Arabic and French, as well as in Amazigh (Berber) and Hassani (Saharan dialect).
The MEIA continued to employ over 500 chief imams and over 200 female Muslim spiritual guides (murshidat), who taught religious subjects, provided counsel on a variety of matters, including women’s legal rights and family planning, and managed programs in which men participate; however, the murshidat did not deliver Friday sermons in mosques or lead group prayers.
In May the king broke ground on a new royal regional imam training institute as part of a royal initiative to promote openness and tolerance among the new generation of male and female spiritual guides. Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, a royally-sponsored university, continued to offer an advanced degree in Islamic studies with an emphasis in comparative religion, including a mastery of Greek and Hebrew, to MEIA-nominated imams and others.