Religion : How do Moroccan Christians celebrate Christmas ?

On the 24th and 25th of December, Moroccans converted to Christianity commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, an occasion that is not all the time associated with celebration. Battling for a decent life, converts have been demanding a range of rights and one of them is to be able to freely celebrate Christmas. So, how do Moroccan Christians celebrate this Christmas and what are the obstacles they face ?

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Saint Peter cathedral in Rabat./Ph. DR

It is that time of the year when Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. And while the festivities are associated with happiness, feasts and family reunions in other parts of the world ; Moroccans converted to Christianity are faced with many struggles when trying to openly celebrate Christmas in a country where Islam is the state religion.

Two weeks ago, Christian converts in the Kingdom sent an open letter to Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani, the presidents of both House of Representatives and the House of Councilors, and the president of the National Human Rights Council. In their letter, they have demanded the right to practice their faith openly and without having to hide.

Implicit obstacles

This applies to Christmas too, according to Jawad El Hamdi, head of the Moroccan Committee for Religious Minorities. Speaking to Yabiladi, he insisted that this year celebrations «were not interrupted (and) that there was no attempt on reducing the freedom of these converts in an explicit way».

According to the activist, Christmas celebrations in Morocco are often marked by the «police presence» explaining that «the authorities claim not having a problem with religious minorities while adopting an approach that prevents them from celebrating their religious holidays and feasts».

To give an example, El Hamdi referred to the yearly struggle experienced by Christians during the holiday season. «We have noticed that Christians are banned from using public institutions (halls and conference rooms), to host celebrations», the same thing happens when they try to rent private buildings and rooms, such as hotels, for the same purpose, he added.

A vicious circle

According to Jawad El Hamdi, Moroccan converts celebrate in secret in their homes or at what they call house churches, for a reason. «There is no formal recognition of this religious minority and that is why they are forced to practice their faith and hence hold celebrations in an informal way», he said.

As explained by the young activist, in order to hold Christmas celebrations in a public institution, Christians are asked to submit their request through an authorized association. And this cannot happen, according to El Hamdi, who claims that whenever these religious minorities try to create an association, the authorities refuse to grant them an authorization to organize such an event.

A vicious circle that has been witnessed by the head of the Moroccan Committee for Religious Minorities. «I have participated in helping Christians with the procedure and I noticed that whenever they intend to found an association, their request gets rejected», he recalled.

For El Hamdi this means one thing, «the authorities are not willing to coordinate with these minorities and are not intending to respond to their demands».  

Demanding other rights

This desperate situation has also been experienced by several other Christians, such as Mohamed Said, a Moroccan national who wished to be referred to as a Moroccan Christian citizen. «Moroccan Christians celebrate Christmas in a normal and quiet way, but I must admit that nearly 80 percent of them do it in a secretive way, in their homes”, Mohamed Said told Yabiladi.

Responding to whether he has been subject to harassment he stated that «persecution is there but it is not witnessed on a daily basis and it isn’t systematic».

«This year the celebrations went in a fluid way but I think that there are many things to be done in the future», he said while adding : «we want to practice our faith openly and I believe that two parts should contribute to that and work on it and here I am talking about the Moroccan authorities and the people in charge of churches in Morocco».

According to Mohamed Said, the Constitution must preserve the rights of these converts to practice their faith.

For that purpose, Moroccans converted to Christianity are no longer willing to hide their faith. They have been battling for a decent life through several attempts. Last April, a delegation affiliated to the coalition of Moroccan Christians was received by Mohamed Sebbar, Secretary General of the CNDH. The latter revealed, during a conference in Sale, that his institution planned to submit a list of demands to El Othmani’s government, mainly related to religious minorities in Morocco. And it is not only about Christmas, Christian converts in the Kingdom want to obtain a range of rights such as having their own cemeteries, using Christian names and also deciding whether their kids should take Islamic religion classes at school.

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