Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ramadan ~ the other side of the story

Travelling in Europe this August, it interesting to see so many Moroccan tourists. One of the reasons soon becomes apparent when you meet them in coffee shops, restaurants and pubs - they are "escaping Ramadan". In this article in our Ramadan series, Ibn Warraq takes a look at the issue of Ramadan and religious freedom.

"Our family always comes to Europe during Ramadan. It is a sensible choice for us as we do not think that the fast should be enforced on us if we do not want it" - Abdelhak, Rabat
Non-Muslims eat lunch on the terrace of a McDonald's in Rabat, Morocco, in front of a sign which reminds customers that Muslim adults are forbidden from being served at the restaurant during the day during the month of Ramadan. The sign says only children and non-Muslims will be served. In practice it means that Western foreigners will be served.(Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)
As recently as two years ago, six Moroccans were arrested for having a picnic during Ramadan in protest at the law banning eating in public during Ramadan. Now it appears the debate is on again. Article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code mandates a one to six month prison term for anyone "well known for their affiliation to Islam" who breaks the fast in public.

As a result, Moroccans who are non-practicing Muslims are obligated to respect the fast in public, while others escape abroad to avoid the restrictions. The latest edition of Global Post carries an interesting article by Aida Alami that discusses this basic issue of religious freedom.

Here is a short excerpt:

MALI (the acronym in French for Alternative Movement for Individual Liberty), the group that held the protest picnic, was formed in 2009. It campaigns for more individual freedoms. Its members have been arrested and intimidated by authorities and members of the general public since launching their first action, the picnic.

“It was not Ramadan that was 'targeted' but instead, we demanded freedom of religion and conscience, the freedom to believe or not, to practice or not, to be a Muslim or not," said Ibtissame Lachgar, 36, the co-founder of MALI and a political activist. “It is a spiritual choice that is personal and individual. We wanted a symbolic action that can really point the finger at the contradictions between the law and international treaties ratified by Morocco.”

Morocco's current political system is not compatible with the establishment of a secular state following the Turkish model, said Pierre-Jean Luizard, a historian and researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research in France.

Abdelillah Benkirane, the leader of the main opposition party, The Islamist Justice and Development Party, condemned demands for a more secular state during a meeting in June, a few days before Morocco’s ruler, King Mohammed VI, introduced the new constitution to the people.

“They want to pervert the faith of this nation and Ramadan to no longer be sacred," he said. "They want to picnic during the holy month and set an example for young people, for your children. It seems that future reforms will restore 'sexual deviance' [homosexuality] — we may see people who say publicly that they are 'sexual deviants'."

Benkirane warned his audience that establishing more religious freedom in a new constitution would threaten the country’s foundations. "If the king adopts it, we will have a serious problem," he said. "Morocco is a Muslim state, and the country’s religion is Islam.”

Read the Global Post article in full here: Global Post

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice article. As a moroccan and non mulim, living in the Netherlands I find it quite difficult just to be my self in public. For example, yesterday I was eating an ice cream in the afternoon during shopping and suddenly I heart some rude remarks, made by 3 muslim men who didn't like the fact I was eating during ramadan. Strange, because I have respect for muslims who want to practice ramadan, but apparently they don't have respect for the ones who do'nt practice the ramadan, for all different reasons. And not eating during the ramadan as a way to show respect for the muslims, is in my opinion just a hypocritical way of trying to limitate someone's freedom.