The Moorish Wanderer

Ramadan At The Gates

I don’t think this month is holy any more, nor does it still bear some genuine religious significance to the people. It is, I must point out, a subjective point of view. Indeed, Moroccans (at least those I saw in Casablanca or Rabat or today in Marrakesh) are ostensibly reading the Koran in public places. I noticed the mosques were never so full of faithful as they are this time of year. But on the whole, it does not feel like Moroccans get in touch with their spirituality. It does however look like more of a parade of spirituality, and it is going out of proportions. There is this stereotype I hold on my fellow citizens as being hypocritical, but surely it was nothing like that.

There is something I find quite strange, though: Every Ramadan, dissident voices claim their right to break it, and every time, the orthodox voices cry their shock and anger to that handful of Kuffar that have no respect for Islam or to anything this Umma holds dear to its heart. Some even get raving mad, fortunately only on Facebook walls or Hespress comments. Yet it remains so that Moroccan society is growing intolerant, or at least seems to be so. Last year MALI group tried a spectacular direct action but were prevented from doing so. Do we have some comprehensive explanation why some Moroccans feel very sensitive about this?

Let me just put it in simple terms: fasting Ramadan, just like praying are two rituals part of the five pillars of Islam. However, these pillars are ranked in order of precedence and it goes like this: 1. Faith, 2. Prayers, 3. Charity, 4. Ramadan, and last 5. Pilgrimage.

In other words, its is much much more serious breach of Muslim faith not to pray than not to fast Ramadan, and even more important to care about the needy than to fast during the holy month. Until now, I have never seen someone harassed by the crowd because they did not attend the Friday prayers, as far as I am concerned. There was this unfortunate occurrence when a particularly zealous member of my family tried to talk me into “mending my ways back”, but that was it (the person in question avoided me for the rest of the evening, and that was a relief).

Their reaction would have been quite different if I was not fasting, I can tell you that. While the last pillar (pilgrimage) is compulsory only to those able to go to Mecqua, Ramadan remains effectively the last pillar all Muslims should observe, and yet it is, according to some surveys I am going to discuss, the most important one.

The Moroccan Penal Code, Article 222, is quite clear about it: Muslim Moroccans are not prevented from not fasting Ramadan, they are forbidden to do so in public.

Celui qui, notoirement connu pour son appartenance à la religion musulmane, rompt ostensiblement le jeûne dans un lieu public pendant le temps du ramadan, sans motif admis par cette religion, est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à six mois et d’une amende de 12 à 120 dirhams

How could anyone -save for those of our fellow citizens with Jewish ascent- prove that they are not “notoriously known for their belonging to the Nuslim faith?” And what about a Moroccan that reverted their faith to Christianity? do they have to produce a baptism certificate? And what about the atheists or the non-believers? Do we need a paper stating our non-belief from Richard Dawkins? And why being so hypocritical about it? Why would the Moroccan judiciary punish anyone break-fasting in public, but turn the blind eye on those who do so but away from any public fuss? Doesn’t it encourage hypocrisy? or Doesn’t it simply give in to the fear of Fitna?

For Fitna here would be some Muslim fanatics taking on those they consider apostate. Article 222, just like Article 489 (on homosexuality), Article 490 (on illegal sex) and 496 (female adult with a tutor authority) reminds us that Morocco, for democratic and tolerant it boasts to be, remains handicapped with a reactionary set of laws as well as state of minds, and impaled in deep contradictions that cannot be explained but in sociological terms. I must point out that nowhere in the penal code an article punishes a Moroccan national for not going to the Mosque, or giving money to the poor, or even for lacking faith in Islam. Why do we focus on Ramadan, and not on the rest?

Let me be clear about it: I am a staunch supporter of secularism as a political solution for religious issues. The law of the land needs to be set up by men, and these held accountable to the nation. That also means that the His Majesty should not benefit from the extra-constitutional powers his status as “Commader of the Faithful” permits him. In other words, Islam, just like other religions, remains a private matter, thus effectively rendering the public sphere neutral to any spiritual lobby.

I cannot however understand the sheer contradiction of it all: it is fine not to pray (I mean, people do not necessarily see it as a blatant lack of faith) it is legal -within the boundaries of the law- to drink alcohol (bars are public places as far as I know), but jamais au grand jamais, one should break Ramadan fasting, especially not in public. At the best it is frown upon, at the worse you get caught up by the police. In the land of contradictions, one stands beyond bemusement.

Let us take a leaf from the RDH 50 report. The one about society, families and youth, and especially about religious values as seen by the Moroccan youth. According to the survey, and it seems to be the general case, the youth are longing for a change, compared to the previous generation (namely their parents) either by refusing the norms (no prayers, no Ramadan) or by accepting the norms as they were, but in a different way, so that the inter-generation differences remain seen.

By doing so, the Moroccan youth do no “invent” as it were, atheism or agnosticism, nor the “new wave” religious observance. They simply move within the social context they are living in, and the choice is then made accordingly. There was a time (1961) when agnosticism and atheism had the upper hand:

seuls 5% des enquêtés estimaient que la religion tenait une place plus grande que dans la génération précédente. La majorité (80 %) affirmait l’étiolement de la religion. Parmi les constatations recueillies : « les jeunes se détachent de la religion », « il y a un sur mille qui pratique », « plus de 50 % ne font ni ramadan ni prière », « autrefois un musulman était renié par sa famille s’il épousait une chrétienne, aujourd’hui non », « la religion est l’opium du peuple », « les questions économiques sont plus importantes1 ». Doit-on conclure au recul de la religion chez les élèves marocains d’après l’indépendance? En tout cas, quel que soit le rapport des élèves à la religion, les questions prioritaires de leur époque étaient politiques, économiques et sociales. La question de la sécularisation progressive des sociétés, du recul de la religion, doit être nuancée. Les processus de changement ne sont ni linéaires ni irréversibles. Les recherches récentes sur le rapport des jeunes à la religion vont dans ce sens”.

I like the last sentence because it is the adequate and informed answer to any of those making speeches about the irreversable victory of Islam over the unfaithful.

That happened some 50 years before. What about now?

“Selon une enquête menée par M. Tozy au début des années 1980, seuls 8 % font la prière régulièrement, 26 % occasionnellement et 49 % ne la font pas. L’enquête de 1992 révèle que 54% des étudiants font la prière. Alors faut-il conclure à l’absence du religieux lorsque seuls 8 % des étudiants font régulièrement la prière et au retour du religieux lorsque la proportion des pratiquants « augmente »? Ni l’un ni l’autre. Nous avons dit que le retour du religieux (si cette expression a un sens) n’est pas un processus irréversible. S’agissant toujours de la pratique de la prière, l’enquête de 1996 enregistre une « diminution » de 10 points par rapport à celle de 1992”.  That is quite odd, as pointed out later on: “Tozy remarque l’incohérence, voire le caractère contradictoire des réponses : 85 % des enquêtés avaient un rapport ambigu à la religion. Ceci montre qu’il est difficile de partir d’un seul aspect de la religion (la prière, le port du voile etc.) et d’affirmer soit la sécularisation soit le retour du religieux.

These are the conclusions the report reached on religious values and Moroccan youth:

– The present situation is neither that of secularism or mass-islamization. All that comes up from the finds is ambivalence, ambiguity and contradiction in the choice of religious symbols as well as individual and collective behaviour towards Islamic rituals. (including therefore Ramadan)

– The religious references are more and more of exogenous  nature. family no longer provides them, and the Youth are looking for them elsewhere (Satellite TV, Internet, University, etc….) thus proving a much more heterogeneous choice in terms of  “religious apparatus”

What about Ramadan then? It may be related to the kind of relationship we have with food and the ritual of eating.  The HCP studies still point out that Moroccans are still devoting an important part of their income on food and edible material.  Basically, Ramadan is considered to be the most visible aspect of religion one can display, and some sort of unhealthy consensus has been created on that.

It seems Ramadan created itself into a taboo, and those who dare challenge it must be punished, following this newly esablished norm. I consider it to be new because the non-faster were more visible say, 30 years ago than they are now. Can the Moroccan society live with a fraction of its population deviant from that norm? of course it can, it has proven to be easily adaptive. What lacks is the basic condition of an open debate, for a taboo is not subject of such talks, and it seems to me, the blame is on both sides.

Oh, and Ramadan Mabruk. May we all put on a bit of weight in the name of Allah.

5 Responses

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  1. […] the original post here: Ramadan At The Gates « The Moorish Wanderer // Ramadan At The Gates « The Moorish Wanderer stated listing online above is taken […]

  2. Expat said, on August 29, 2010 at 14:30

    Zouhair, As an expat living in Morocco these past two decades, I think what you’ve forgotten is that religion is NOT a private matter in Morocco. Church and state are NOT separated here (or in other Muslim countries). The leader of the country is also “the commander of the faithful,” is he not?

    Being Moroccan, do you not know that any child of one Muslim parent in Morocco is required to be a Muslim? (it’s not a question of whether that person really “believes” or not; they are considered Muslim anyway) Do you not know that it is not permitted of any Muslim person (in Morocco, and in most Muslim countries) to leave the faith of Islam? So your statement above about if someone has converted to another religon, or is an atheist, would not even be considered. If you are born of even one Muslim parent you are required by law to be Muslim, and to STAY Muslim. So this is where they say “any person commonly known to be Muslim” has to practice the fast IN PUBLIC (so as not to cause social disorder).

    It seems to me your real issue here is less the fast, than it is people being required to profess the Muslim faith, whether they want to or not?

    • The Moorish Wanderer said, on August 30, 2010 at 13:43

      Hello

      I keep in mind that nothing here in Morocco is a matter of private business. We are still thinking in terms of community rather than individuals. And religion is no exception to that.
      I have to say however that no existing law prevents Moroccans from reverting from their faith. Indeed, we all are “default-settings Muslim”, but it is quite possible to do so. The social pressure on such decision is unbearable though.

      What I can’t understand is why Ramadan is so much of a sensitive issue, but prayers is not. There is an Islamic dogma that points out that’s the other way round, yet it is considered to be of public danger to eat during Ramadan, and not be in the mosque when there’s a call to prayer. Article 222 was not there to “protect” Muslim faith, it was there to deal with political unrest in 1962-1963 and squash a very rebellious youth at the time.

      The 1953 Penal Code had no such article, contrary to the popular myth.

  3. Paloma Pentarian said, on August 30, 2010 at 15:44

    I think what you say about everything being a matter of community concern (rather than each person’s private business) seems very true. It certainly explains a lot of people’s behavior in Morocco, and the excessive preoccupation with secrecy and privacy of their own affairs that the general person seems to have. I only came to Morocco in 1991, so am for the most part unaware of what happened here before that.

    The period you mention of the early 60’s is interesting in that it seemed to be a rebellious period for youth all over Europe and America, as well. So I guess this was a worldwide phenomenon.

    In regard to your question comparing Ramadan and prayer, I’ve met large numbers of people who have told me over the years that “they can’t make the committment to prayer” (but might do so at a more advanced age), yet no one questions whether they are Muslim. However, nearly everyone tells me that if someone doesn’t do the Ramadan fast, they they aren’t “really” Muslim. In other words, the public attitude in Morocco is you can slack off on just about anything and still be considered a good Muslim if you do the Ramadan fast…..it’s obvious this is not correct from a religious point-of-view, but from the general public’s point-of-view, this seems to be what they consider important.

    Regarding enforcing prayer, how would this be enforced? It seems it would have to be Taliban-like style. Something like closing for Friday prayers could be enforced, but to what end? You could force everyone to come, but again, to what end?

    The enforcement of the fasting rules in public do seem to have a useful public purpose, that of reinforcing those who are doing it, in terms of removing unnecessary temptations in public.

  4. aboulahab said, on September 5, 2010 at 10:42

    Try to go out in the street and claim Mohammed’s message is a fraud. You’ll soon enough see if there are “no existing law prevents Moroccans from reverting from their faith”.

    AFAIK, blasphemy (against god or his blue-blooded representative on earth) is still a crime in Morocco.


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