By Siham Ali
Young Moroccans are exhibiting increasing signs of religious behaviour, according to new research.
The report, released March 11th by the Moroccan Centre for Contemporary Study and Research, outlines the role of religion in Moroccan public life.
Nearly half of Morocco’s youth – 36% of men and 59 % of women – reported as participating in prayer.
Communications Minister and government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi explained that the practice of religion was growing, but that moral values had not changed. The report’s co-ordinator, Mohamed Mesbah, made the same point; religious conviction and practices, he said, do not necessarily imply that people’s actions are in tune with religious morality and ethics.
According to the report, there has been an increase in signs of religious behaviour among Moroccans because of continuing efforts by institutions and individuals to adapt to changes in society. Activities relating to guidance and preaching in mosques are expanding.
In the public at large, families continue to be particularly interested in lessons where their children are taught to recite the Qur’an from memory.
The report also looked at the Moroccan Jewish community. Findings indicate a drop in the number of Jews living in the country, particularly among younger age groups. Among the estimated 3,000 Jewish Moroccans, there is also evidence of an increasing interest in spiritual life and religious events.
Specialists have described the study as significant. Sociologist Samira Kassimi said the report would help a great deal in understanding the situation on the ground and how Moroccans see religion.
“In Morocco, and across the Arab world, very few studies have looked at how religion is perceived in society. This kind of study will enable us to understand what is really happening, rather than basing our thinking on supposition,” she said.
The study builds upon an expanding body of research into religion in Morocco. An earlier report from the Economic and Social Council looked into the cultural inclusion of young people, with the role of religion as one of its major focuses.
According to that report, it is important not to confuse “the return of religious fervour” and a religious awakening with the exploitation of Islamic ideas for political ends.
The various studies looking at young people, and particularly students, show a sharp increase in the practice of prayer. According to Ahmed Abbadi, a member of the Economic and Social Council, and secretary-general of Rabita Mohammadia, relationships with religion now tend to develop in a progressive way, outside or on the margins of the traditional institutions.
“Free access to religious information has added to the individual’s own sense of personal independence, opening the way to diversity and plurality of values,”Abbadi said.
The Economic and Social Council has recommended strengthening the role played by local mosques, with official bodies promoting educational courses based on the principles of Islam as it has always been practised in Morocco as a religion of tolerance, the happy medium, open to others.
According to Abbadi, there are 50,000 mosques in Morocco. “They are places of holy prayer, but also living communities which could do great service to society if we can make the best use of them,” he said.
Young people interviewed by Magharebia had mixed reactions on the report. Student Hamid Bourafiki, 21, said he was a practising Muslim but that religion did affect his friendships because he has friends who do not pray and others who do not fast.
“Religion is a personal thing. I’m convinced of the need to pray and to fast. But I’m not fanatical, and I respect other people’s convictions,” he said.