PICTURE EDITION 34: THE CHURCH IN MOROCCO: ALMOST VISIBLE AGAIN!

1. History

Morocco is situated in the north west corner of Africa. It has fertile land in the north, the Atlas mountains in the centre and the Sahara desert to the south. The recorded history of Morocco begins with the Phoenician colonization of the Moroccan coast between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, although the area was inhabited by indigenous Berbers for some two thousand years before that.

In the 5th century BC, Carthage extended its rule westward over the coastal areas of Morocco, while the hinterland was ruled by indigenous kings. These kings re-took control a few centuries later and ruled until 40 CE, when Morocco was annexed by the Roman Empire.

The region was then conquered by the Arab Muslims in the early 8th century and was the launching point for the Muslim assault on Western Europe in 711AD. Berber-dominated Morocco broke away from the Arab-centric Umayyad Caliphate after the Berber Revolt of 740AD. Under self-rule, Morocco has dominated north-west Africa for  the last 1,300 years, and also Muslim Spain for the first 500 years of that period.

In 1912, European powers took control and divided Morocco into French and Spanish protectorates. Moroccans agitation for independence grew stronger from the 1940’s onwards and the Moroccans were granted independence from France in 1956 on the condition that they become a constitutional monarchy. In 1975 it occupied land in the western Sahara claimed by Spain and has maintained control of this disputed territory since then. Sadly, Morocco is now a majority Arab country, with the native Berbers now constituting only 41% of the population. The official language is Arabic, but Berber is still widely spoken in many homes.

2. Today

Compared to many other Muslim nations Morocco has enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence since independence due to a limited form of democracy. However, it is increasingly authoritarian in the face of a rising Islamist threat. Literacy is low, officially around 50%, but functionally much lower. The economy survives on tourism, fertilizer mining, textiles and agriculture, with incomes being some 6% of the USA. This figure hides the sad fact that there is a great gap between the rich few and the masses of poor. Unemployment is very high so many youth seek employment in Europe. Such massive income disparity provides fuel for the Islamists.

Sunni Islam is the state religion, officially claiming 99.88% of the population, but the existence of now vastly shrunken historic Christian and Jewish communities is tolerated. Islam’s drift toward fundamentalism among the poor and the opposing force of materialistic secularisation from neighbouring Europe are tearing at the fabric of religious unity in modern Morocco.

3. True Christianity

Christianity is much older than Islam in Morocco. It was the religion of opposition to the tyranny of Rome among the Berbers. Even in modern times Morocco was still home to a large minority Christian community. Casablanca was almost 50% European during the time of the French Protectorate. However, most Europeans and Christians from the ancient denominations have migrated to the Western world since independence.  In modern Morocco it is legal to talk about Christianity and to invite discussion, but all known Christian activity is closely monitored by the government. During the Arab Spring in 2011 a large number of expatriate Christians were deported and their institutions closed. Local believers are regularly  harassed by police and have been known to be imprisoned for their faith. The state-run media plays its part in stirring up opposition to any form of Christianity. Their motivation comes partially from the French and Spanish Catholic push to convert Muslims during the colonial era.

The Voice of the Martyrs reports there is a growing number of native Moroccans (45,000) converting to Christianity, especially Berber people in the rural areas. Many of the converts are baptized secretly in Morocco’s old churches. Some local believers deliver podcasts via internet radio stations and youtube, and then distribute Bibles to interested listeners. House churches dominate indigenous expressions of faith so it is unknown just how many Moroccan believers there are or how fast the church is growing. Arrests are common, suggesting that the underground church is growing significantly. Agadir and Marrakech, in particular, are known to have significant Christian populations. Intriguingly, recent statements from the government suggest a change is in the air and tolerance of Christianity is finally coming to pass.

4. Prayer Points

Something has started. Let’s fan the flames with prayer!

Pray for a major breakthrough among the Berbers, as is happening in Algeria next door

Pray for that breakthrough to flow into the Arabic community

Pray for signs wonders, dreams and miracles

Pray for internet media to reach into millions of hearts

Pray for boldness in the face of persecution from family and friends

Pray for faith to take the place of fear in all believers

Pray for the government to continue softening its tone toward Christians

Pray for believers to challenge Satan’s strongholds

Pray for the Good News to reach the nomadic tribes in the south

Pray for refugees and immigrants transiting through Morocco, many are Christians

Pray for Bibles, numbers are currently restricted

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