Moroccans are becoming less religious, a study conducted by a U.S.-based think-tank found, which related the change to apprehensions in the North African country over the current rise of political Islam.
According to the report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the level of religiosity in the Middle East and North Africa has receded to 60 percent, particularly in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt.
According to Moroccan expert on Islamic affairs Montaser Hamada, Moroccans are in the middle when it comes to the degree of religiosity.
“In Morocco, 60 percent of the people are religious while in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia the percentage rises to 80 percent and in former Communist countries drops to 50 percent,” he told Al Arabiya.
Hamada, however, admitted to a remarkable change in the degree of Moroccans’ piety owing to a variety of reasons.
“The emergence of groups that call for a secular state as well as others that promote deviating away from religious practices has increased; much like a group in Morocco that called for breaking fasts in public during the day in Ramadan Add to that those gay rights groups that have been active lately,” said Hamada.
Another factor, Hamada added, is the rise of political Islam in the region as well as in, Morocco and which has made people more apprehensive of anything religious.
“The rise of Islamists to power in Morocco made people worry about restrictions that would be imposed on their freedoms especially in the light of the already negative impression people have about political Islam and Islamist rule,” Hamada said.
Mohamed Musbah, researcher at the Moroccan Center for Contemporary Studies and Research, argued that despite the change, religion still occupies an important place for Moroccans.
“The study does not show the Moroccans no longer believe in basic religious principles like the existence of God, the afterlife, etc., but they rather differ on the way they interpret religion and apply it to their daily lives,” he told Al Arabiya.
The Pew Forum study, he added, was in line with several other studies conducted about the same issue since 2001.
“All those studies proved that the Islamic faith comprises an integral part of the Moroccan identity and most Moroccans still practice Islamic rituals,” Musbah said.
Musbah pointed out that the position of Sufis and Shiites in Morocco is also quite confusing when it comes to conducting such studies.
“Around 1 percent of Moroccans identify themselves as Sufis while for many Shiites are not considered Muslims.”
The marginalization of Shiites, he noted, comes down to several government decisions, such as closing the Iranian embassy in 2009 and an Iraqi school suspected of promoting the Shiite faith.
“There is also a problem in schools, since different sects are not taught. This makes Moroccans unexposed to religious differences,” said Musbah.