Religion

The people of Morocco follow Islam in the main, a montheistic religion similar to Judaism and Christianity in its philosophical content. Muslims recognize that these three revealed religions have a common basis, and Jews and Christians are referred to as Ahl al kitab, 'people of the book'. Even so, there are considerable differences in ritual, public observance of religious customs and the role of religion in daily life, and when travelling in Morocco it is as well to be aware of this. 

The Koran and hadith lay down a number of other practices and customs, some of which are close to the practices of Judaism. Sexuality, provided it is within marriage, is seen as positive, and marriage is forbidden to no one. Sensuality and seduction, between the married couple, are encouraged. Eating pork is prohibited, as is drinking alcohol and gambling. In the matter of dress, habits have changed hugely in recent years. Except in certain rural areas, young women no longer automatically veil their faces and Moroccan Islam is a long way from the more extreme forms practised in Saudi Arabia, where women are all but invisible in the public sphere. While in traditional families the women's domain is most definitely the home, Islam does not stop Moroccan women getting themselves educated and into jobs once thought of as being exclusively for men.

Women's status in Morocco achieved a major step forward in 2004 with the reform of the country's personal status code, the Moudawana. Under the original terms of the code, first drafted after independence and timidly reformed in 1993, women were essentially eternal minors, unable even to initiate divorce proceedings. While it does not actually go so far as to abolish polygamy, the new code advances women's rights considerably. The unilateral repudiation of a wife is abolished and the taking of a second wife subject to the first wife's approval. Women can now have custody of their children. Hailed as a major achievement, the new Moudawana is facing problems in application. The norms of married life vary enormously between social classes and regional groups. Paradoxically perhaps, in poorer areas women often seem to be the most vigilant guardians of the status quo.

Nevertheless, in traditional society, women very definitely had space of their own, if not direct authority. All was not repression - far from it. While weddings are fairly often a matter of alliances between families, loving marriages certainly developed in the traditional context. Increasingly, women are present in Morocco's economic and professional life and spearhead the dynamic NGO movement. The reform of the Moudawana is thus recognizes women's changing status in society - and corresponds to the image that the country wishes to project to the outside world. Women's quest for full rights is clearly inseparable from the changing identity of the Moroccan nation-state.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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