MOROCCO (BP) — In a new series of YouTube podcasts, Moroccan Christians are stepping out of the shadows, showing their faces, and telling their stories. Speaking to their countrymen, they proclaim themselves “Moroccan and Christian.”
The public testimonies counter the common view that to be Moroccan is to be Muslim and that all Christians living in Morocco are foreigners, not natives. The small religious minority faces community and government persecution.
In one video, a woman says her husband’s relatives assumed she was foreign-born because they knew she was a Christian, according to Moroccan World News (MWN).
“I am Moroccan and Christian. Yes, I am Christian, but I am not a foreigner … I was born and grew up in Morocco,” she says, according to a translation by MWN. The website noted she spoke in “perfect Darija,” the colloquial form of Arabic spoken in Morocco.
Another video stirred controversy because one Christian woman implied Muslims live in darkness, according to MWN.
“We grew up and learned to make the difference between both faiths,” she said. “We were able to bring down that wall surrounding us, and our lives became filled with light rather than darkness.”
Although it is legal to change religion in Morocco, proselytizing remains illegal and persecution and harassment of Christians persists. “Shaking the faith” of Muslims or attempting to convert them can result in a three-year prison sentence and a hefty fine, according to US News & World Report.
One of the Christians spoke of families rejecting members who left Islam and of Christians being harassed and followed.
The U.S. State Department’s 2013 report on religious freedom supports these claims. It notes most Moroccan Christians worship secretly due to fears of government surveillance and other restrictions.
“Local Christians stated the authorities made phone or house calls several times a year, asserting that the authorities did so to demonstrate that they had lists of members of Christian networks and monitored Christian activities,” the report said.
In January 2015, police approached a former Muslim in a train station, searched, and detained him for 11 hours on suspicion of proselytizing, Open Doors reported. He had a Bible and other Christian materials with him.
Despite the persecution, Moroccan Christians are growing bolder. In December 2015, a group called Eglise Marocaine (The Moroccan Church) asked King Mohammed VI for permission to freely celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas, MWN reported. And some evangelize regardless of the potential punishment.
“We don’t know what might happen, some people want to keep it hidden, and we respect that,” a Christian told US News. “But at the same time we encourage people to do what God commands us to do, that’s preaching and telling people.”
One man lived as a secret Moroccan convert to Christianity for many years. Now he hosts a satellite television program challenging Muslims to ask questions about Islam and Christianity.
He told CBN News the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) group is driving many out of Islam.
“Many Muslims are saying, ‘If ISIS is Islam, I’m leaving.’ Some are becoming atheists,” he said. “There is a huge wave of atheism in the Arab world right now and many are turning to Jesus Christ. Islam was never faced with this crisis before.”