Christians in Morocco

from Yahoo News

RABAT (AFP) - They might have Islamic names like Mohammed or Ali, but every Sunday these Moroccan converts to Christianity go discreetly to "church" -- to the ire of Islamic militants and under the suspicious eye of police.

"There are about a thousand of us in around 50 independent churches across the big cities of the kingdom," explained Abdelhalim, who coordinates these evangelical Protestant groups in Morocco.

"As we are tolerated, but not recognized (by the state) we must, for security reasons, conduct ourselves as a clandestine organisation," said the 57-year-old, who preferred to use a pseudonym.

"As soon as a church has 20 worshippers it splits in two," said Abdelhalim, a doctor who converted to Christianity 16 years ago when he was living abroad.

Islam is the state religion in Morocco, a country of 30 million people that counts only 5,000 Jews and 1,000 Christians, according to figures given by the two groupings.

Although you cannot be sentenced if you convert to Christianity, it is illegal to proselytize under Moroccan law.

And while official Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches are recognized by Morocco, they are only for foreigners living in the country. Moroccan Christians have no right to pray in these churches.

However when Abdelhalim returned home seven years ago, he said he was astonished by the growing number of converts to Christianity.

"At the beginning of the 1990s there were 400 of us, four years ago around 700 and today more than 1,000," he said.

Most of the converts belong to the middle classes and work in the private sector or as engineers. But these new evangelical Christians also count among their numbers craftsmen, housewives, students and young unemployed people.

Christianity was established in North Africa in the third century AD but was supplanted by Islam in the seventh century. In the early 1990s, Christianity started to get a new foothold when foreign missionaries passed on the word to Moroccans.

As for Morocco's main cities, seven of these "free churches" -- not linked to any international Protestant church -- are in Marrakesh, six in Casablanca, five in Rabat and even one in El Ayoun, the regional capital of the western Sahara.

"Television and the Internet are very efficient methods and in our church a soldier became Christian through the Al Hayat channel," said 30-year-old Youssef, who also preferred to use a pseudonym.

"For many of us, Islam is perceived as a social straitjacket and not as a real faith, and Christianity as a religion of tolerance and love," said the businessman, who converted at the age of 19 and was later followed by his family...


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