Morocco Maintains Delicate Religious Balance

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Morocco is considered to be one of the most tolerant Arab Muslim nations. But the U.S. ally recently raised concerns when it deported dozens of Christian missionaries.

Morocco is a country that is 99 percent Muslim. Traditionally it practices a more moderate form of Islam. There is also a Jewish presence and a Christian community of mainly Catholic and Orthodox believers.

There is one restriction, however, that evangelical Christians may find difficult -- Moroccans are forbidden to share their faith with others.

"During centuries and centuries, people lived together perfectly well, each one respecting the other but no one trying to convert anyone else. In Morocco you can see mosques, synagogues and churches." Aziz Mekouar, Morocco's ambassador to the U.S., told CBN News during an exclusive interview.

Mekouar said the country's law against proselytizing has helped keep the peace among the various faith communities.

"It's a balance, and we have to keep that balance. This is why proselytism is forbidden on any side," he explained.

That law created a stir recently when more than 50 Christian missionaries --many of them Americans -- were forced to leave Morocco. Some were foster parents who had cared for orphans as infants.

The missionaries insist they didn't break the proselytization law. Moroccan officials say a lengthy investigation proved otherwise.

The missionaries also complained that they were deported without a trial. Mekouar said it was done to protect them from likely jail sentences.

Moroccan officials say local Muslims had begun to complain about the missionaries, raising national security concerns that Islamic extremists would target them and that religiously-motivated violence could break out. Critics say the Moroccans are caving in to pressure from Islamists and that Moroccan converts from Islam to Christianity often face difficulties.

Moroccan government officials say the law applies to all faith groups, not just Christians. Morocco has deported extremist Wahhabi Muslims in recent years.

The country also cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2009. This was done in part because of Iran's efforts to spread Shia Islam inside Morocco.

"We welcome Christians in Morocco and we are very, very happy to have them," Mekouar told CBN News. "But the laws have to be respected and nobody can be allowed to disrupt the balance and touch the fabric of Moroccan society."

For the droves of European and American tourists who flock to Morocco each year, that's usually not a problem. But for Christian missionaries, that means the Great Commission could be difficult to fulfill. It's a delicate balance in a pivotal country.

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Erick Stakelbeck

Erick Stakelbeck

CBN News Correspondent

Erick Stakelbeck is a sought after authority on terrorism and national security issues with extensive experience in television, radio, and print media. Stakelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News.  Follow Erick on Twitter @Staks33.