AGADIR, Morocco (AFP) — Moroccans who secretly converted to Christianity are demanding the right to practice their faith openly in a country where Islam is the state religion and “apostasy” is condemned.
At an apartment in a working-class part of the southern town of Agadir, Mustapha listened to hymns emanating from a hi-fi under a silver crucifix hung on the wall.
The 46-year-old civil servant, son of an expert on Islamic law from nearby Taroudant, was once an active member of the banned but tolerated Islamist Charity and Justice movement.
He said he converted in 1994 to “fill a spiritual void.”
“I was tired of the contradictions in Islam,” said Mustapha. “I became interested in Christianity through a long correspondence with a religious center in Spain in the late 1980s.”
He went on to qualify as a Protestant pastor and received a certificate from the United States after taking a correspondence course.
Mustapha kept his faith secret for two decades, but a year and a half ago he published a video online in which he spoke openly about his conversion. The reaction was immediate.
“Family and close friends turned their backs on me, I was shunned at work. My children were bullied at school,” he said.
Converts to Christianity form a tiny minority of Moroccans. While no official statistics exist, the US State Department estimates their numbers at between 2,000 and 6,000.
Over the Easter weekend, Mustapha and a dozen fellow converts met for an “afternoon of prayers” in the living room of Rachid, who like Mustapha did not wish to give his full name.
Rachid, who hails from a family of Sufis — a mystical trend of Islam — embraced Christianity in 2004 and eventually became a Protestant pastor.
A father of two, Rachid said he became interested in Christianity when he was a teenager after listening to a program broadcast by a Paris-based radio station.
He researched Christianity at a cyber-cafe, contacted a specialized website and they sent him a copy of the Bible.
“I read the entire thing, studied the word of God, took courses,” he said. “At the age of 24, I was baptised in a Casablanca apartment.”
In April, Mustapha, Rachid and other Moroccan converts submitted a request to the official National Council of Human Rights (CNDH) calling for “an end to persecution” against them.
Read More: Times of Israel