Before I came to Morocco several months ago, I had many conceptions and misconceptions about living in a North African, Islamic country.
By Jess L. Norton
Before I came to Morocco several months ago, I had many conceptions and misconceptions about living in a North African, Islamic country. What must I do when I hear the call to prayer? Will I be tolerated as a Christian? Will I be allowed to associate with women? These were all questions that came to my mind when I thought of coming to Morocco. The Morocco of my mind was the Morocco of Hollywood films and when I thought of Morocco, I thought of camels, tents, the French Foreign Legion and the One Thousand and One Nights.
Since I have come to Morocco, my friends and family in America have asked me many questions. “Do they have highways in Morocco?” “Do they have mobile telephones?” “Do they have washing machines?” I’ve also heard more than enough questions about camels and about the desert.
Now I am here. I have lived and worked in Fez for several months and I scarcely see anyone who is not Moroccan. I am entirely immersed in the culture. I eat Moroccan food, my friends are Moroccan, my clothes are Moroccan, and I have done a fair amount of traveling.
Since I arrived, I have seen my fair share of televisions, mobile telephones, highways and European luxury cars. I am however, still waiting to see the desert and those camels that everyone keeps talking about.
Many westerners have misconceptions about Morocco. I myself did not understand things well until I arrived. Muslim women are not shut up in some distant wing of their house where they are forbidden to have interaction with men. The women in Morocco work together with men in just about every job. I should also mention that not all women in Morocco are veiled. Morocco, like every other country has a diversity of people and of culture.
Some women are veiled and wear gloves so that the only part of them that is seen is their eyes as they look over their veils. Other women wear a scarf to cover their hair and they consider that to be sufficient. Then there are other women who do not cover their heads nor their faces and no one seems to be bothered about it.
It is common here in Morocco to see a veiled lady walking with a lady who only wears a scarf or perhaps with a lady who does not cover her head at all. These women who have different religious convictions all get along with one another and are friends.
These women have rights also. Some people make the mistake of thinking that because some Muslim women do not live free lives, then all Muslim women are oppressed. I think that the women of Morocco are among the most free of all of the women in the Islamic world. They come and go as they please. They drive cars. They do business or whatever else is necessary.
One should note that unlike the women of the west, Muslim women have always had the right to hold and inherit property. There have been many very powerful and influential women in Islamic civilization.
For example. in Fez one will find both a synagogue and a Mosque-university which were founded by women. The University is Al-Karouine which was founded by Fatima al-Fihri and it is reputed to be the oldest continuously operating university in the world and the synagogue is Em-Habbanim Obviously these women were not shut away in the harem fanning themselves all the day long. They were an important and influential part of their society.
Another issue should be mentioned, that is that Morocco is a very modern and progressive country. The streets are paved and wide. In Fez, there are fountains at every turn.
There has been much publicity this year about the King’s project of building the tramway in Rabat which apparently has been successful. Contrary to what some people might think, we have electricity, running water, and everything else that one requires for a comfortable life in this modern age. I have not done without anything to which I was accustomed in America save my favorite blend of pipe tobacco.
In Morocco there is a great deal of tolerance as well. Before I traveled to Morocco, I was warned by many friends that it could be dangerous for a Christian to travel to a Muslim land. After all, Muslims hate Christians, they say. Well, perhaps that is true in some places. I don’t know. I am in Morocco.
Since I have come to Morocco, I have dined with Muslims. I have slept in their houses, I have been nursed by them when I was sick and they have never insulted me or discriminated against me for not being a Muslim. My friends know that I did not fast for Ramadan and they are not bothered.
In fact, when I visited some Muslim friends during Ramadan, they insisted on preparing food for me so that I could eat throughout the day as I am accustomed to do. They never ate until dusk, but they never asked me to fast with them. Never once has any of my Muslim friends tried to convert me to Islam since I came to Morocco. My religion is simply not anything that they are worried about.
I live in Morocco now. My conceptions now have a foundation and my misconceptions have been corrected and adjusted to correspond to the truth. Now I know that when I hear the call to prayer, I can ignore it. It does not stop all life and movement when it is sounded. Now I know that most people don’t care what my religion is. I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against.
Many Muslims call me brother and friend and I know that they are sincere. I can associate with women. I can walk with them in the street and talk with them in their homes and there is no problem. It is easy to live among Muslims and I am quite comfortable here. I think that I shall stay for quite some time.
Jess L. Norton is Morocco World News’ correspondent in Fez, Morocco.