Morocco explicitly criminalizes blasphemy against Islam and punishes it with imprisonment and/or fines. While freedom of expression, conscience, and worship are granted by the constitution, and there is technically no law against apostasy, publicly rejecting Islam may make one liable to prosecution for “shaking the faith” of Muslims—also punishable with imprisonment and fines. Morocco also claims political control over large swaths of the disputed Western Sahara territory, which is otherwise a secular state.
Passing through several hands of political control, Morocco has been an essentially Islamic land in character since its Islamization. It has historically been ruled by governments claiming authority in an Islamic context, including the current Alaouite dynasty, which claims to descend from the Prophet himself. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the British, French, and Spanish exerted varying degrees of colonial control, but Morocco has since gained independence and established a penal code of its own. Under current laws, criticism of Islam and attempts to “shake the faith” of Muslims can result in imprisonment.
Development of Blasphemy Laws
Probably around the beginning of the eighth century, the lands that today encompass the nation of Morocco were conquered by Muslim forces. In the succeeding centuries, different factional seizures of power morphed the Moroccan practice of Islam, blending it with local traditions of the Berber tribes, but the region did not lose its Muslim character thereafter. As such, it was subject to Islamic law, which held that the offenses of blasphemy and apostasy could be met with death.
Though Morocco had been ruled by many different Muslim dynasties, often for less than a century at a time, the Alaouites have been the ruling dynasty since the seventeenth century. This dynasty claims direct lineage from the Prophet Muhammad, having formulated Morocco from the very beginning as an explicitly Islamic country. Therefore, legal authority continues to be derived from Islamic doctrine.
In the modern era, a certain degree of secularization accompanied Moroccan nationalist movements, though not nearly to the same extent as some other Muslim countries, owing to the otherwise ethnically diverse populace of the region. This coincided with a period of colonization in which the British, French, and Spanish all exerted varying degrees of de facto and de jure influence over the country. In many ways, religion was the unifying force that lended the Moroccan body politic a cohesion that may otherwise have been absent. A sense of Islamic identity lay at the foundation of Moroccanness through history, and it would certainly continue to do so after independence was achieved.
Morocco has been governed by the same penal code since 1963, six years after the colonial period ended. In 1965, the country’s system of religious courts was absorbed into that of the state courts, significantly reducing the influence of Islam over the law. However, blasphemy laws are still on the books, and rather than covering religious feelings and beliefs in general, they specifically single out Islam for protection. Restrictions exist against criticizing Islam and “shaking the faith” of Muslims, which can be met with imprisonment. The constitution grants religious freedom, and apostasy is not technically illegal, but these laws give broad license for the punishment of religious dissent.
In 2002, a law extending blasphemy restrictions to the news media was enacted, essentially reiterating the ban on publicly-circulating content that criticizes Islam or the state. More recently, in 2013, Morocco’s Superior Council of ulemas issued a fatwa declaring that apostates should be executed, contravening the earlier absence of laws against apostasy on Morocco’s books. However, apostasy is still not punishable by law, and some council members have stated that they believe apostasy more properly refers to “political treason” than to a change of religion.