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Morocco: Activists Break Fast in Public, Receive Punishment

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating or drinking (among other things) during daylight hours.  In a number of countries, it is socially unacceptable – if not entirely illegal – to eat in public during those hours.  For example, a recent case in Egypt saw a number of Muslims who chose not to fast arrested for their “crimes.”

Shortly after the breaking of that story, a group of Moroccan activists was reprimanded for breaking the fast in public, an action that is punishable under the Moroccan criminal code.  According to The View From Fez:

The Maghreb Arabe Presse said on Monday that local authorities “had managed to defeat an attempted rally that was to be followed by a public rupture of fasting for the repeal of a penal code”.

Moroccan newspapers have confirmed in their Tuesday editions this failed attempt to rally the “non-fasters” in Mohammedia.

This is the first time in Morocco that a group of “non-fasters” appears in public to claim the right not to practice Ramadan, observers note.

The Mohammedia protesters want the abolishment of a Moroccan law that punishes every Muslim openly breaking the fast of Ramadan, before the iftar meal which marks the end of the day.

Without stating agreement for the protesters’ actions, popular blogger Larbi lauds their courage:

Sans préjuger de leur cause il faut reconnaître aux quelques personnes qui se sont déplacés une certaine forme de courage. L’article 222 du Code pénal marocain stipule que tout individu connu pour son appartenance à l’Islam qui rompt ostensiblement le jeûne dans un lieu public pendant le Ramadan est passible de un à six mois d’emprisonnement et d’une amende.

Without prejudice to their case, it should be recognized that some people  have moved to some form of courage. Article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code stipulates that any person known for his affiliation to Islam who openly breaks the fast in public during Ramadan is punishable by one to six months’ imprisonment and a fine.

Not everyone who commented on the post agrees that the protesters’ actions were courageous; in fact, the vast majority of them felt that the group was in the wrong.

One commenter, Bouchra, likens the protesters to armchair activists:

They should put this energy and effort into CONSTRUCTIVE actions, making our country better instead of Stupid events like these.
Go out and DO something good for your country instead of finding everything wrong with it. Go out and do something good for your country instead of finding everything wrong with it.
They watch cabe, are online and think they know it all… They watch cabe, are online and think they know it all … GROW UP ALREADY and BE A REAL CITIZEN! GROW UP ALREADY and BE A REAL CITIZEN!

Yet another commenter, casazone, points out potential hypocrisy within the ranks of the protesters, while alluding to Morocco's problem of pollution:

Il est “fort probable” que la plupart des manifestants qui ont mangé le sandwich Ont jeté le reste (papier, aliments, os, ..etc) sur la voie publique

It is “highly likely” that many demonstrators who ate sandwiches threw the rest (paper, food, bones, etc. ..) on the highway.

Entre Nous Marocains [fr] finds the protest disrespectful to Islam, saying:

« Il y a cinq piliers dans l’islam, il faut pas punir seulement la violation du Ramadan, la loi ne punit pas ceux qui ne prient pas toute l’année ou ceux qui ne vont pas à la Mecque » précise Zineb El Razhoui. A notre tour on répond : Personne ne vous oblige d’être musulmane, mais on vous oblige de respecter les musulmans.

“There are five pillars in Islam, we must not only punish the violation of Ramadan, the law does not punish those who do not pray every time or those who do not go to Mecca,” says Zainab El Razhoui. In our turn we answer: Nobody forces you to be Muslim, but you are forced to respect Muslims.

One commenter, going by the name of Etonnée (Astonished) is puzzled by the audacity shown by the group, and says:

Je sens de la manipulation,
Si vous n'avez pas envie de jeûner, ne le faites pas, vous n'êtes pas obligés de le faire, tout est question de conviction, Dieu n'en sera pas dérangé, des milliards d'autres le font, que sont quelques dizaines à ne pas le faire !!!! Mais une autre question me vient à l'esprit, pourquoi montrer votre refus en public et maintenant ????
Vous demandez le respect de votre liberté en bafouant celle des autres ???

If you do not want to fast, do not, you're not obliged to, everything is for believers, and God will not be disturbed, billions of others fast, there are only tens that don't do it!! But another question comes to my mind, why show your refusal in public now?? You ask for respect for your freedom by infringing that of others??

Amongst the opposition were a few comments in support of the protesters.  One such comment, left on the Morocco Board, was a voice of support:

Hold on, these guys are just trying to bring to public attention a law that seems to infringe on individual liberties. I don't believe they are doing it just to defy the muslim community. If we accept that anybody who is seen eating before the break is reported to authorities. The next thing would be enforcing the 5 prayers a day. Look Moroccans have to mature a bit it is not just making sure that your neighbor will share paradise virgins with you that matters.
It is living freely now and here, that is the priority.

Fasting or praying or any other religious rite are private matters and the state has no business dealing with. Perhaps the oulemas should have a round table about Bars that miraculously vanish during Ramadan and open thereafter, talk about hypocrisy. Or perhaps they should discuss the role of the state in reducing poverty and prostitution as a duty of every muslim by giving zakat to provide for the growing number of this class in Morocco. Using zakat to reduce poverty, now that would be something to make proud of being muslim.

  • Mohamed (EKM)

    La liberté individuelle s’arrête quand la liberté collective est bafoué et les croyances collectives sont outragées !

  • Elmahdi oummih

    I do not agree with muslims who decide not to fast during the holy month of Ramadan; however, there should not be any law against it. The Law needs to be something that can be enforced in a logical, non discriminatory way. The laws also need to be consistent. Praying is just as important, if not more important, in terms of the duties that a muslim has… so by this token, if you are going to arrest people for not fasting, then those who do not Pray should also be arrested. People who do not give Zakat and can afford to do so, should also be arrested… However, all of this is redicilous, in fact it is anti Islamic to arrest people for infractions against Islam. The reason that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world is partly because it is based upon the personal relationship that each muslim has between themselves and God. NO ONE has the right to determine if the individual is keeping up with those responsibilities. In Islam, we believe that only God can judge us to be good or poor Muslims. Laws should be based upon the what is good for the society. When you arrest people who publicly break fast during day light hours and do not arrest people who do so in secret, what does it say about the level of respect for the laws in your society? Drinking Alcohol is forbiden under Islamic law; but most Islamic scholars will tell you that punishment for this kind of violation should be very moderate… many Islamic scholars believe that there should in fact be no punishment for drinking alcohol as it is up to God.

    As a country, all you should do is pass laws that are enforcable, and enforce those laws equitably. You should also make sure not to have one set of laws for one group of people living in the same country and another for another group living in that same country. The laws against Muslims sharing hotel rooms, Muslim consumption of Alcohol and Muslims fasting are perfect examples of what amount to Apartheid Laws. These laws make a mockery of our judicial system. All Countries are entitled to their codes of governance. However, if the laws are to be respected, they must be applied to everyone.

    Imagine travelling to Spain and discovering that Spaniards get arrested for smoking Hashish, but Muslims are allowed to smoke as much Hash as they want!!!

    Imagine going to America and discovering that American citizens are not allowed to have more than one wife but Muslims can have up to 4 wives!!!

    How is it that in Muslim nations, we create a special set of laws for Muslims and allow others to flout these laws in our own Countries? To me this is a sign of lack of respect for ones own culture and religion.

    I am not saying that Muslims should be allowed to break fast during Ramadan, what I am saying is that there should not be any difference between Muslims, Christians, Jews and other religious groups in front of the Law. Israel gets its designation as an Apartheid state in great part between it differentiates legally between the rights and responsibilities of Jewish and Non Jewish citizens, by resorting to that same standard in Muslims nations, we do the same thing, except in Muslim nations, it is actually worse… Wheras Israel gives greater rights to its Jewish Citizens, We give greater priveleges and rights to Non Muslims!!!

    The Law is the basis upon which Justice is found. When you have Justice, at least on the books, you find some level of social stability and this leads to economic stability. When you do not even have just laws on the books, it is a recipe for instability, injustice and economic stagnation.

    I want to wish all Muslim Brothers and Sisters a Happy Ramadan and all of my Christian and Jewish friends a happy holiday season.

    • Rachid

      Very well said El Mahdi
      Laws should be based on logic and it is clear that some of these laws do not stand the scrutiny of logic and should be reviewed and discarded…

    • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

      Precisely – I think it is disrespectful to eat in the streets during Ramadan in a Muslim country and despite being non-Muslim, I never did it. I found it appalling when tourists did.

      Regardless, there is a difference between respect and the law. Morocco has an increasing number of non-Muslims (expats, Jews, etc) and the law should not treat people differently.

      Also, you said:

      “Imagine going to America and discovering that American citizens are not allowed to have more than one wife but Muslims can have up to 4 wives!!!”

      Isn’t that what’s happening in Britain now? Shari’a law for some? Ridiculous.

      • Elmahdi oummih

        Jillian, You really have me confused. Are you saying that In New York City, or London, by telling the police you are muslim, you do not have to follow British or American laws that everyone else has to follow? I am in NYC right now, and know what you are saying does not apply in the US. If what you are saying applies vis a vis Bigamy in England, there are hundreds of thousands of Mormons who would be going to live in London tommorow.

        From What I understand, and Please, Please correct me if I am wrong; London is not ruled by Sharia law. Adulterers are not stoned and if you borrow money, you generally must pay interest….

        The problem for me is the idea that different laws are applied in the same geographical area based upon Race, Ethnicity or Religious affiliation. This is called Apartheid. This exists in Israel. It used to exist in South Africa, it no longer exists in the US. This is not to say that discrimination does not occur in the US, or that Racism does not exist, but Apartheid, a system by which laws exist that differentiate between the legal rights of people because of no other reason than their Race, Ethnicity or Religious affiliation; that is called Apartheid.

        That is what you have in Morocco, right now, Apartheid. A muslim cannot legally drink nor purchase nor sell alcohol, but a Christian, Jew or Atheist can. If I say I am not muslim as my defense, and it is proven that I come from a Muslim family, then I face a whole other slew of charges. A muslim who grew up in the US with a US passport cannot share a hotel room with a women he is not married to, even if she has a foreign passport; whereas other foreigners are obviously able to Legally share hotel rooms without being married in Morocco. This nonsense of people being arrested for breaking the fast in Public is also a perfect example of the different laws for different groups in the same area. If you decide to eat or drink, it is between you and god.

        A little about me… I am a Haaj. This means I have done the trip to Mecca. I pray, alhamdullah, I fast, alhamdullah, I believe myself to do my best to be a good muslim. I do not think it is a good idea to break your fast, I think it is not a good thing to do, if you are a muslim. Furthermore, I believe that if you live your life in accordance with the principals of Islam, your life in this world will be better, and the rewards in the afterlife will also be a million times better.

        Being a real muslim in my humble opinion is about understanding that God is the one that judges, not us. We are imperfect, we do not have the right to pass judgement on people who do not pray, or participate in other actions that may on the face look anti islamic, this is for God to decide. Govt. should be concerned with passing laws that prevent people from hurting one another, or create a certain environment. If the govt. said nobody, tourists and foreign dignitaries included has the right to purchase or drink Alcohol, I have no problem with that. If they say that everyone over the age of 21 has the right to drink, I have no problem with that either. When you say people of one ethnicity can but another can’t…. that I have a very big problem with… because it is called apartheid.

        • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

          ElMahdi,

          No, what I am saying is that, in the UK, the legislative system has sanctioned Sharia courts to be used on Muslim civil cases (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article4749183.ece).

          • Elmahdi oummih

            Jillian,

            Thank you very much for the link. For other readers, it is important that they understand that although Sharia law has recently been allowed to be used for Arbitration purposes in London, meaning that all parties involved in the proceding must aquiese to the rulings of the court,

            “Jewish Beth Din courts operate under the same provision in the Arbitration Act and resolve civil cases, ranging from divorce to business disputes. They have existed in Britain for more than 100 years, and previously operated under a precursor to the act”.

            Whereas British people are in an uproar over Arbitration done by Muslims, they do not talk about arbitration accepted by other religious groups.

            The fundamental issue is unchanged. Laws cannot apply be applied to different groups in unfair ways in the same geographic area. It is still called Apartheid, what is going on in London, which I personally think is fine, is called arbitration. Arbitration only has the full force of the law because the parties entering into the arbitration give away their rights and CHOOSE that particular Arbitrator.

            I do want to thank you for the link, it was informative. I also want to thank you for the great writing you have done in the past.

        • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

          I can’t reply to the last one (threaded comments end around 5, apparently) but I realize that Jewish courts are allowed to do the same thing, and I politely disagree with both.

          I also agree with you that Morocco’s treatment of different groups are strikingly similar to those of Israel’s in a sense – except that foreigners are treated better. The hotel issue is a great example; technically, the law applies to Moroccans…but does it apply to Moroccan Jews too? I can think of numerous occasions where a friend and I have had to pay for separate rooms – when our goal for sharing was just to save money!

          Anyway, I thank you for everything you’ve added to this discussion.

        • J. Kactuz

          Quote: The problem for me is the idea that different laws are applied in the same geographical area based upon Race, Ethnicity or Religious affiliation.

          Mr. Oummih. For your information, this happens all the time in Muslim countries, but this does not bother you, does it? Muslims discriminate against non-Muslims all the time everywhere in the Muslim world. Sharia law is nothing but apartheid against non-Muslims.

          Personally I would be more impressed if Muslims would give up hate and violence, instead of food and drink for a few days. Think about that.

          • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

            You so obviously didn’t read Mr. Oummih’s comment – he actually WAS talking about a Muslim country.

          • Moroccan Patriot

            Mr Kactuz,

            I believe you may not have understood or perhaps misinterpreted what I said. Apartheid policies are offensive. I was actually sheding light on the fact that Apartheid Laws do exist in the Muslim world; however, instead of elevating the power stature of the religious Majority as is the case in Israel, in many “Muslim” (Not really Muslim though) countries, Muslims are designated as second class citizens within their own country.

            I do want to point out that the situation in Palestine is a completely different story. Palestine, (east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) are nothing more than open air prisons. The situation there is far worse than the living conditions endured by any other people living anywhere in the world; with perhaps the exception of groups experiencing active genocide (Rawandans and Bosnians in the 90′s).

            I have many Jewish friends and colleagues who are just offended by Israeli apartheid policies as I am; having grown up in NYC, I have a special fondness for the incredible amount of respect afforded to the Law in Jewish Tradition and find it quite troubling that such an honorable Faith would let it be hijacked by right wing extremists, visiting collective punishment on innocent women and children in clear violation of UN resolutions and International Law.

            In Conclusion, I believe we should call a spade a spade; Apartheid policies wherever they exist are wrong. It is up to all people of all faiths to fight this

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  • Rachid

    I am hoping that people who fast are doing it because they want to honor their faith and no because restuarants are closed and people are not allowed to eat in public. If that is the case, then equally people who do not want to fast, should be allowed to make their own choices. I do fail to see how eating a sandwich in public becomes what

    Mohamed (EKM) describes as:
    “La liberté individuelle s’arrête quand la liberté collective est bafoué et les croyances collectives sont outragées !” I am hoping your faith is not THAT fragile– what these people are doing is not about YOU it is about them, they want to be free not to fast if they do not want to. And in my opinion democracy is built on respecting other people’s choices. Now if these people came to you and started feeding their sandwich then that would be an attack on your own freedom to fast. Until that happens, I think these people should be allowed to enjoy their sandwich in peace!!!! and isn’t Ramadan a month when we should be thinking about our own problems and failings? let’s focus on that and let others do the same ….

  • Mohand Salah

    Religion is a personal issue. Those who want to fast they are free to do so and those who want to eat should also be free to do so. Nobody should insult the intelligence of others. After all, if God is great He can defend Himself and He would not wish to be defended by weak human beings, who may think that they are more intelligent than those who do not agree with them. Perhaps heaven – if it exists – cannot house everybody. If there is anybody who thinks he has a cause to defend on this earth why not defend the poor and the weak! The rest is hypocrissy!

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  • http://www.inspirationwriting.blogspot.com Rachid

    there are many restaurants opened for non-fasters and no one have ever attacked them for eating. http://inspirationwriting.blogspot.com/2009/09/non-fasters-and-public-break-fast-in.html

    • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

      Rachid,

      This is not the case in my experience, or in most of the country. Where I lived, in Meknes, there was ONE restaurant open during Ramadan – McDonald’s. Having eaten there several times during my second Ramadan in the country, I found that there were only children eating.

      I also saw Muslims refused service during this time.

      While Casa and Rabat may keep some restaurants open, that’s not true for most of the country.

      • Rachid

        I have seen that Jillian, I am not doubting you on that. The case is much bigger than just whether or not people can find places open to eat at during daytime in Ramadan. The fact is that a country that wants to be a democracy has to understand that democracy is built on live and let live. People who do not want to fast during Ramadan should not have to hide to eat a sandwich. And most importantly the law has so many loopholes that it is practically impossible to enforce without turning the country into more of a police state. How do you decide that someone is Muslim or not so you can apply this law? Do you go around asking people to show their faith IDs? or do you just assume their faith based on their looks?

        • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

          Rachid, I agree with you as well. Unless Morocco is going to go the way of Israel and start separating its citizens by religion and ethnic background (and I certainly hope it doesn’t do that), then it needs to treat everyone evenly and allow personal freedoms, even if those personal freedoms disrespect some.

          Honestly, I feel that even if it were legal, most people wouldn’t go around eating sandwiches publicly. Moroccans are respectful to others.

          • Rachid

            Jillian, ElMahdi, and Rabea,
            There was a news story about this case on the BBC site today.
            I really hope that cooler heads will come to the front and inject some logic into this whole thing.
            I looked at the facebook page of the group behind the event and honestly do not find anything objectionable in what they site as their principles.
            Thought I might share this with you.

            their facebook page is at this URL

            http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=128065536460&ref=search&sid=752128128.2281579926..1

            Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertés Individuelles

            “Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits”
            Article premier de la Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme

            Au Maroc, plus que dans d’autres Etats, la défense de nos libertés individuelles est une nécessité. Abus de pouvoir, inquisition socioreligieuse, intolérance, textes de loi abusifs, étouffent nos libertés fondamentales. D’où l’importance d’un Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertés Individuelles : MALI.

            Nos priorités :

            - La liberté personnelle : le droit d’exister (interdiction de la peine de mort), la liberté physique (se déplacer librement), le droit à l’intégrité physique (interdiction de la torture), le droit à l’intégrité psychique (droit de mener une vie qui permet de s’épanouir).

            - La liberté de conscience et la liberté de culte : chacun peut pratiquer la religion de son choix ou n’en pratiquer aucune.

            - La liberté d’opinion : chacun peut exprimer oralement ou par écrit ce qu’il pense ou croit être la vérité.

            La liberté au Maroc est loin d’être un acquis, sa préservation ou sa reconquête est un combat à mener au quotidien. Ni les institutions étatiques, ni les hommes politiques ne doivent décider à votre place. Nous voulons une société qui respecte la diversité des Hommes. Pour que cela devienne une réalité, votre voix doit porter suffisamment haut imposer vos choix individuels et s’opposer aux lois et pratiques liberticides. C’est l’objectif de MALI. Nous avons besoin de chacun de vous pour faire évoluer les mentalités.

            Mali? : mot d’arabe qui signifie : qu’ai-je de différent?

      • Rachid

        I have seen that happen too. “كل معزة تعلق من رجليها” “Every goat will be hanged with its own legs” goes the wonderful Moroccan proverb meaning that people should only bear the burden of their own doings;i.e. what does it matter to you that someone is eating if you are doing what you think is right by your faith? The Qur’an teaches us that God is just and justice has to be based on the ability of each and everyone to be able to make their own choices…

        • Elmahdi oummih

          I agree with you Rachid. Well said. I will tell you an American Proverb that I really like, which I think is fitting, ” I believe in Free speech, I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will fight to my last breath to help protect your right to say it”.

          The first amendment is a beautiful thing.

  • Rabea

    I agree with Rachid. Everyone is responsible to, only him/herself. The Islamic religion is very clear on that. My father, who was a devout Muslim and who died in 1987 at age 82, was much more open minded than this generation of Moroccan Muslims(How sad to see this generation so close minded and lacking in critical thinking!) He always quoted the proverb Rachid sited above:” Every goat will be hanged by its own leg” and only god will be the judge of wether you are a good a bad Muslim. While personally I believe that Religion is the opium of the people and that many murders and wars were fought in the name of Religion, I still believe that what you chose to believe is up to you and no religious believes or practices should be legislated. If you believe god is omnipotent and sees and knows everything, why then would he need anyone to police people’s behaviors for him? Do your Ramadan and don’t worry about what your neighbor does. It is their problem, their business. Koul maaza tat taalak min rajliha. “كل معزة تعلق من رجليها”

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