Religion, and in particular Islam, is a central and visible part of life here in Morocco. I often get woken up at dawn to the call of prayer ringing throughout the city and groggily roll over and throw my pillow over my ears, my favorite thing to do is admire all the pretty and beautifully designed mosques on my walks, and I still haven’t quite figured out to do when someone prays in front of me. (Muslims pray on mats and have specific movements as they pray.) Should I leave the room so that people can pray in private? Do I just keep doing what I was doing?
I also have been learning a lot about Islam through my conversations with people I have met, my host family and my classes. However, there is still so much that I do not know about Islam and I am often worried that I may say the wrong thing or accidentally offend people, which may have already happened.
One of the first nights I was with my host family, we had eaten dinner and I was sitting on the couches with my host mother and sister watching television. We are flipping through the channels, occasionally stopping to watch an Arab soap opera, French news, or a US crime show dubbed in French. We stop on one of the channels and they start to excitedly explain that it is the King and Prince of Morocco on television. The program continues and everyone being filmed is sitting in this extremely well-decorated room with plush carpets and intricate designs on the walls. Along with the King and the Prince, the group begins to sing or chant. I continue to watch, and try to think about what could be going on. I’m pretty sure that they are reciting the Qur’an. I’m gaining the courage to ask. Should I ask if it’s the Qur’an? If it isn’t the Qur’an, are they going to be offended or think I’m stupid? I finally decide that I am not going to mention the Qur’an in case they aren’t actually reciting it. In French, I finally ask “What are they singing?” because my French vocabulary lacks the word for “recite”. My host mom’s eyes open wide. “They aren’t singing. No, that’s the Qur’an, they’re not singing!” To this day, I’m not sure if she’s offended or surprised that I wasn’t able to figure out for myself that they were reciting the Qur’an. I just hope as I learn more about Islam I will know the difference between an important religious activity and normal everyday stuff like singing!
Because I am not Muslim, many people also ask me questions about my religion. While I no longer am practicing, I will respond that I’m Catholic because it is the easiest explanation. Following this revelation, I will often become involved in discussions about Christianity. I do my best to respond to the questions, but I am also careful. In Morocco, proselytizing is illegal and I wouldn’t want to make it seem like I was promoting Christianity or trying to convert anyone. Often, it’s not a problem. I’ve found a lot of people are very knowledgeable about Christianity and often have a thing or two to teach me about it. They carry the conversation while I respond “Huh, I didn’t know”.
For example, the other day at breakfast my host mother is watching a video on Facebook of two Muslim girls asking a Catholic priest about the trinity and how that fits into a monotheistic religion. She eagerly brings me into the conversation. “You’re Catholic right? Do you understand that? How does it work?” My mind flashes back to a Christian-Muslim Relations course I took at school where we talked about this exact question. How do we have one god who is the trinity? I know there’s an answer, but I also remember that when it was explained it wasn’t something I particularly understood. I shrug. “I don’t really know, I don’t think it’s something they’re very clear about”. She presses me further but I really don’t have an answer, so we have to move on from the conversation.
I have become an ambassador to a faith I no longer belong to. I’m doing my best, but my Sunday school memories are rusty!