In Morocco, religion is an undeniable part of daily life. On Fridays, for example, I see people leaving mosques in swarms, hurriedly tying their shoes in the street in order to get home to couscous meals with their families. At school, the call to prayer snaps me back to attention in the middle of a particularly long lecture. Phrases such as Alhamdulillah (Thank God) and Insha’allah (God willing) have snuck their way into my daily vernacular. Furthermore, my classes at AMIDEAST focus on matters of religion in political, historical, and social spheres of Morocco and the greater Middle East/ North Africa region.
Religion feels more visible to me here as well, perhaps because in Los Angeles diversity is the norm, and seeing people of all religions and dress is typical. Here, Islamic dress, particularly the hijab, are what is commonplace. Particularly in my Gender, Islam and Society class, we address all kinds of societal implications of religion and how that is reflected by our time in Morocco.
For the most part, I knew that in coming to Morocco I anticipated for there to be a greater emphasis on religion. I of course knew that Morocco does not have the same separation of church and state that is mandated in the United States. However, I was not expecting for this permeance of religion to have such an effect on me as it has.
I was raised in a Catholic family, and while I was religious and very spiritual as a child, I definitely drifted away from my faith as I got older, and had all but abandoned it by the time I decided to study abroad in Morocco. I was hovering somewhere between agnosticism and atheism when I came to Rabat six weeks ago. However, something that I could never have foreseen has slowly been happening, thanks to the prevalence of Islam here — I am experiencing a new understanding and appreciation for my religion.
While I was first very shocked to feel myself being drawn back to my religion, I have come up with a few possible influences. The first is Islam itself, and its relevance in Moroccan society. I have been really moved by the way many Moroccans have a deep and visible love for their religion, and the sense of peace, happiness, and comfort it brings to many Moroccans I have met. I realized that I missed those feelings that my religion once brought me. The second reason I’ve considered returning to religion has been my class on Gender and Islam. One of the main reasons I became disenchanted with my own faith was my perception that Christianity is incompatible with feminism, a movement I care about deeply. However, through our study of Islamic feminism and all the different ways to personalize and internalize religion, I realized that there is not necessarily one “Christianity” just as there is not one “Islam.” This gave me great comfort. I have really loved learning about the ways women in Morocco and the rest of the world have pointed to feminist elements and interpretations of Islam, and it has inspired me to look to do the same in my own religion.
Places such as the Al Quarawain University, the oldest university and religious school in the world, and the Bou Inania Madrassa, both in Fez, sparked wonder in me. They reminded me that the tenets of faiths like Islam and Christianity are more than the the cultures that have come to represent these religions today. They are deeply connected to scholarship, architecture, spirituality, and philosophy — all academic topics that I value greatly.
Ultimately, I believe religion is a deeply personal thing, and being religious or not is equally as personal of a decision. I just have been happy that my perceptions about my religion, which I frankly thought was no longer important, has been challenged by living in a society more dominated by religion than my own. Honestly, I would have expected my disdain for religion to be reinforced here rather than scrutinized and struck down.
Of course I am still grappling with many aspects of faith and religiosity. However, I am inspired by the Muslims that I have met here or that I have learned about that have showed me that I can reclaim my religion, maintain my personal convictions, and benefit from being a part of a religious community once again.