Sunday, March 29, 2009

Morocco Expels Five Christian Missionaries

Taking a page out of the Saudi playbook, Morocco has expelled five Christian missionaries for trying to convert Muslims.

Muslim Morocco expels 5 Christian missionaries

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Authorities have expelled five Christian missionaries from Morocco on the grounds that they were illegally inciting Muslims to convert, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.

The missionaries were caught Saturday during an assembly with Moroccan Muslims in Casablanca, the North African kingdom's economic capital, and have been sent to Spain by boat, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official MAP news agency.

"Numerous pieces of evangelical propaganda material were also seized," including video cassettes in Arabic that advocated conversion to Christianity, the statement said.

A senior Interior Ministry official said the missionaries were four Spaniards and a German woman. He insisted Morocco has nothing against the Christian faith, but that authorities felt the missionaries had gone too far. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with Interior Ministry rules, said the missionaries were expelled without being officially arrested or charged. He could not specify the Christian denomination to which they belonged.

Several Evangelical Christians have been charged or detained in recent months in neighboring Algeria, and authorities throughout North Africa have become increasingly wary of an apparent push by some Protestant churches in this overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim region.

Christianity and Judaism are freely practiced in dozens of churches, temples and synagogues throughout Morocco, but proselytizing to convert Muslims is considered illegal.

A tourism haven and a strong Western ally, Morocco has a reputation for tolerance. At the same time, the country's King Mohammed VI is also "Amir al-Mouminine," or commander of the believers and protector of the Muslim faith.

Morocco appears to have hardened its stance on moral issues in recent weeks. A Shiite Muslim school was closed earlier this month on suspicion it was trying to convert pupils, and Rabat severed its diplomatic relations with Iran, accusing the Shiite Islamic republic of trying to undermine Morocco's Sunni unity.

The Interior Ministry also recently issued a statement asserting it would not hesitate to crack down on media or activists that threatened the country's religious or moral values. The statement was viewed as targeting Shiites, as well as some newspapers that recently called for more rights for homosexuals.

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