Religion cannot justify terrorist ​acts – says Moroccan Foreign Minister

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Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Nasser Bourita, believes that the visit of Pope Francis is important on a number of levels and sends a strong message to the world. He also thinks that there is a convergence between the thinking of Pope Francis and the Moroccan king, Mohammed VI. By Russell Pollitt SJ who is in Morocco.

Reflecting on Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Morocco this weekend, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Nasser Bourita, said that the Holy Father is not simply coming to Morocco but is coming to meet the ‘Commander of the Faithful’.

Bourita stressed that Islam as lived in Morocco, “is not a religion of hate, it is not a religion of discrimination or which can be used to justify criminal or terrorist acts against the other.”

Bourita says that King Mohammed VI of Morocco and Pope Francis will show “that coexistence, mutual understanding, mutual respect are key elements” and that “nothing could justify” what happened in New Zealand and other places where such things happen. “This is not religion — religion cannot be instrumentalised for such criminal acts — religion is completely different.” 

The Minster of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Nassar Bourita // Russell Pollitt SJ
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Nassar Bourita // Russell Pollitt SJ

The reaction of the pope after what happened in New Zealand has sent a strong message, Bourita explained. “[T]he first authority in the Christian world has expressed solidarity with the Muslims and the victims.”

He added that the Moroccan king has a particular religious responsibility in the Muslim world — not just in Morocco but in other North African countries too. “The pope is coming to see the religious authority, which is the Commander of the Faithful, which is unique in the Muslim world,” he said.

“His majesty is a son of the prophet, in direct line, and this gives strong legitimacy to his religious authority,” Bourita says. 

The minister stresses that the king is not the commander of Muslims but the commander of the faithful. “The King of Morocco has, since the ninth century, protected the three monotheistic religions in Morocco — Islam, Judaism and Christians.”

The Catholic Diocese of Rabat was established in 1921 but the first priest arrived in Morocco 800 years ago, says Fr Daniel Nourissat of the Cathedral of St Peter in Rabat.

Nourissat says that there are over 100 families from other countries living in Rabat. “Women, from other countries — married to Muslim men — who did not convert, are allowed to practice their own faith and so attend the cathedral too. The king promotes tolerance between religions.”

// Russell Pollitt SJ
Fr David Nourisaat addresses journalists in the Cathedral of St Peter in Rabat // Russell Pollitt SJ

Bourita says that the papal visit is important because “it is not any Muslim country and it is not any Muslim leader. It is a meeting between the highest religious authorities in the Christian world and the Commander of the Faithful in the Islamic world.”

The minister says that the visit is also important because of the challenges that the world faces at this particular time. He says that values are being undermined and that “peaceful thinking has been marginalised”. 

He says that tolerance and co-existence are becoming very difficult, in and between countries. The pope’s visit is an opportunity for these two leaders to “send a message of wisdom to the world that there are more important things than fights, radicalism, one-sided positions.” 

Bourita believes that there are similarities between the pope and the king. “They share many things, and one of them which is important for me is compassion.” He believes that both are concerned about the marginalised, poor and vulnerable. 

He believes that the thinking of the pope and the king is convergent, on migration. “Since 2014, Morocco has regularised 50 000 sub-Saharan Africans allowing them to access employment, schools and hospitals in the country.

Bourita says that migrants are not criminals, they are human beings, to whom compassion should be afforded. “We are not solving the issue by making them [migrants] criminals.” One of the key themes of Francis’ papacy has been migration.

Bourita says that migrants are not criminals, they are human beings, to whom compassion should be afforded. “We are not solving the issue by making them [migrants] criminals.” One of the key themes of Francis’ papacy has been migration.

The minister speaks also about the relationship between religions in Morocco. The country is Muslim and yet there are churches that are full every Sunday. Churches were originally built for Europeans who came to Morocco during colonisation. Now they are full of sub-Saharan Africans who worship freely. 

“Our geographical position has helped us to integrate and to be open. We are Muslims but we don’t claim any exclusivity and any hate against others in the country.”

Having churches in Muslim countries is “not common to the Arab and Muslim world,” Bourita says. He goes on to say that the same is true for the Jewish community — who have their own judiciary and synagogues in Morocco. 

“Morocco is particular. Because of the role of His Majesty, the Commander of the Faithful, the Moroccan people have lived with different religions.”

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

 

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Religion cannot justify terrorist ​acts – says Moroccan Foreign Minister