POPULATION: 29 million
LANGUAGE: Arabic (official); French; English; Berber; Spanish
RELIGION: Islam (99 percent); Christianity; Judaism
Morocco has been invaded many times throughout its history. Arab invaders brought Islam to Morocco during the seventh century. They later brought art, architecture, and universities. From the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, European nations gained control of Morocco. In the twentieth century, France made Morocco a protectorate. However, the people did not want to be ruled by others, so they revolted against any conqueror. Morocco finally gained independence on March 2, 1956. The government is now a constitutional monarchy. It is ruled by a king who is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, the seventh-century messenger of Islam. The king appoints a cabinet, known as the Council of Ministers. He also appoints a prime minister as head of the government. The people elect the majlis al-nuab, or Council of Representatives.
Morocco has an area of 172,368 square miles (446,550 square kilometers). Its coastline is more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) long. The population of Morocco is estimated to be 29 million.
The Moroccan landscape consists of desert, rivers, plains, and four major mountain ranges. The northwestern part of the Sahara Desert covers almost half of Morocco. Morocco's rivers are not navigable, but they are a major source of water for irrigation. Morocco's plains are cultivated with a variety of crops, such as oranges, figs, olives, almonds, barley, and wheat.
The country has a variety of weather patterns. The desert is hot and dry. The coastal plains have mild temperatures. In the summer the mountains are hot and dry. In the winter they are cold, rainy, and often snowy.
Modern standard Arabic is the official state language of Morocco and Arabic is the most common language spoken. When pledging to do something, a Moroccan Muslim says insha Allah, or "if God wills it." Before doing something, a Muslim should say Bismillah, or "In the name of God." Common female Arabic names are Fatima, Aisha, and Khadija. Common male Arabic names are Muhammad, Hasan, and Ali. All of these are also names of famous people in Islamic history.
Titles of respect are often attached to names. An older woman may be referred to as Lalla, which is similar to "Ma'am." A man may be referred to as Sidi, or Si for short, which is similar to "Mr."
Morocco has many legends based on the exploits of Muslim holy men called murabitin in Arabic. Murabitin were believed to have baraka, or divine grace, that let them perform miracles. Their burial sites are visited by people hoping for blessings and favors. The murabitin are more common in the countryside than in the urban areas.
Some Moroccans believe in spiritual beings called jinn. Jinn are said to take on the forms of animals. To ward off these spirits, Moroccans wear verses from the Quran (Koran) on an amulet. The Quran is the Muslim holy book. They also wear the "hand of Fatima," a charm in the shape of the right hand, to protect against the evil eye.
Often, women in the countryside believe in (and might practice) sihr, or witchcraft. Sihr is given orally, usually as a potion mixed with food or drink. A potion might make someone fall in love, or it might invoke a curse to take revenge.
Most folklore in Muslim countries tells stories of important people in religious history. According to the tale, al-Isra wa al-Mi'raj , on the twenty-sixth day of the Islamic month of Rajab, the Prophet Muhammad traveled at night from Mecca (a city in what is now Saudi Arabia, then known as Hijaz) to Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, he rode his wondrous horse, al-Burak, on a nighttime visit to heaven. This legend is celebrated every year throughout the Islamic world.
Almost all Moroccans are Muslim. Islam is the state religion. The largest mosque in Africa is the Karaouine Mosque, built in AD 862 and located in the city of Fez. This mosque has enough room for more than 20,000 worshipers. A small number of people—about 70,000 are Christian (mainly Roman Catholic). An even smaller minority (6,000–7,000) are Jewish.
Moroccans celebrate secular and Muslim religious holidays. One major Muslim holiday is Eid al-Fitr. It is observed the last three days of the month of fasting called Ramadan. The other major Muslim holiday is Eid al-Adha. It commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to obey God's command. Eid al-Adha signals the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj. Every Muslim must make this pilgrimage at least once during his or her lifetime.
Secular holidays include King Hassan II's Coronation Day (March 3); Labor Day (May 1); Independence Day (November 18); and New Year's Day (January 1).
All Moroccans are expected to get married. Weddings take several days, and involve elaborate parties with food and dancing. Every wife is expected to have children. Circumcision of males is required by Islam. In Morocco, it is usually done when the boy is young, sometime before his sixth birthday. People who die are buried within twenty-four hours. Relatives and neighbors gather for three days to mourn and recite from the Quran (Koran). On the fortieth day after the death, friends and relatives gather again to mourn and have a feast, known as sadaqa .
Moroccans shake hands during greetings and farewells. Close friends of the same sex commonly hug and exchange kisses on the cheeks. People of the opposite sex just shake hands. The most common greeting among Moroccans is the phrase Al-salamu alaykum, which means "May peace be upon you." The response is Wa alaykum al-salam, or "May peace be upon you also."
Family members are very courteous to one another and to their guests. However, in public each person hopes to advance his or her own interests, so they might not show the same courtesy.
Boys and girls are kept apart until they grow old enough to understand sexuality. It is considered inappropriate and shameful for unmarried males and females to socialize. Premarital sex is strictly forbidden. A girl who loses her virginity outside of marriage brings great shame to her family's reputation. Moroccan males can socialize outside of the home, often at the cafe. Women are rarely seen at cafes.
Moroccan neighborhoods have different types of homes, some new and some centuries old. The older towns, known as medinas, are usually surrounded by high, thick walls. The newer towns have houses with Western conveniences.
All Moroccans have access to clean water, and to cooking and heating fuel. Most homes also have electricity. Some homes have central heating and telephones. Most urban areas have public phones. Most toilets are porcelain-covered holes in the ground. Modern homes have Western-style toilets.
The streets are well developed. Most cities are connected by two-lane roads, railroads, and buses. The country has six major seaports and seven international airports.
More than half of the population is under the age of nineteen. Nearly one-third is under the age of ten. Casablanca is the largest city. It has about 3 million inhabitants. The life expectancy is sixty-three years for males and sixty-five for females. Morocco has a high rate of infant mortality—seventysix deaths in every 1,000 live births. Moroccans have only one doctor for every 5,200 people, and one dentist for every 100,000 people.
The family is the center of every Moroccan's life. Children live with their families until they get married or go away to school. It is common for Moroccan women to live with their husband's family. Women are expected to take care of the home. The elderly are highly respected and are cared for by their families. Both men and women play a strong role in decision-making. Women have more freedom in the cities. More restrictions are placed on rural women.
Every Moroccan is expected to marry. For many women, marriage and childbearing are the ultimate goals in life. Most women want to get married before their mid-twenties, and most men before their thirties. Not all marriages are arranged by the parents, but parents have a say in the choices made by their children.
The traditional attire of Moroccans is a one-piece, floor-length, hooded dress, known as a jellaba. It is worn by both men and women. Western attire is often worn under the jellaba. In cold weather, many men cover their jellabas with a hooded cloak called a burnus . Religious and/or conservative women cover their hair in public. Berber women wear long, colorful dresses, often covering their heads with straw hats. They also often have tattoos on their foreheads, cheeks, or necks. However, this custom is slowly fading away. Rural men often wear turbans. A knitted skullcap is common attire for men going to a mosque.
Moroccans generally have three meals per day. Breakfast might consist of bread, olive oil, butter, and preserves, or a pancake-like food known as baghrir . Lunch is the largest meal of the day. It consists typically of couscous and tajin . Dinner ranges from light to heavy meals, with soup, known as harira, and bread being common. Moroccans are serious tea-drinkers, although coffee, with much milk and sugar, is also very popular. Moroccans, being Muslim, are prohibited from consuming pork or alcoholic beverages. However, alcohol is served in bars and cafes throughout the country.
Moroccans eat at a low, round table and often are served from one platter. Morocco's national dish is couscous, a kind of wheat pasta that looks like rice. Couscous is combined with meat, lamb, and other ingredients to make a main course. Another favorite Moroccan dish is tajin, which is a stew of vegetables and meat baked in earthenware pots.
Public schools are free and children between the ages of seven and thirteen are required to attend. This law, however, is not enforced. In 1992, only two-thirds of this age group attended school. In 1995, more than half of adults were illiterate (unable to read and write). French is taught in all public schools from the third grade through the completion of secondary school. English is taught in public schools at the secondary level. The school year is similar to that in Western countries: classes begin in September and end in June.
Moroccans enjoy rhythmic music and dancing. Most music on the radio and television is traditional Arab entertainment. However, more Western music is being broadcast, and MTV is now available by satellite. Traditional Arabic music uses string instruments, such as the rebec, lotar, ud, and kamanja . It is common to see girls and women dancing at an informal gathering. Sometimes the dancer seems to go into a trance-like state that may cause her to faint.
At festivals held in honor of local saints, horsemen, wearing white robes and white turbans, gallop toward the audience and then fire their guns into the air.
Morocco's upper class is made up mostly of wealthy merchants and of the Prophet Muhammad's descendents, who are known as the Sherfa . The middle class is made up of educated professionals such as university professors, civil servants, doctors, lawyers, and high school teachers. The less-educated are employed mostly in factories and/or farms. Morocco has high unemployment, so many Moroccans find work in France, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Libya, and the Netherlands.
Most Moroccans work in agriculture, either as laborers or vendors. The plains of Morocco are cultivated with barley, corn, wheat, tobacco, citrus fruits, olives, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. Morocco's chief export is the mineral phosphate. Morocco's third-most-important industry is fishing. Tourism is also important. In 1994, three million tourists visited Morocco.
Soccer is popular in Morocco, as it is throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It is viewed weekly on television and played by men and boys throughout the country.
Moroccan men spend much leisure time socializing at outdoor cafes. Most women's socializing is done in the home or on the rooftop. Here they might knit, crotchet, or embroider with other women. Men often go to movie theaters, but few theaters are open to women. Men and women both attend movies in "cineclubs," which are private clubs that show films for a small fee. Morocco has two television stations. About half the programs are in French, and the other half are in Arabic. Satellite dishes have made more programming available, including MTV and the Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC).
Women weave rugs and carpets by hand, using a loom. These have intricate patterns and can take months to complete. Handbags and clothing are crafted from animal skins. In some villages in Morocco, women tattoo their hands and feet in very detailed patterns that cover virtually the entire limb. These henna tattoos fade away within a few weeks.
The Moroccan government has made claims over the Western Sahara. It now spends a substantial amount of its resources fighting a war against the Western Sahara's guerrilla movement, the Polisario. The government often arrests people and groups that it considers threatening. Human-rights organizations have criticized this practice. As a result, between June 1989 and April 1990 the government released 2,163 political prisoners.
Morocco's major problem is the lack of opportunities available to the people. Unemployment is widespread, and people have sometimes rioted over inflation. Slums are filled with people who moved to the cities in hopes of finding jobs. Crime is common in Morocco, but very little of it is violent. While hard drugs are rare, hashish and marijuana are common, but nevertheless illegal.
Hargraves, Orin. Culture Shock! Morocco: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette . Portland, Ore.: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Co., 1995.
Nelson, Harold D., ed. Morocco: A Country Study . Washington, D.C.: American University, 1985.
Park, Thomas K. Historical Dictionary of Morocco . London: Scarecrow Press, 1996.
Wilkins, Frances. Morocco . New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.