Muslims account for about 99% of Morocco's population, so it's no surprise that its practices and philosophy dictate most aspects of daily life.
The Arabic word "Islam" literally means "submission to God," and the core of the faith is the belief that there is only one God (Allah) who should be worshiped. And, in a line of prophets who included Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, John the Baptist, David, and Jesus, Mohammed was the last and most definitive. Muslims believe that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all essentially the same, but that the messages from the earlier prophets have been distorted and that Mohammed was chosen by God to revive, refine, and purify His message.
The main sources of Islam are the Koran (or Qur'an) -- the revelations Mohammed received during his lifetime -- and Mohammed's own actions, the Hadith.
Mohammed was born in Mecca (in present-day Saudi Arabia) in 570 and began to receive revelations from God, via the angel Gabriel, around 610. These continued until his death in nearby Medina in 632. The illiterate Mohammed would pass on each revelation to his scribes, who would then input them as a particular verse in the Koran. The Arabic word qur'aan means "recitation," and Muslims regard the holy book's contents as the word of God. The Koran's 114 chapters were not revealed in the order presented, and in fact many were patched together from passages received by Mohammed at different times in his life. The year before he died, however, Mohammed finally recited in its entirety the order in which these original verses were to stay.
The Koran provided a basic framework for Islam, but it didn't go into specific detail: Of 6,616 verses, only 80 concerned issues of conduct. For more practical guidance, Muslims referred to Mohammed's actions and words while he was alive, even though he never claimed any infallibility beyond his intermediary status. The Prophet's actions and words were remembered by those who knew him and passed down through Muslim communities.
The five pillars of Islam are drawn from the Koran and the Hadith, and are the basic religious duties and cornerstones of the faith.
- Statement of Faith (shahadah) -- "I testify that there is no god but God, and Mohammed is the Messenger of God." If you say this with absolute sincerity, then you have become, or are, a Muslim.
- Prayer (salat) -- Prayer must be performed five times a day, preferably within a mosque, though in the modern world many Muslims make this effort only for the midday prayer. Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, the day, and the first prayer, begins at sunset. Prayers follow in evening, dawn, midday, and afternoon. The exact times for these are set in advance by the religious authorities and published in local newspapers. In the past, muezzins would climb to the top of the mosque's minaret and call the faithful to prayer, but today it is mostly prerecorded and played over electronic speakers. Prayer involves specific rituals, the most important being the act of purification. This is achieved by rinsing out the mouth, sniffing water into the nostrils, and washing the face, head, ears, neck, feet, and (lastly) hands and forearms. Even if there is no water available, one must go through the actions.
- Alms (zakat) -- It is believed that almsgiving purifies the heart of greed, while receiving charity purifies it of envy. The Islamic tolerance toward begging is drawn from this.
- Fasting (sawm) -- Fasting takes place during Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar cycle.
- Pilgrimage (hajj) -- Every Muslim who has the means is bound by duty to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his/her lifetime. This usually takes place in the 12th month.
Although Islam permeates most aspects of their everyday lives, Moroccans practice their religion relatively conservatively. Besides being denied entry into the country's mosques -- apart from the tourist-friendly Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca -- and perhaps being woken in the predawn by the muezzin's call to prayer, non-Muslims will find their daily travel largely unhindered by any Islamic codes of conduct. That said, it is considered respectful to dress conservatively when in public areas. For female travelers, this generally means dress that covers the knees and shoulders, while male travelers should be aware that sports shorts and sleeveless shirts are considered inappropriate dress unless on the sports field or beach. Tip: Female travelers will find it helpful to always have a sarong or large shawl on hand, as it can substitute as a long skirt or extra shoulder covering when the need arises.
Ramadan -- Ramadan -- the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar -- is when Mohammed received the first of his revelations from God. Muslims observe a strict fast during the entire month -- originally modeled after similar Jewish and Christian practices -- and use the time for worship and contemplation. During the day, all forms of consumption are forbidden including eating, smoking, drinking, and any form of sexual contact. However, this is only the outward show of what is intended as a deeper, spiritual cleansing and strengthening of faith. One Hadith says, "There are many who fast all day and pray all night, but they gain nothing but hunger and sleeplessness."
All Muslims who have reached puberty are expected to observe the fast. It is generally accepted that the elderly and the chronically ill are exempt, as are those who are sick or traveling, mothers who are nursing, and menstruating or pregnant women, all of whom are encouraged, for every day of fasting missed, to provide a meal for one poor person who is breaking their fast. Children are not required to fast, though some families encourage them to do so for part of a day or for a few days during the month.
At the end of the day the fast is broken with a light meal followed by the sunset prayer, which is then followed by an evening meal called the iftar. Muslims are encouraged to share iftar with family, friends, and neighbors as well as the poor and non-Muslims. The fast is resumed the next morning, traditionally when, according to the Koran, "you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight."
The last 10 days of Ramadan are considered especially important, and many Muslims retreat to their mosque or other community centers for prayer and recitations of the Koran. Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power) is a special night of prayer commemorating Mohammed's first revelation. It is believed that this is when heaven is open to the faithful and God determines the course of the world for the following year.
When the crescent of the new moon of the 10th month rises, Ramadan ends with Eid al Fitr (Feast of Fast Breaking). The feast lasts for 3 days and is a time of both religious significance and social festivities. Villages and towns may also hold festivals or events to celebrate this time.
Non-Muslims should be aware of the fast taking place and attempt not to eat, drink, or smoke with blatant disregard to those who are fasting. Some restaurants, cafes, and stores may be closed all, or part, of the day, and those that are open may be staffed by tired, irritated personnel. It may be just me, but it seems the country's taxi drivers become particularly argumentative during Ramadan. Morocco is a relatively modern country, and Moroccans understand that business must go on and that the non-Muslim world is still working and traveling.
Ramadan in Morocco doesn't mean going on your own fast, but in some rural areas it may be difficult to get freshly cooked food and drinks during the day. However, a little discreet enquiring should find you an open shop where you can stock up on dry foods and bottled drinks. Many accommodations throughout Morocco will also offer in-house daytime meals to accommodate their non-Muslim guests.
The half-hour before sunset is the busiest time during Ramadan for locals, who will be seen rushing to finish work, pack up shop, and head home for the breaking of the fast. Expect to find a ghost town if you arrive at this time of the day, even in Morocco's bigger cities. Many riads and dars, some hotels even, also close their doors for an hour. While irregular hours, abrupt service, and noise generated by locals enjoying the nightly freedom from the fast (which can last until dawn) are par for the course during Ramadan, travelers can still enjoy their experience by showing a little respect and restraint.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.