How ‘strict’ (ie Islamic) is Morocco?

Morocco is a Muslim country and travellers often wonder what this means in practice.

Morocco is one of the more liberal Arab Muslim countries when it comes to issues we might typically consider in relation to Islam, such as women’s rights, women’s clothing and cohabitation with other religious communities. (Morocco is one of the few Arab countries with a Jewish population, for example). On a trip to a big city, travellers will see women wearing everything from skimpy shorts and tight t-shirts to possibly even a full burqa. The most common apparel is somewhere in between, ie ‘Western’ clothes with covered arms and ankles and a headscarf.

The Moroccan authorities have gone to great lengths to accommodate tourists in their country. While it is technically illegal for a Moroccan to drink alcohol in public, you will find it relatively easy to buy alcoholic drinks in hotels and bars in major cities and tourist centres. Alcohol is also available at certain off-licences and supermarkets. It is heavily taxed, however, and therefore spirits cost similar prices to the UK. Locally produced beers and wines are more reasonable, but still not cheap. Cheap booze belongs to another type of holiday!

Moroccans are also generally circumspect about their relationships and you generally won’t see men and women holding hands or embracing on the street. Unmarried couples are not permitted to share a hotel room. This is not an issue for foreigners. (NB: Men holding hands is very common and has nothing to do with homosexuality!)

Non-Muslims are generally not permitted inside active mosques and you will be told in no uncertain terms that your camera is not welcome, even at the doorway. In the big cities there are madrasas (Koranic schools) and other public buildings where you will be welcome to view and photograph traditional Islamic architecture and design.

Wherever we travel, we should remember we are in another culture and respect it. Women who wear ‘revealing’ clothing will undoubtedly get more attention than they might bargain for. A scarf is always a good idea for women – to cover up the head or shoulders in bright sunshine or cool air-con or to demonstrate respect when entering a traditional building or household. And as in most countries, rural communities tend to be more conservative and less accustomed to our own foreign ways than in urban areas.

Some of the most appealing features of a life lived according to Islamic tenets is Moroccans’ willingness to offer what they have and help their neighbour. If you are fortunate to have genuine interaction with Moroccans and their families, you are sure to be overwhelmed by their hospitality, whether for a simple mint tea or a more elaborate occasion.

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