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Morocco celebrates coexistence with christians ahead of Pope’s visit

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An exhibition on peaceful cohabitation and religious tolerance opened yesterday in Rabat to display centuries of peaceful life between different religious groups in Morocco.

Called “Christian Presence in Morocco: Living Together,” the program sought to put a finger on Morocco’s reputation as “a singular civilizational model of harmonious living together.”

The majority of the documents scheduled for the 10-day event date back to the reign of Moulay Ismail (1672-1727) when, according to organizers, Morocco allowed freedom of movement and conscience to the “faithful of other religions, such as Christianity and Judaism.”

Under Moulay Ismail’s rule, the kingdom had trade and diplomatic ties with a number of Christian nations and kingdoms, including the Vatican.

The exhibition is the result of collaboration between the Archives du Maroc and the Council of Moroccans Residing Abroad (CCME).

At the opening ceremony, participants got glimpses into the history of dialog and alliances between Moroccan sultans and Christian Kings.

Centuries of shared history

The event, set to end with the arrival of the pope on March 30, is bringing together crowds of religious experts, historians, religion enthusiasts, and curious citizens to look into how Morocco accommodated its first Christian communities.

While Morocco is mostly known for its history with Moroccan Jews, organizers insisted that, although relatively new, the experience with Christians was just as harmonious.

“This exhibition aims at throwing a retrospective look on some unknown episodes of a shared history filled with strong values of forbearance, peace, and living together,” organizers said in the event’s official booklet.

In organizers’ reckoning, celebrating a history of tolerance and peaceful cohabitation is far above nostalgic feelings of times past. For them, it is about showing young generations that Morocco’s diversity is a historical heritage to cultivate and uphold.

Historian Jamaa Baida, the director of Moroccan Archives, said, “The purpose is to put an emphasis on [Morocco’s] historical togetherness and send a message to young generations.”

The message, Baida elaborated, should aim at showing the youth that history has not always been the domain of binarisms and divisiveness now prevailing in many circles. He added, “We want to use this event to tell them, ‘here is what our history was like. The other is not necessarily an enemy to fight. They can live with us in mutual respect.’”

By presenting historical documents like letters between Moroccan and Christian kings, photographs, administrative documents like birth and marriage certificates, organizers hope that the exhibition will ultimately show that Morocco has historically been “a meeting ground” for diverse religious and ethnic groups “whose political and religious rights were guaranteed by various Moroccan sultans.”

The event coincides with the visit of Pope Francis, from March 30-31.
The pontiff will meet King Mohammed VI and representatives of Morocco’s growing migrant community. The pope’s visit is also set to celebrate difference and religious cohabitation in a world of increased human mobility and cultural mingling.

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