Cultural Etiquette


Visitors to Jewish Morocco must remember that they are reaching out to or seeking sometimes sensitive information on a traditionally oppressed minority within an Arab, Muslim, male-dominated monarchical culture. Within this culture, there are other traditionally oppressed groups, such as the Amazigh people, Haratines (former black slaves from sub-Saharan Africa) and women, as well as Europeans who no longer benefit from their colonial status. Each of these groups has its own expectations of tourist behavior. While tourists visiting Jewish Morocco cannot be expected to know how to avoid offending all Moroccans, they should know at least know some basics. Here is my advice.

1. TREAT MOROCCANS AS IF YOU WERE INVITED INTO A STRANGER’S HOME

Try to understand their values, customs and behavioral expectations. Be respectful, even if their way of thinking differs significantly from your own. While you should speak honestly, you should do so without confronting them.

2. LEARN THE BASIC ELEMENTS OF ISLAM AND RESPECT MOROCCAN ISLAMIC TRADITIONS

The five pillars of Muslim belief and practice are:

  • Profession of faith: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”
  • Prayer (five times per day)
  • Alms (obligatory and voluntary contributions to charity)
  • Fasting (from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan)
  • Pilgrimage (at least once in a lifetime to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, if a person can afford to do so)

Almost all Moroccans believe in God and treasure the Prophet Muhammed. Many pepper their conversation with references to God. Many Moroccan Muslims pray five times a day. The mosques are full at the Friday mid-day prayer. All mosques are closed to non-Muslims, except the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which can be toured. Charity is important to Moroccans, but most contributions are made voluntarily. During the month of Ramadan, almost all Muslims fast during the day and eat at various time from dusk until dawn. Women are not allowed to fast when they are having their periods, but they can make up the fast days they missed after Ramadan ends. The Moroccan Government restricts the opening and closing of many restaurants during Ramadan, so it is more difficult for tourists to eat at restaurants during the day. Moroccans cherish participating in the pilgrimage to Mecca, but only a small percentage actually make the trip.

3. RESPECT THE HISTORY OF INDEPENDENT MOROCCO

Despite their increasing vocal opposition to government policy, Moroccans treasure the King. They are proud of being his subject and value the traditions associated with the palace. They also respect the governors and walis (mayors) that he appoints. Moroccans honor King Mohammed V, who resisted the efforts of the Vichy French Government to oppress Moroccan Jews between 1940-42, fought for the country’s independence, and created new governmental structures. Moroccans, including Jews, value the Green March organized by King Hassan II, which allowed Morocco to take control of the former Spanish Sahara and doubled the size of the country. They also are proud of the efforts of King Mohammed VI to improve human rights and women’s rights, rehabilitate cities and roads, and liberalize the political system through a new Constitution.

3. RESPECT TRADITIONS, BUT RESIST INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

Until recently, Moroccan men and women have inhabited separate worlds in public. While many young people do not follow traditions such as reserving outdoor cafes for men, many Moroccans still do so, especially in the rural areas. Women tourists should watch what locals do and try to sit inside, if necessary and possible. On the other hand, a small number of Moroccan men sexually harass women in public. Such behavior is unacceptable, under Moroccan law. Women tourists have the right to protest and complain to the police. In most cases, saying no politely and with good humor is sufficient to lose such men.

4. DRESS APPROPRIATELY

Many Moroccans dress traditionally. They are used to tourists wearing skimpy clothing, although they don’t necessarily appreciate it. In general, however, women should try to dress conservatively and be ready to cover their shoulders with a scarf, in case they enter a building or cemetery considered to be holy, whether Muslim or Jewish. Orthodox Jewish men who normally wear kippas might wish to wear a cap in public, unless they don’t mind being the object of stares. Moroccans almost never show hostility towards visible signs of Jewishness, just curiosity.

5. BE RESPECTFUL OF THOSE CARING FOR MOROCCO’S CULTURAL LEGACY

Throughout the country, Moroccan Muslims guard Jewish synagogues, shrines and cemeteries. Guides work hard to help visitors see and understand the country’s cultural legacy. Please tip them well. If you wish to take photographs of people, please ask them first and pay them if requested. On occasion, Moroccan Muslims or Jews invite tourists into their homes for meals. Make sure to eat with your right hand, whether with your fingers or with silverware. Be sure to bring a small gift, thank them and remain in contact after you have returned to your home country.