Living under Sharia Law

French translation of royal declaration of 1864 affirming that the Jews would be treated as equals under the law, with justice and impartiality, and that anyone mistreating them would be prosecuted.  Translated in 1935, this document is found in the office of the Jewish community of Tangiers.

Under Islam, Jews were considered dhimmis, a protected but disdained people. Within certain limits, Islamic law (Sharia) allows the free exercise of Judaism and gives Jews the right to practice their traditions, hold property, govern their community and enforce their own civil law system.

Under the rules governing dhimmis, Jews must recognize Islamic sovereignty, show respect for Islam, exercise their religion discretely, refrain from proselytizing, pay special taxes and wear special clothing. These rules were rarely applied to the letter in Morocco, with a few Sultans applying them harshly while most applying them liberally. One dynasty, the 12-13th century CE Almohads, rejected dhimmi status for Jews.

Jews remained dhimmis until the French and the Spanish made Morocco their protectorates in 1912. Since 1956, Jews are not dhimmis but full citizens of the Kingdom of Morocco.

Sharia is the name for Islam’s religious law. The Quran and the hadith (reports of the words and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed) provide the basis for Sharia. Muslim leaders and faithful have debated and at times fought over the application of Sharia since the beginning of Islam in the 7th century CE.

Sunni Islam’s four main “legal schools” developed separate approaches to Sharia. Moroccan Muslims follow the Maliki school. Like other schools, the Maliki school established ethical standards and legal norms, breaking them down into five categories: mandatory, recommended, neutral, abhorred, and prohibited.

Qualified judges (muftis) provided legal opinions (fatwas) in Sharia courts on civil disputes and community affairs. The Sultan’s courts administered and enforced criminal justice, which was influenced by Sharia.

In the 20th century, Morocco adopted French law and institutions to a great degree. However, Sharia influenced Morocco’s Constitution as well as its laws, legal institutions and rulings. Family courts and law, focusing only on Muslims, integrate Sharia more than other institutions and law. Moroccan Jews fall under their own family law (Halakha), which is administered by Jewish courts (Beth Din).