Commentary: The Limits of State Religion in the Moroccan ‘Baha’i Affair’

This commentary, by SHARIAsource Morocco editor Ari Schriber, argues that the negative political ramifications of prosecuting the Baha’is in 1962 led the state to limit the scope of Islamic discourse in Moroccan law.


In 1962, a Moroccan criminal court convicted fourteen Baha’is accused of attacking religious convictions and attacking public order (among other charges). Most literature about the so-called “Baha’i Affair” focuses on the internal political tensions and international outcry that developed around it. This post builds on these analyses but switches the focus to the role of religious norms in Moroccan law. The Baha’i Affair demonstrates an important ambiguity in a legal system that simultaneously guarantees religious freedoms for non-Muslims and enshrines Islam as religion of the state. Using ambiguous religious language had worked to the state’s symbolic advantage when codifying family law based on sharīʿa. For the present case, however, I argue that the negative political ramifications of prosecuting the Baha’is led the state to limit the scope of Islamic discourse in Moroccan law.

Ambiguities of Islam in the 1962 Constitution and the 1962 Penal Code

In November 1962, the Moroccan government promulgated a new national Penal Code. The Penal Code came in a wave of legislation during the first decade of Moroccan independence that sought to reassert Moroccan legal identity. The government had promulgated the 1957 Personal Status Code (Mudawwana) as sharīʿa -based, and Article 6 of the 1962 Constitution declared that “Islam is the religion of the state, which guarantees to all free practice of religion.” For its part, the Penal Code did not explicitly address the status of Islam (or sharīʿa) in the state. Nevertheless, Section II of the Penal Code contains four articles under the heading of “Crimes Pertaining to the Practice of Religion (ʿibādāt).”

The articles addressed in Section II concern the protection of religion and specifically Islam in the Moroccan public sphere. Most relevant to the current case, Article 220 stipulates jail or a fine for . . .

Read the commentary.