A Moroccan woman from Marrakesh, Fatiha Morchid, contacted a Moroccan-Jewish geneaological Facebook page a few days ago. She was asking for help tracing her mother. A year ago, her mother-in-law had told her that Fatiha’s Muslim father had taken her from her Jewish mother when he discovered that she was planning to emigrate to Israel. The father had since died. On the Facebook page, the Morchid case led to a discussion of the forced conversions of Jewish girls to Islam in the 1960s, an important factor in the mass Jewish exodus. The conversion problem was most acute following the establishment of a Ministry of Islamic Affairs (abolished in 1963) but went to the heart of the status of Jews in independent Morocco – were they full citizens or dhimmis subject to sharia law? Vanessa Paloma Elbaz explores this little-discussed subject in her Academia article of 2015:
In the years following Morocco’s independence there were many cases of young Jewish girls who were kidnapped and converted to Islam to be married off to Muslim Moroccans. Sometimes abducted from school and cut off from all contact with their families and with Jews, these young girls, mostly from a low socio-economic level, have come to terms with the idea of living their lives as Muslims. Their families had no idea how to find them, and the authorities were of no help. In some cases, families learned of the fate of their daughters when the Istiqlal political party’s Al-Alam newspaper began publishing series of photos of converted Jewish girls with their “original” Jewish names followed by their new Muslim names.
“The community newspaper La Voix des Communautés of May-June 1961 was dedicated almost completely to the problem of forced conversions. A long article that describes the Moroccan penal code, explains the important points in the law that concern conversion and forced marriages. The penal code stipulates the rights of the family of an underage girl who was kidnapped and forced into a forced marriage, which the article compares to halakha (Jewish law). Moroccan Jews were and continue to be judged according to Mosaic law. The conclusion in this issue is that any conversion of a minor (age set by the Jews at less than 20 years old) was deemed null and void according to Jewish law. On the other hand, Moroccan law said that a vow of conversion made by a person of just 12 to 13 years old (set as the age of intellectual maturity according to Moroccan Muslims) is valid. It is important to note that we are talking about a time when women married and were mothers generally before they reached the age of twenty, which demonstrates that the Jews used this argument to better safeguard their community.
David Amar, president of the community at the time, wrote that when he raised this problem with the Ministry of Justice to solve the problem of legal immunity in these cases, he received an indirect response in the shape of the publication, almost every day, by the newspaper Al-Alam of a series of photographs of converted Jewish girls. The ensuing debate over the legality of forced conversions raised the question of the status of the Jew in independent Morocco – whether he was a full citizen or a dhimmi.
The then Minister of Islamic Affairs, Allal el Fassi, was at the heart of this controversy. For months, the community quarrel was public and it was quoted in the newspaper L’Avant-Garde of Saturday August 11, 1962:
“Moroccan means Muslim. Moroccan nationality was created by the French protectorate.
All Moroccans are Muslims: the “Moroccan” Jew is only a dhimmi (: a dhimmi is a non-Muslim living in the Land of Islam and paying a tax to the State, in return for which he is protected). This practice originated with the Islamic conquest. From now on, no foreigner can acquire Moroccan nationality if he does not embrace Islam.”
As one might imagine, leaders of the Jewish community began a campaign against this perception of the Moroccan Jew as a dhimmi. Morocco’s transition from the Protectorate to independent Morocco was not immediately translated into full and equal citizenship for its Jews. King Hassan II then reiterated that all Moroccans were equal citizens, as his father Mohammed V had said at the time of Independence.
Another sign of support given to Moroccan Jews was a Jew, Léon Benzaken, serving in the first cabinet of independent Morocco as Minister of Posts. But the Jews were helpless in the face of hundreds of kidnapped girls and the conversion campaign was under the aegis of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and the minister’s words about Jews as dhimmis were in effect saying just the opposite. This was one of the reasons that led some families to leave independent Morocco.
A journalist, Carlos de Nesry, established the link between forced conversions, mass emigration to Israel, the symbol of Solika and the revival of her story as a way of saving Moroccan Judaism. In the July-August 1962 issue of La Voix des Communautés, he says:
…”Should Morocco revive these ancient quarrels, shards of obscurantism, so incompatible with its current desire for modernity, international opinion will not take long to express its disapproval . In the meantime, the exodus of Moroccan Jews will only gather pace.
One day, at the beginning of the last century, a young Israelite from Tangier, named Sol Hachuel, was kidnapped and converted against her will. She was beheaded a short time later in Fez, because she persisted in remaining faithful to the religion of her fathers. Canonised by the pious masses, she is still venerated as a symbol and an example. Is it beyond imagination that a second Sol might end up being martyred in our day? What then will become of Moroccan Judaism? “
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