Pope Francis is on an Apostolic Journey to Morocco aiming to highlight the North African Kingdom’s tradition of Christian-Muslim ties. During this two-day Apostolic Journey, he will visit the cities of Rabat and Casablanca.  This visit comes in response to an invitation extended by the Commander of the Faithful, King Mohammed VI.  Pope Francis’s historical visit to Morocco is the first ever to a North African nation. Morocco, thus, has opened its arms in welcome to Pope Francis, with most local media hailing the visit as a significant milestone in the life of the Muslim country.

Apparently Morocco’s religious authority – Imarat Lmouminin – is highly venerated and the two-day Apolistic journey to Morocco underlines the symbolism of a meeting between the Pope and the Commander of the Faithful.  The Pope is visiting a nation whose head of State has a special religious status and is not only Commander of Muslims. He has the responsibility to protect, to preserve, the three great monotheistic religions. This title of Commander of the Faithful has existed since the 9th century; it is a unique concept in the Muslim world. In his capacity as Commander of the Faithful, King Mohammed VI works tirelessly to promote a tolerant Islam that teaches respect, love to other religions and contribute efficiently to counter all extremist voices who unfortunately seem to gain ground in many countries. .

In March 2015, King Mohammed VI inaugurated the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates in the capital, Rabat.    A school of learning for imams that epitomizes Morocco’s efforts to promote a moderate brand of Islam and export it via preachers to Africa, the Middle East and Europe.  The religious training center aims to instill the values of Morocco’s open, moderate form of Islam, based on the Maliki rite and Sunni Sufism, in the next generation of Muslim religious leaders (imams) and preachers (morchidines and morchidates) from across the region and the world.

The new foundation (Mohammed VI Foundation for African Ulema) is another key element in Morocco’s ongoing efforts to promote religious moderation and tolerance as a shield against extremism in the region. The spiritual ties between Morocco and many African Sub-Saharan countries are mirrored throughout history in the exchange of muslim scholars, saints and sufis who spared no effort to spread the genuine Islamic values of tolerance and moderation. This leading institution has become the most convenient forum where African Ulemas debate Islamic thought, unify and coordinate their efforts to disseminate the true value of Islam : tolerance, coexistence, peace and respect for other religions.On the occasion of the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Morocco,  King Mohammed VI, Commander of the Faithful, delivered at the Esplanade of the Hassan Mosque in Rabat a speech. 

Here follows the full text of the speech:

“Praise be to God,
May peace and blessings be upon the Prophet, His Kith and Kin

Your Holiness, 
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is an exceptional day for two reasons. It is exceptional because of the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis. It is also exceptional because it reminds me of the historical visit the late Pope John Paul II paid to Morocco.

Today’s visit falls within the framework of the longstanding relations between Morocco and the Vatican. 

I was keen to make sure the place and the date of the visit reflect the symbolic depth, the historical significance and the civilizational importance of this Meeting.

The place where we are meeting today is an embodiment of openness, passage and cross-cultural fertilization; it is, in itself, a symbol of balance and harmony. 

Aptly located where the Bouregreg River meets the Atlantic Ocean, this place is aligned with the Al-Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech and with the Giralda in Seville – it constitutes a spiritual, architectural and cultural link between Africa and Europe.

I also wanted this visit to coincide with the holy month of Rajab – a month that witnessed one of the most iconic episodes in the history of Islam and Christianity.

It was in this month that, at the behest of Prophet Muhammad – may Peace and Blessings be upon Him – Muslims, fleeing persecution, left Mecca to take refuge with the Negus, the Christian King of Abyssinia.

This was the first welcoming, during which Islam and Christianity made acquaintance with each other.

Today, we are commemorating that act of getting to know each other, for the sake of the future and that of the coming generations.

Your Holiness,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Your Holiness’s visit to Morocco is taking place at a time when the Community of Nations – just like that of all Believers – is facing a number of challenges.

We need to tackle these new ills which feed on treachery as much as on the instrumentalization of the Divine Message by advocating the denial of the Other and similar wicked theories.

In a world in search of direction, the Kingdom of Morocco has never stopped proclaiming, teaching and experiencing, on a daily basis, Brotherhood among the Sons of Abraham. This is a founding pillar of the exceptionally rich diversity underpinning Moroccan civilization.

The symbiotic relationship uniting Moroccans – beyond faiths – is an eloquent example in this regard. 

This symbiosis is a fact of life in my country. It is reflected by the mosques, churches and synagogues which have coexisted in the cities of the Kingdom since time immemorial.

As King of Morocco and Commander of the Faithful, I am the Guarantor of the free practice of religion. I am Commander of all believers.

And, as Commander of the Faithful, I cannot speak of the Land of Islam, as if only Muslims lived there. I am keen to ensure freedom to practise the religions of the Book and I am the guarantor of that freedom. I protect Moroccan Jews as well as Christians from other countries, who are living in Morocco.

Your Holiness,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have never ceased to seek God – beyond silence, beyond words and beyond the comfort of dogmas – so that our religions may remain crucial, illuminating bridges, and so that the lessons and messages of the Islamic enlightenment may live on.

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