Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco

Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco

Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco

Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco

Excerpt

Historically, Morocco had one of the largest and oldest populations of Jews in the Arab world, their presence stretching back to the pre-Islamic period. At its peak before World War II, Morocco’s Jewish community numbered about 240,000 (2.7 percent of the total population), living predominantly in urban centers in the French and Spanish colonial zones. Called “people of the book” (dhimmi) by Muslims, the majority of Jews lived under the protection of the Moroccan king in return for submission and the payment of a tax known as jizya. In areas outside the king’s control, such as Akka, Berber chieftains ensured Jewish security.

The Jews had ambivalent relations with their Muslim neighbors. Although Jewish communities resembled Muslim ones in language and custom, Jews faced occupational and social restrictions, such as in farming, and were mainly artisans, peddlers, and merchants. Rabbis and wealthy leaders who enjoyed special ties with Muslim authorities administered the Jewish community’s internal social, legal, and religious affairs. Around 1862, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) built schools in the coastal cities and later in the hinterland, enabling many Jews to integrate into the wider world beyond Morocco. Around the same time, however, political Zionism began to make inroads among the Jews of Morocco, and a century later, in 1956 after Moroccan independence, Jews were affected by the new government’s Arab-Islamic policies and a widely celebrated national Arabization program. Zionist movements began to encourage Jews to move to Israel, and many people of Jewish descent left Morocco for Israel, Europe, and the Americas. Today, fewer than 3,000 Jews reside in Morocco, principally in major urban areas such as Casablanca and Rabat.

In the 1950s and 1960s, North African scholarship in general and Moroccan histonographical writing in particular had been mainly focused on issues of nationalism, pan-Arabism, and the Islamic character of North African societies. Although a few scholars have begun to revisit and reexamine the histories and lives of ethnic and religious minorities in the region, the place of religious . . .

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