Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane represented King Mohammed VI in an inauguration ceremony marking the completion of a 17th century synagogue restoration project in Fez yesterday.
In 2011, when a new constitution was adapted, the king said that Jewish places of worship throughout Morocco should be restored, even as the Arab spring roared across North Africa.The newly renovated Slat Alfassiyine synagogue in the heart of one of the world’s oldest medieval cities, the country’s cultural and spiritual nucleus, symbolizes how seriously he took that mandate.
Speaking on the King’s behalf, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane said that the synagogue’s restoration bore “eloquent testimony to the spiritual wealth and diversity of the Kingdom of Morocco and its heritage.”
“The secular traditions of Moroccan civilization drew their essence from the fact that Moroccans are deeply ingrained with the values of coexistence, tolerance and harmony between the different components of the nation,” the king said, Naharnet reports.
At one time, scores of Jewish communities were scattered throughout North Africa before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when a veritable exodus of Jews living in any Arab/Muslim countries occurred.
Whereas 10,000 Jews called Fez home in early 1900, there are now thought to be only 3,000 Jews living in the entire country. Small clusters of moderate or secular Jews can be found in Fez, Casablanca, Marrakech and Essaouira.
And they are protected from persecution by law.
Rather than shun Jews, according to various sources, the King acknowledged that Judaism plays a crucial role in the country’s national identity.
The ceremony to honor the restored synagogue, which project received $215,000 from Germany, was held in the Medina amid a warren of narrow alleyways and merchants who have long sold their wares in what has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1981.
But Fez is not the first city to embrace people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Last year we spent some time in Melilla – an autonomous Spanish city located at the most northeastern tip of Morocco.
Here we found that Christians, Jews and Muslims can and have been getting along perfectly well, setting the stage for even more cultural and religious integration.