When most people were likely sound asleep at 3 a.m. on Thursday, Mohammed Chraibi, the Moroccan ambassador here, was starting his day.
He woke up hours before sunrise, ate a light meal of prunes, cherries and dates and drank some water. In his living room a short time later, at about 3:30 a.m., he and his family performed morning salat, the first of five ritualistic prayers that devout Muslims perform daily.
It was in this way that Chraibi began his daily fasts in observance of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
For the previous 30 days the faithful fasted every day from before sunrise until after sunset, from approximately 3:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Ramadan ended on Sunday evening.
“In the Muslim world, Ramadan is a special moment of reflection, meditation, worship and devotion to the most generous practices. It is also a month when we are closer to our families and more connected, despite the fact we are sometimes separated from them over long distances and faraway postings,” Chraibi said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday afternoon, after the chancery had closed early so that Islamic staff could prepare for afternoon prayers and their iftar meal.
|Mohammed Chraibi, the Moroccan ambassador here, gestures during an interview with The Korea Herald at his office in Hannam-dong, Seoul, Thursday. (Philip Iglauer/The Korea Herald)|
During Ramadan, most of the diplomatic missions of Muslim countries in South Korea open later, at around 10 a.m., and close as early as 3 p.m. in observance of the demands of daytime fasting.
Monday is the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the start of the month of Shawwal. The day celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of Ramadan, with the exact number of days depending on the lunar calendar.
Islamic diplomats here have developed a certain degree of camaraderie due to the requirements of observing Ramadan. The Moroccan envoy said every Muslim ambassador here even takes turns hosting iftar dinners because one of the important aspects of Ramadan is meeting friends and colleagues to break the fast together and share an iftar meal.
The ambassador, who joined Morocco’s Foreign Service 40 years ago, recalled how proud he felt as a boy of just 13 when his parents finally allowed him to observe the rites of Ramadan by fasting the whole day and on each of the 29 or 30 days of the holy month.
“It made me feel like I was a full-fledged adult then. I felt very mature and responsible,” Chraibi recalled.
The moderate Malikite school of Sunni Islam practiced in Morocco is often cited as a key aspect of the Maghreb kingdom’s religious tolerance.
The Moroccan ambassador repeatedly emphasized during the interview his country’s moderate interpretation of Islamic teachings and practices, noting the political stability in his country. “We have 10 million visitors to our country annually, and this is due not only to the beauty of the sea and the mountains but also because of our stability. If it were not safe, people would not come.”
Ties between Morocco and South Korea are growing. There are over 140,000 practicing Muslims in South Korea, with the majority of them non-Koreans. Some 13,000 Koreans visited Morocco in 2013.
“Morocco is an open-minded society. People can travel freely and without any worries about the security situation. In Marrakesh you can play golf. In fact, within sight of the spectacular Atlas Mountains you can play golf,” he said. “And it is not as expensive as it is here.”
Morocco has kept a tight grip on the religious sphere, which is closely tied up with the monarchy’s legitimacy. “The religious domain is exclusively under the king, because he is not only the head of state but he is also the Commander of the Faithful,” Chraibi explained.
Morocco has suffered only two terrorist attacks in the previous 11 years, but it is not immune to the religious revival that has swept through the region, nor to the recruitment of jihadists.
Although hard-line Salafists might enjoy only limited support in Morocco, the kingdom’s security forces jailed thousands in a sweeping crackdown following deadly 2003 bombings in Casablanca.
Recently, security forces in the central city of Fez broke up a jihadist cell in June that was reportedly sending volunteers to Iraq and Syria.
By Philip Iglauer (email@example.com