Indonesia as an Example of a Religious and Democratic State: a Maroccan’s Views

Subandri Simbolon | CRCS | Interview


Rim FilaliCRCS continues its role as a meeting point for international scholars, researchers and students. One of them is Rim Fillali, a Moroccan student at the International Relations of Gadjah Mada University. This semester, Rim takes two courses at CRCS including “Theories of Religion” and “Religion and Film.” Rim shares her comparative views of social, religious and political situations in Indonesia and Morocco as Muslim countries.


CRCS: First of all, could you tell us about Moroccan culture and your educational background?


Rim: Culture in Morocco is really special. Like Indonesia, it mixes a lot of things. Morocco was influenced by Arab long time before. And then it mixes with Arab culture. The country is also separated into two parts, French part and Spanish part. Often mix with European culture. Just fourteen kilometer from my city to Spain. So, almost north of Morocco is like the southern Spain. They have similar culture. So, it’s really mixed and really interesting. And I live there, in the northern part of Morocco. Most Moroccon speak a mix of Arabic, (but not classical Arabic), Spanish as well as a mix of Arabic and French. We have to study French because  both Arabic and French are our official language. So, everyone has to study French as a second language. We also have various dialects of Moroccon and Arabic, Barbarian languages which has different alphabet and completely different.

As for my education background, my primary school was in Moroccan school. I studied both in Arabic and French. I had Islamic education in Morocco, and then, when I was 11 I went to France to attend junior high school and senior high school. After that, I decided to study at France because I had France degree so it is quite easier for me to study there.  I took political science study at Science Po Paris.


CRCS: What brought you to Indonesia or what was interested you?


Rim: I am studying Middle Eastern Studies and political science. So and I am studying religion too, especially Islam in Arab World. I am really curious about the relation between Islam and democracy.

In the Arab world, there is no democracy because they are Muslim. And for me there is no relationship between those two types. Indonesia is known to be more democratic than the Arab world according to many scholars. It is supposed to be one example of cases (of democratic Muslim countries) like Turkey which could have kind of Democracy and Islam at the same time. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. That is why I come here to compare the system here to that of other Muslim democracies. I am interested to study how people here practice their religion and how the relationship between religion and political environment compared to that in the Arab world.


CRCS: What is your impression before coming to Indonesia and after you stayed?


Rim: I read a lot before coming here, and my first impression was quite bias. I just imagine that in Asian country, the people are very serious and work a lot, hahahahaha… I have some friends from Singapore and they are very serious and hard workers. I thought Indonesia was like that, but when I came here, my first impression to the people, they are incredible, how people are helpful and always smile. I’m not sure, even in Morocco people are very nice but you’ll see them like angry people fighting on the streets. Here people are so calm, always smiling.


CRCS: How about religions in Morocco? How Moroccan live their Religion and how do you see the relations among different faiths there?


Rim: Yeah, Morocco has an official religion. When you are a Moroccan then you have to be a Muslim. You have no other choice. But there is a special status for Jews, because Moroccan Jews can be remain Jewish. Special law was given to them, but not for other people because the Moroccan has to be Muslim.

The King has the status of Amir al-Mu’minin ( the leader of Muslims).  He is supposed to have the power from God. He will present God on earth and you have to follow him as a guide.


But there have been changes now; a lot of people are non-Muslims who have to be respected. Some people do not believe in God. Hypnotically, they have to show that they are Muslim regardless of their practice. Social (practice) and law are different.

What does government do with regard to religions (other than Islam)? Yeah, normally 100% Moroccan, except Jews, are Muslim. There is no special treatment for the other. Although there are some Churches but Moroccan cannot go to the Church.

Religious life in Morocco is less harmonious because people have no choice. Other religions like Jews have to do the same thing. The big issue is that all Moroccans must be Muslim. That is like an obligation. It is different (to the situation) in Indonesia. As far I know people of different religions have harmony in everyday life.


CRCS: How about women’s life in Morocco? As a country with Islam as an official religion, how women especially Muslim women live there? Do they have to appear Islamic (in certain way) such as wearing hijab? 


Rim : The condition of women in Morocco is really different from one social class to another. Morocco is a country with a huge gap between the rich and the poor. The upper classes are usually westernized since they have money to travel to Europe, they have “Europeanized” life style such as watching French or Spanish TV, clothes, and so forth; they go to international schools. The values in these families, even if they are still influenced by tradition and religion, are more open. Very few girls (of higher social class) wear hijab but older women usually wear hijab because it is considered as a sign of respect, especially when you are 40s. So, women in this social class usually work and have good jobs because they have good education. They wear suits as modern women. However because they have work at home too, they have a double burdens of working outside and inside the house. But usually they are able to have a housekeeper or a nanny and don’t have to work really hard at home.


But majority of Moroccan people still poor and illiterate. In the city, they usually work (as labours) in factories, tailors, restaurants, and so forth. They live in neighbourhoods where family and community are still important. They are usually very religious. This situation puts a lot of pressure on women to wear the hijab, wear descent clothes. It is not allowed to wear shorts or skirts. Their brother would hit them for example if he sees them with a boy. In contrast, for women of upper classes it is completely accepted to have a boyfriend. Unlike those on the upper class, men (of lower class) usually have power on women. The relationship between men and women is unequal. (In contrast) many upper class women smoke and discussion with men.


This differences exists also between the city and the countryside. In rural areas, women are completely traditional and conservative. Women are submitted to men, girls get married really really young and religion is more than important. Mixity doesn’t exist there and genders are always separated for each occasion. Women are the hard workers on the fields and have to work really hard in the house too. They are in majority illiterate and really really poor. But campaigns for education in the countryside are now held by the government. So these are vague ideas about the situation of women in Morocco. 


CRCS: For the last question, how do you see women lives here in Indonesia compared to those in Morocco?


Rim : I think that the situation is quite the same between the two countries. But one of the differences that I have observed is that here religion and elitism can be mixed and can go together. Rich people are also pious. In Morocco, in many cases, but not all, there are a lot of exceptions when people get rich and have good education, they tend to separate (life) from religion. Rare rich women wear hijab. Religion is not a sign of modernity but it is seen as conservative and traditional. 


CRCS : Ok, Rim, thanks for your kindness to share with us.


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