RAM bans praying

While feeling a little bad about it, I am secretly pleased about Royal Air Maroc's decision -- as reported by the BBC -- to ban its employees from praying on company time. On the one hand, it's obviously rather insensitive to people's religious beliefs and stigmatizes religion as something suspicious and preferable to avoid. It's also very much at odds with the trend towards conservatism in the country, both socially and politically (the moderate Islamist PJD looks set to win next year's parliamentary elections with a margin of about 30%). On the other hand, I am constantly irritated by people praying in offices, especially when they do it in public. I find ostentatious piety (of the kind that is grotesquely abundant in Egypt among both Muslims and Christians) distasteful, especially when it's shoved in your face constantly and people suddenly start rolling out carpets in the middle of an office, interrupting their (and others') work and contributing to the already very palpable social pressure to become more outwardly religious. I know many people who pray but do it in prayer rooms or mosques and avoid making a display of themselves while doing it -- which seems to me to be the socially and religiously correct way to do things.

All this being said, this kind of action (rather than, say, imposing strict guidelines on when and where people can pray in public offices) will play straight into the hands of Moroccan's populist Islamists who love to campaign on the secularist conspiracy that's everywhere. And it creates this false dichotomy between Islamists, who want to wear their religion on their sleeves and think invasive forms of public piety are a type of dawa, and perhaps equally religious Muslims who think that their faith is a private thing and have the good taste not be ostentatious about it.

This episode reminds me a bit of Tunisia's recent statement that it would ban the niqab. In principle, I find the niqab abhorrent. But do you really want to have a state that legislates what people can and can't wear, or for that matter endorse the Tunisian regime, one of the vilest in the region?
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.