Russia is an unusual place to study for people from Morocco, usually Moroccans go to Western Europe or the United States. But I decided to come here because I wanted to discover this country, I have had some basic ideas about it before and I was motivated by the master’s programme. Currently, I am studying Political Analysis and Public Policy.
In Morocco I got my Bachelor of Linguistics from the University of Moulay Ismail, in Meknes city. After that I took a gap year to have a rest and at the same time I was checking some opportunities abroad. I decided to study in HSE, because the programme was taught in English and I was also promised a scholarship, which is a good motivation. There are very few Moroccans who live here, being a model for others and omitting some stereotypes was also one of the reasons to come.
The system of education is different in Morocco from one I got used to. For instance, our bachelor is based on 3 years and the master’s level of education is very different too. Even though there are some similarities: in Morocco we also have to defend our master’s thesis at the end of studies, but what is distinctive about master’s in Russia, especially in HSE, is the innovative approach. In Morocco people just study academically until they reach their master’s thesis defense. That is why so many recent graduates cannot find a job and end up unemployed. Here I was offered an internship for a month last year and this year I will also have one, it is a good thing to associate study with work. That is the main advantage of getting master’s degree in Russia.
Religion is a sensitive topic but I will try my best to state my opinion. I am a Muslim but I believe in moderation and cultural openness towards other people, other religions and other civilizations. This is actually why I decided to come here. Previously, I expected to have some troubles with adapting to a new culture while preserving my religious and cultural values. However, on the contrary, I feel fine. I didn’t know that in Russia there are many Muslims who came from post-soviet countries. Even though the language is different, we have some similarities and we understand each other. I have lived in Russia for a year now and I have never been a victim of racism or any kind of discrimination based on my religion or my race. For example, usually I wear my ordinary clothes, but at the day of Kurban Bayram (Eid Al Adha as we call it), I was wearing a typical Moroccan outfit and people didn’t seem to pay a lot of attention, which was surprising. I do appreciate this; so far the attitude of Russians towards Muslims seems neutral because Muslims are already a part of the Russian society.
We go to mosque at 7 or 8 am to attend the special prayer followed by the speech given by Imam, the religious leader in each mosque. After that, people exchange greetings, shake hands, those people, who were in conflict, forgive each other. The idea of Eid Al Adha is to unite everyone and to keep this unity among people. Unfortunately, this key value still remains only in some rural areas. I was born and brought up in a village, then moved to the city, where I discovered that such values are not alive any more among the urban residents.
Coming back to Russia, it is very different, people bring their carpets to the mosque to attend their religious duties and greet each other, but I didn’t feel the unity.
Anyway, I have found some friends whom I have shared the “shashlik” with after all. I have some Muslim friends, but other non-Muslims invited me too. I enjoy spending time with all my friends regardless their religion. Almost all countries are associated with some stereotypes, that is why meeting new people and exchanging ideas is very important for omitting those.
Before I came to Russia, the country itself was associated with vodka, and I was surprised that drinking in public is prohibited and everything is very civilized. Another stereotype, which is actually true, is that there are beautiful girls in Russia. I am not claiming that Moroccan girls aren’t beautiful, but in terms of wearing fashionable clothes and being stylish Russian girls really take care of themselves, even if the costs of that are unbearable for them.
I also was told that Russia is a military state and I think that is true. That should not be taken as a negative thing; for example, the fact that Kalashnikov is produced in Russia should not be exaggerated. I have a lot of Russian friends who don’t talk about this at all; they speak about different things like having fun, travelling, normal stuff.
These are the stereotypes, which I discovered, besides the cold, obviously. Russia is famous for the cold.
It is very good to ask these questions myself, even though they are complex. I will try to clarify some points and to be as open as possible, since Islam is actually associated with terrorism and things similar to that.
Morocco is located in the North Africa and it is not that far from Europe. If we look at the history of Morocco, we will find that French have been there and they have copied their secular paradigm onto Moroccan society. In big cities like Marrakesh, Rabat or Casablanca you will find people behaving as Europeans. However, in the rural areas conservative people try to preserve their values and there they have strict Islamic beliefs.
I know people both from the cities and the rural areas; people who were brought up and educated in the city environment are adapted to the modern attitudes and values: they go to the night clubs, listen to rap and pop music, wear jeans, and go to parties. But the other friends of mine who are conservative don’t like to socialize and they are not open-minded. According to them, because of socializing with the people of modern attitude they might suffer from the psychological kind of issues trying to decide whether to follow the modern style of living or to stay a conservative person. In general, young people in Morocco are quite modern in their attitudes and way of thinking.
Girls, who were born in the city environment, are educated in a modern way, but those who were born in villages still wear the hijab and preserve their Islamic behavior. That is a big issue, actually: most of the universities are located in the big cities, and when young girls go there to study, they enter the new environment and get in troubles: for example, their families would not let them date boys, even though it is considered normal in the cities. They may even end up leaving school. Continuing the education can be a real problem for young women, especially master’s or PhD, or sometimes even bachelor’s level. Their parents force them to get married early, usually around the age of eighteen, that is why most women in Morocco are only educated to the high school level.
It is easier for young men to study and live in any situation, because they are not obliged to get married early, they are more free to enjoy their life. After the marriage girls do not get a chance to work and most of them prefer not to, they are afraid to face harassment in the workplace. That happens quite often as a result of the ideological disparities between modern and conservative way of thinking.
The attitude towards the educational matter regarding the role of women is also different. This is a good question but it’s a difficult one. In a conservative society like Saudi Arabia or Qatar, women are not allowed to even drive, in Morocco women now have responsibilities in politics, business and government. They are encouraged to participate in elections as candidates; there are some women ministers, representatives in Parliament, mayors.
Before the French occupation Morocco has been a completely conservative, male dominated society. Under the French protectorate, women have started to form their movements, to call for more rights and gender equality.
I don’t find French impact to be negative, as long as women struggle for equality in education, employment and citizenship rights. However, the new liberal discourse created frustration in our society. For example, issues of abortion and inheritance are already explained by our religion, by Islam. But now there are women who try to redefine these rules, defying the common norms of the Moroccan society.
The percentage of Muslims in Morocco is around 97%, those are moderate believers. The principles of Morocco respect the human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, including other religions like Christianity. Christians enjoy very high advantages of life like the right of free expression, the right to work, housing rights; all of them are guaranteed by Moroccan constitution. In major cities you can find Catholic churches, Orthodox Churches and also Synagogues. Non-Muslims are guaranteed to celebrate their holidays and that’s totally accepted by Muslims. That explains why Morocco is not that much influenced by Arabic Spring, it is quite calm. The history of our country is a story of co-existence, tolerance and mutual respect. We welcome others as far as they respect our principles.
People in Morocco are hospitable and generous. One of the rising sectors of our economy is tourism, Morocco is known for it’s beautiful landscapes and diverse cultural heritage. That attracts foreign tourists including Russians. When they come to Morocco, locals try to be as hospitable and generous as possible. Some of them can even host tourists at home without asking for any tips; besides, local residents in the remote areas might serve you with the best they have.
Russia can also be a good role model for this. Even though old people don’t seem to be happy, and if I have to ask the way when I get lost, they often reply, “Я не говорю по-английски”, and they keep speaking Russian as if I can understand them. Young people are always willing to help, some of them even accompany me to my destination, they are very open and they are friendly with the foreigners. There is a false stereotype that claims Russians to be very aggressive and rude, but from my experience that is not true at all. I like Russians for their love of life.