The People of Morocco

April 14, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

The People of Morocco photo

Morocco has been in the mind’s eye of people from the U.S. since before the release of Casablanca, the famous black-and-white movie set in the largest city in Morocco. For one reason or another, it is a country that fascinates and charms outsiders, much like the other countries that make of the Maghreb region of Africa. The key to this fascination, however, may lie in the mix of cultures and people that make up Morocco.

Out of around 34 million people, about 99% of the population of Morocco is either Arab or Berber. Arab simply means someone whose native language is Arabic and is a panethnic term, meaning many different ethnicities within the Arabic-speaking world can easily be Arab. One of the two official languages of Morocco is Arabic, with most of the population also speaking dialects of Moroccan Arabic known as Darija. The Berbers, also called the Amazighs, are an ethnic group that comes from North Africa. The originally all spoke Berber languages, with Amazigh Berber being the other official language of Morocco, but not all those of Berber descent speak Berber.

Another group that is present in Morocco, but in very small numbers, is the Gnawa ethnic group. They are a group that originally came from West Africa, specifically descendants of the Ghana Empire that covered what is now most of Mali, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Senegal, and Mauritania. They have long held ties with the Maghreb countries through trade and generally speak Arabic now. Another small group in Morocco is the Haratin, who speak either Berber or Arabic and in Morocco were usually farmers who worked the land of the oases in the south of the country. Now, that is changing and they are working in any number of jobs and moving to more urban areas. They have darker skin than most Moroccans and, if they speak Berber, speak the Berber language known as Shilha or Tashelhit.

Although most Moroccans speak some form of Arabic or Berber, there are also French and Spanish speakers. French is a common second language for Maghreb countries, and Morocco’s proximity to and history with Andalucia mean you may hear some Spanish. Many of the people who have settled in Morocco from other countries are also from France or Spain. English is also a language studied and used a bit in Morocco, but it definitely lags behind Spanish and French.

In terms of religion, around 99% of the population are Muslim, with 67% being Sunni Muslim, 30% non-denominational Muslim, and the rest unrecorded. There used to be a larger population of Jewish Moroccans, but their numbers have dwindled since 1948. Together with a few different branches of Christianity, Judaism is the religion of only part of the remaining 1% of the population. There is also a very small Baha’i community in Morocco, but the numbers are so small it hardly makes an impact on the culture. The most important thing to know is how very Muslim Morocco is as a country and a culture.

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Category: Foreign Language

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