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The World from A-Z – Morocco A-Z

Welcome to our second stop of our “The World From A-Z” series. We are happy to welcome Amanda from Maroc Mama today to introduce us to the A-Z of Morocco!

And you can find the printable version of this right here: The World from A-Z Morocco!

AllahAllah is the Arabic word for God.  Whether being said by Arabic speaking Christians, Jews or Muslims Allah is the word to describe this supreme being.  The majority of Moroccans are monotheistic, meaning they believe in only one God. When the word Allah is written on paper or engraved on jewelry the item must be burned or melted to dispose of.  The name is so sacred that it should not be thrown in the garbage!
Amazigh – This is the word for a Berber person. Berbers are the indigenous people of North Africa. It means “free people”.  One of the most famous Moroccan Amazigh  was Dihya, a religious and military leader who led Berber resistance against the Arab-Muslim expansion in Morocco.

El Badi Palace – Translated the name of this palace is The Incomparable Palace.  It was built in 1578 by the Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur.  The palace is located in Marrakech and took 25 years to build. It is built in the same style as Alhambra in Spain.  In the seventeenth century it was torn apart to build a different palace in Meknes, a city in northern Morocco.
B’stila – B’stila is a very special food found only in Morocco.  There are two main varieties, one made with fish and one made with chicken.  The dish is wrapped up like a pie by using a dough known as ourka.  It is very similar to phyllo dough.  Traditionally this dish was made with pigeon meat but not many people today care to eat pigeon.

Couscous – Couscous is the most famous Moroccan food. The name refers to the grains of semolina that make up the dish but also the entire meal.  Couscous grains are made by rolling semolina into slightly larger grains. A two piece pot, called a couscousierre is used to cook the dish.  In the lower portion vegetables, meat, spices and water are cooked.  The couscous grains go into the top portion that has many small holes in the bottom.  The steam from the lower pot comes through the holes, steaming the couscous.  To serve the cooked couscous is plated and topped with the vegetables, meat and liquid.  Traditionally couscous is served on Friday’s, the Islamic day of worship and is accompanied by glasses of buttermilk.
Chefchaouen – This city in the Rif Mountains of northwestern Morocco and is known for its blue hued buildings and handicrafts that are hard to find in other parts of Morocco. It has a long relationship with Spain and at one time was a part of Spanish Morocco.  Many of the original inhabitants were Moriscos and Jews who fled Spain during the Spanish Reconquista.

d’jalaba – Moroccan men and women wear a robe on top of their clothing when going outdoors.  This garment is known as a djalaba.  For men, black, brown, grey or white d’jalabas are standard. For women, d’jalabas come in many, many colors and patterns and styles.  For both the robe has long sleeves (in varying weight depending on the season), comes to the ankles, and has a long hood on the back.
Darija – Moroccans speak Arabic but the Moroccan dialect is known as darija.  This dialect is so different from some other Arabic dialects that an Arabic speaker form Saudi Arabia or Egypt, probably would not be able to understand someone speaking Darija.  The language is a mixture of classical Arabic, French, Spanish, German, Berber dialects and African languages and could be considered a pidgin language.  

Eid – Directly translated Eid means festival.  In Morocco there are two major Eids; Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha. The first occurs at the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.  It is celebrated by visiting friends and family, giving small gifts or money to children and enjoying special foods.   Eid al Adha is 40 days later and occurs at the end of the time of Hajj (the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca).  Eid al Adha commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at Allah’s command and Allah’s mercy to replace the son with a sheep.  Muslims around the world sacrifice a sheep at this time, keeping 1/3 for themselves, giving 1/3 to family and friends and donating the final 1/3 to those in need.

Fes is one of the oldest cities of Morocco and was for a long time a capital city. It is over 1,200 years old! The oldest part of Fes, the medina, is full of narrow snaking streets that cars cannot fit down. The city is very well known for leather dying and ceramics.
Fishing – One of Morocco’s largest industries is fishing. It provides 16% of Morocco’s global exports and 3% of Morocco’s GDP.  In the north of the country the Mediterranean ocean is fished while on the Western coast the Atlantic Ocean provides bounty. Sardines are a major export but many other types of fish such as tuna are also harvested. Morocco lacks modern fishing vessels and processing plants to fully take advantage of this natural resource and much of the fishing happens on small single or double person boats.

Goats The argan biosphere in southern Morocco has some very peculiar goats. Argan is a type of tree that grows 8-10 meters high and produces a nut of the same name. The indigenous goats of the region climb the trees to eat the nuts. When the goats “process and expel” the nuts they are harvested, cleaned and ground to extract argan oil. Modern processing has made the natural process employed by the goats obsolete.

 

Horses – Moulay Ismail ruled Morocco in the late 1600’s and while he was known as a cruel leader he had many architectural jewels built.  One of these is the Royal Stables in Meknes. The stable yard was built to house no less than 12,000 horses. Ismail had a great affinity for horses and each horse in his stable had a groom and slave that tended to it. There was a lot of planning that went into construction including a canal built to water the horses and a granary built nearby with enough feed for all 12,000 horses for 20 years!  Unfortunately an earthquake in the 18th century destroyed much of the stables but some parts are still intact and can be visited by tourists.

Islam – Islam is the official religion of Morocco and 99% of Moroccans are of the faith. Islam is the youngest of the monotheistic religions and eschews the belief that Mohammed, the prophet of Allah brought the news of Islam to the world.  It was first brought to Morocco in 680.  There are four major schools of thought in Islam and in Morocco the Maliki madhab (school of thought) was founded and remains most prominent.

Jinn – Jinn are spirits that are frequently mentioned in the Qur’an and Islamic mythology. They inhabit an unseen world and are made up of smokeless yet scorching fire. They are similar to humans in that they can be good, bad, evil or neutral.  They live in a world much like ours with things such as weddings, courts of law etc. There are many beliefs in Morocco about co-existing with jinn.  For example, pouring hot water down a drain is a no-no as there is a belief that jinn live in the drain and doing so will anger them.  Many people also believe jinn can possess people and must undergo an exorcism.

King – Morocco is a constitutional monarchy however the king and royal family have much more power than the parliament.  The king has the power to dissolve parliament at any time and if there is a disagreement between the palace and parliament, the palace wins.  After Morocco gained independence from France the current kings’ grandfather was named as the king.  Prior to this the king was known as the sultan.  Generally the majority of Moroccans are very happy with having a king and royal family.
Khobz – is the Moroccan word for bread.  Bread is the most important food in Morocco.  It serves not only as a starch but as a utensil.  Most Moroccan foods are eaten by using bread to scoop up the dish. Bread is never thrown in the garbage; instead a special bag is used to place in the pieces that are too hard or stale to eat.  This in turn is collected with the garbage and is fed to animals. If a Moroccan drops a piece of bread, they will immediately pick it up and kiss it.  Most Moroccans will say they cannot physically eat without a piece of bread.

Lemons – Morocco has an arid climate, much like the US state of California.  Because of the warm weather many types of citrus fruit grow here.  One of the most widely used fruits is the lemon.  Moroccan food is very well known for the addition of preserved lemons. They are made by stuffing lemons with a lot of salt until the lemon begins to break down.  The process can take 1-2 months!  When the lemons are ready they have a salty/sweet taste.   

Marrakech is the largest city in southern Morocco.  For many years it has been a favorite destination of kings and common people alike. Even today Marrakech looks like a page from a history book! In recent years many movies have been filmed in Morocco.  The sweeping desert scenes from films such as Gladiator and Prince of Persia were filmed in Morocco.  Each year Marrakech hosts an International film festival that brings movie stars from around the world to this city.

Nap – Like most Mediterranean cultures the “siesta” is a big part of Moroccan life.  The day is set up so that whether working outside the home or attending school, the middle of the day is reserved for a meal and rest. From 12-2pm most everything closes so that families can share the largest meal of the day followed by a nap before returning to their duties.

 

Olives have been a major agricultural crop in Morocco for hundreds of years.  Olives are cured in many ways and eaten almost daily in many Moroccan homes.  Moroccan olive oil is also a specialty that is highly prized in the homes of housewives and chefs!

 

 

Protectorate – In 1912 France and Spain took the role of a protectorate in Morocco with the Treaty of Fez.  Spain had control over the very north and very south of Morocco and France the rest. This is different from a colony and Morocco was never a colony of France.  That being said, France leveraged nearly all the same powers over Morocco as they did with Algeria or Tunisia, two other colonies. Not everything about this arrangement was bad.  Prior to France’s involvement in Morocco there were very few roads and infrastructure.  They built a highway system, the railway system, hospitals and designated natural areas. On March 2, 1956 Morocco declared independence and both countries gave up their status. Spain however still has possession of the cities of Ceuta and Melila.

The Qur’an is important to almost every Moroccan.  It is the holy book of Islam and many Moroccan children attend school on the weekends to memorize the Qur’an. It is a great honor and achievement to memorize the Qur’an and many children strive to do this.

 

 

Ramadan is the Islamic holy month. During this month, all Muslims who are old enough, fast from sun-up until sundown.  Children start fasting when they are between 9 and 13.  Although for many non-Muslims this may seem like a less than exciting holiday, however it is a very exciting time in Morocco.  Children look forward to participating in the celebrations.  Every evening families eat special foods to break the fast and awake before sunrise to eat again. Prayer and a focus on Allah is the most important component of this celebration.

The Sahara Desert makes up the eastern and southern border of Morocco. It is the largest desert in the world.  For generations many nomadic tribes have called the Sahara home.
Soccer is the national sport of Morocco.  If you walk down any street in the country you will likely find dozens of children kicking around a soccer ball.
Souq is the Moroccan word for market.  Small corner markets sell produce and other “daily needs” while in larger cities souqs of several miles are full of every product imaginable.

A tajine is a cooking vessel but it is also a type of slow cooked stew.  Couscous and tajine are the two types of food Morocco is most well known for.  Tajines come in a variety of flavors and generally include some type of meat and lots of vegetables.
Tamazight is a Berber language commonly spoken in Morocco. For a long time Berber languages were outlawed but recently the Moroccan government has allowed the language to be taught in schools.  There is now a TV station in Tamazight! Moroccans do not drink alcohol but they do drink a lot of tea.  Mint tea is very popular and is a mixture of green tea, fresh mint and plenty of sugar.

The oldest working university in the world exists in Fes Morocco.  It is called al-Karaouine and was founded by a woman named Fatima al-Fihri. It began as a mosque in 859 and a university was eventually added. Today it remains in operation and is well respected in the Islamic world.

 

Many different groups have invaded and conquered Morocco. In the northern part of the country Volubilis was built by Romans who settled in the area in the 1st century AD. By 285 the Romans were conquered but the settlement was inhabited for another 700 years.

 

Morocco doesn’t have a lot of trees but with the wood that does exist a tradition of woodworking was developed.  Carved figures and intricate carved decorative pieces for homes highlight this trade. Designers and collectors have been flocking to Morocco wedding blankets in recent years.  These pieces of art that are traditionally given to Berber brides are in high demand.  The most traditional blankets are white with silver sequins but can be found in many other colors as well.

 

(this letter doesn’t exist in Arabic!)

 

 

Morocco has a very young population.  Sixty percent of the population is under 25!  Many young people who finish school struggle to find employment.  This is a big problem in the country.

 

 

Have you ever seen Moroccan mosaics?  This art form is known as zellige.  Artisans design a pattern and chip each tile with a hand tool.  The tiles are put into place upside down so the designer has to remember the pattern that he has put down.

 

 

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