Wine & Alcohol in Muslim Morocco Hot

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Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, but it doesn't technically forbid the production of alcohol — just so long as it is sold among non-Muslims. This technicality and a tolerant society have combined to help make Morocco the biggest producer of wine in the Muslim world. In fact, Morocco's government is the biggest owner of the nation's vineyards! Does the involvement of a Muslim government with wine production and the production of alcohol create problems with Islamists, though?

Morocco produces today nearly 35 million bottles of wine, all of which is supposed to be sold to non-Muslims. Despite this, Moroccans consume, on average, one liter of wine every year. That might not sound like a lot to western wine drinkers, but it's an amazing amount for a nation where alcohol consumption is forbidden. Most Moroccans probably don't drink any wine, so those who do drink probably drink a fair amount. There is strong support in Morocco for Islamist politicians, but there also appears to be strong, traditional support for tolerance of un-Islamic behavior.

The fast-modernizing country thrives on tourism and trade with Europe, but its people remain deeply conservative. The country's ruler, King Mohammed VI, is also "commander of the believers" and protector of the faith. Islamists authorized to take part in politics are the second-largest force in parliament, while support for non-authorized groups is believed to be even larger.

Despite this uncertain setting for wine culture, the Celliers' owner, Brahim Zniber, is one of the country's richest people. His group employs 6,500 people, nearly all of them Muslim, and revenues rose to about $345 million last year. Its three biggest sources of income are wine production with the Celliers de Meknes, hard-liquor imports, and Coca-Cola bottling.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Somehow I doubt that there are many Muslim nations where tourists can go out to eat and drink any sort of wine or alcoholic beverage, much less locally grown and produced wines or alcoholic beverages. True, you have to be very discreet by not showing the bottles and you can't drink the wines in obvious wine glasses (which must really impact people's ability to appreciate any unique flavors and aromas which Moroccan wines have), but it's still more than you'd get elsewhere.

Then again, Morocco does seem to be very different on a number of levels:

[Aboubakr Belkora, an Islamist and former mayor] said that "for religious reasons," he uprooted about 250 acres of vineyards from his own fields but has no qualms with others making or drinking wine.

"There has always been an acceptance in Morocco, for wine, for homosexuality . . . you just don't need to advertise it," he said.

Do note that this is an Islamist mayor, not a liberal Muslim or even a secularist. An Islamist is a Muslim who believes in greater blending of mosque and state –– that Muslim religious law (shariah) should be instituted as civil law. Since drinking alcohol and homosexuality are forbidden under shariah, an Islamist should believe that they should also be forbidden as a civil matter by the government; yet here we have an Islamist politician who is willing to tolerate the existence of drinking alcohol, drinking wine, and even homosexuality... just as long as the practices are kept quiet and not "advertised."

To be fair, I doubt that Aboubakr Belkora's relatively tolerant views on wine, alcohol, and even homosexuality are widely shared among fellow Islamists in Morocco, never mind the rest of the Muslim-Arab world, but the fact that they exist at all is very interesting and suggests that greater tolerance by shariah-promoting Islamists is, at least in theory, possible. Of course a truly free, liberal society would have to enjoy far more than just the sort of tolerance which Aboubakr Belkora is willing to show, but given the repression that can exist in nations governed by strict shariah standards, I can't help but find this a bit heartening.


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