Christian Rock for Muslims
By SAMUEL LOEWENBERG
Published: May 10, 2005
MARRAKESH, Morocco, May 9 - In a sprawling open space alongside the Royal Palace here last Saturday night, Baimik Youness and his friend Salahe Boudde were jumping with excitement, about to see their first American rock concert. The Moroccan students had never heard of the band, Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus. Nor had they realized that the three-day concert they were attending was a Christian rock festival.
Jonathan Player for The New York Times
"They know we love this music, so they use this music to pass their message," said Mahmoud Zuine, right, a Moroccan student at the fest.
Jonathan Player for The New York Times
Students and Muslims at Friendship
Fest, a three-day concert in
Last weekend's concert, organized by several American
evangelical groups and the Moroccan government and called the Friendship Fest,
was staged despite criticism from Moroccan Islamic groups and opposition
political parties. Seven American Christian bands alternated with Moroccan
groups. The event drew more than 15,000 Moroccans a day, police officials
estimated, as well as dozens of evangelical Christians from around the
The concert was about more than power chords for Jesus. From the evangelists' perspective, it was an opportunity to gain a foothold in a relatively liberal Muslim country and give religious priorities a more central role into American foreign policy.
"We see ourselves as doing important foreign policy work that the Bush Administration is not doing," said the Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, a Christian-values lobbying group in Washington and one of the organizers of the festival.
"As followers of Jesus, we should, in our civic capacity, work to reduce conflict by promoting international understanding," he said.
From the Moroccan government's point of view, it was a
chance to interact with what is perceived to be a politically influential group
in American politics at a time when the country has been criticized on its
human rights record and continues to grapple with a longstanding dispute over
the status of
Some media commentators in
He was more coy on the political influence wielded by the evangelicals but said, "If it happens that they are strong, it can help."
In fact, one of the evangelical leaders who was behind the Christian rock festival, the Rev. Rob Schenck, who leads the conservative Christian lobbying group Faith and Action in Washington, said that after what he had seen in his meetings with Moroccan officials he would now seek to get evangelicals to reassess their position on Western Sahara and the Sahwaris' political leadership, the Polisario Front. "Evangelical Christians have to be extremely cautious about supporting any group that would sympathize with a socialist or Communist philosophy or world view, which is completely in conflict with an evangelical or Christian worldview," Mr. Schenck said in an interview. He said Moroccan officials had told the evangelical leaders that the Polisario had received Cuban training and aid.
The evangelicals did have to retreat on another front. After criticism from the press and Islamist groups, the Moroccan government canceled a planned conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue that was to have taken place in the week leading up to the rock festival.
Mr. Doumou played down these fears, saying critics had drawn false inferences from some of festival's early promotional material. One evangelical organizer, Michael Kirtley, had called the event "an expedition for hearts and minds." Mr. Schenk had told The Christian Post, that the evangelicals would "communicate clearly why we personally embrace Jesus Christ." By the time of the concert, however, the evangelicals were watching their words, and there were no references to Christianity in promotional materials or on stage, outside the lyrics of the songs.
Evangelical attendees were given written instructions
by the organizers not to proselytize, which is illegal in
"To play worship music openly in a Muslim
country, this is something that lots of people have been praying for for a long time," said Steve Iliff,
a 44-year-old cook from
Some Moroccans at the concert, like Mahmoud Zuine, a 21-year-old economics student, enjoyed the music but found the Christian component of the rock concert unsettling. "They know we love this music, so they use this music to pass their message," Mr. Zuine said. "It's like a magic way. It's not direct."
But he doubted that many of the Moroccans understood the lyrics. "I laugh because nobody knows what they are saying," he said.