What’s the punchline you ask? Well……there isn’t one….just like there aren’t any bars in Morocco. More specifically, there aren’t any gender neutral establishments serving just cocktails. No joke!
Prior to traveling to Morocco I had researched a bit of the Muslim culture and what to expect prior to my trip there and what I needed to do to prepare. I also wanted to set a good example and make a good impression as an American. I knew what types of clothes to pack making sure to dress appropriately covering my shoulders and knees out of respect. I had read about the practice of call to prayer that would be heard five times daily and was excited to eat all the exotic foods and spices that are native to the country. I also knew that drinking alcohol was haraam or forbidden for Muslim’s but what I didn’t know is that it’s also taboo for tourists–especially women! This kind of surprised me for a country that relies so heavily on tourism and one thing I had not planned for was a pre-trip liver detox.
Not that I base my vacation around alcohol consumption, I do take my precious time off seriously and as a time to really relax, unwind, and enjoy myself….that usually involves cocktails at some point. That might mean having a nice glass of wine at a corner cafe’ while people watching or parked in a lounge chair sipping fruity, slushy, umbrella rum drinks while simply staring at the waves roll in and out. That’s what vacation is to me–I’m talking comfortably numb here, not sloppy drunk.
And while I’m not a prude while traveling to far off places where lifestyle is different from mine, I try to remain open and understanding of the reasons why people live the way they do. This is one of the best reasons to travel and I embrace it. So this whole abstinence from all things alcohol had me wanting to really dig deep into the reasons why. Why in the Muslim faith is freedom from alcohol a command from God but at my local Catholic Church, wine is served as the blood of Christ? How could two religions be so polar opposite regarding the same issue? Following are the five reasons I found and my rebuttal or thoughts on each:
1. Alcohol and prayer do not mix. Prayer (salat) is a fundamental part of the Muslim lifestyle, an obligatory call to God five times a day. A ritual eco “wudhu” (woo-dhoo) is necessary before the prayer which involves a water saving ablution to spiritually connect to environment, health and creation. The presence of alcohol in the same room does not affect the prayer, according to Islamic scholars, but anyone who drinks alcohol cannot pray for a month, unless he or she repents. – I have prayed to my God (and the porcelain one) while under the influence of alcohol–mostly praying the spinning would stop and that I’d feel okay the following day while repenting my decision to overembibe. Seriously though, I’d like to believe that my God is a forgiving God and hears my prayers no matter what.
2. It’s addictive. Even when the early Muslims recognized alcohol for its medicinal uses, Prophet Muhammad likened the drink to a “disease”, saying there is no cure in things that God has forbidden. Like the first puff of a cigarette, it is up to individual will-power to continue or stop drinking. – This is absolutely true if not done in moderation or you are predisposed to addiction. I was married to an alcoholic, saw the damage it caused and can say with certainty that it’s not pretty and is a disease which destroys families and can kill.
3. Liquor clouds the intellect. Khamr also describes how alcohol consumption makes it difficult to differentiate between right and wrong. Muslim faith is founded on the intellect, rational thought and good judgement. Anything that could jeopardize this behaviour is forbidden, and another reason why Muslims don’t drink – Agree completely…..I’ve acted pretty stupidly after one too many cocktails. Visit almost any bar in the US late into the evening and you are almost guaranteed to witness people acting without intellect. Hence the saying…”nothing good happens after midnight”.
4. It gives the wrong message to children. Sitting in a restaurant where alcohol is served is not the same as drinking it. This is why Islamic law has the flexibility to say if someone needs to sit in such a restaurant for a work meeting or because no other diners are available, he/she can, but should not sit at a table where alcohol is served. Bars and environments where alcohol is served could lead to drinking and in the presence of children, it could teach them to explore drinking. Mature Muslim adults are role models and carry a message that you don’t have to drink to have a good time, to work or to socialize. – This one I’m on the fence about. I do believe in setting a good example for your children but I also believe in teaching them that anything in moderation and handled responsibly is okay (with the exception of drugs and crime of course!).
5. Alcohol makes one forget. Any intoxicating substance, whether it’s wine, beer, gin, whiskey or drugs, affects a person’s faculties and behavior. The result is the same, and the Quran outlines that it is the intoxication-which makes one forgetful of God and prayer-that is harmful. – Probably the most true of the five reasons–I have literally forgotten an entire evening after a night of heavy drinking. Not lately and not proud…just saying!
All of this being said and as a disclaimer, this is not meant to be an article about religion or whether anyone should drink or not. I’m also not passing judgement but wanted to post my thoughts on the subject and let anyone else traveling to Morocco know what to expect if they plan on doing some drinking while there (especially women). So, after spending three weeks traveling the entire country of Morocco, here are my observations and my take on the subject.
Bars as we know them in the US are called brasseries in Morocco. And though they are far and few between, they are mostly found in restaurants, and cater to males. Females entering alone or with other females will find them very uncomfortable, as they will be considered prostitutes. We also found this to be true (not the prostitute part) about most coffee shops which contain only men smoking and socializing. Women are just not welcome and we were told that their social times are usually held at the community laundry or while performing other household related tasks. Not wanting to be confused as a prostitute but still wanting a cocktail, we asked our guide to assist on more than one occasion. This is just one of the many reasons to hire a guide while traveling through Morocco-especially if you are female who enjoys a glass of wine. As I’ve stated in previous articles and posts, I can highly recommend Around Morocco Tours.
Our first experience came during a stop one in the beautiful blue-washed village of Chefchaouen nestled in the shadows of the Rif mountains. After settling in with some mint tea (ironically called Berber Whiskey) at our Riad Casa Perleta and doing a bit of exploring, we stopped in Uta el-Hammam square for some much needed lunch. The day was sunny, the square was festive, and there were a couple of elderly gentlemen playing instruments, singing, dancing, and attracting quite a crowd. We watched for some time before my daughter expressed that she wondered where they lived. Before we could say anything else, our guide was up and conversing with them and we were being led though the narrow blue alleys and ultimately sitting in their home.
This is where the story gets interesting and ties in with why I’m telling it. We learned that they were brothers and well known in the village. I’m not sure which one was the homeowner but once inside the small quarters, we were offered the traditional mint tea by his completely blind wife. Then, much to our surprise, a hashish or kif pipe was filled and passed around. Although our daughters were intrigued, we refrained from smoking but the experience stuck with me the remainder of the trip. Why was smoking kif okay but drinking alcohol a sin? In fact, you could easily buy kif anywhere on the streets of Chefchaouen but only one hotel in the entire village served just beer…not one restaurant there was licensed to serve liquor.
Our enjoyable afternoon in Chefchaouoen
Our next stop was the city of Fez and our amazing stay at the Riad Laaroussa was most definitely a highlight of our entire trip (you can read all about our stay here). One of the many, many things that made the stay here particularly wonderful was their selection of regional wines. Yes “regional” wines. And although they tasted luscious, I couldn’t help but ask myself why a country that considers drinking wine a sin is growing the grapes that make it. Is it really the forbidden fruit they claim or are they hiding a huge secret–that they actually do enjoy wine–privately. Moroccan law does not prohibit the production of beer and alcohol, but only their sale to Muslim customers. And in a country which is 99% Muslim and statistics showing that 85% of domestic production is enjoyed locally, there must be a lot of closet wine drinking. These numbers send a real mixed message!
Our much different experience at Riad Laaroussa in Fez
Over the course of the next couple of weeks on the road, obtaining spirits became quite a covert operation and we encountered many different scenarios for enjoying a cocktail. From small dry villages with none to be found to our guide seemingly smuggling bottles out of a restaurant in Merzouga for us to bring back to our riad (I’m sure he didn’t steal it–our guide lived in the village and I’m sure knew the restaurant owners and did pay for the wine). But, it did seem slightly shady as we were instructed to wait in the car while he went in the back and came out with two bottles discreetly hidden in paper bags under his jacket). In the larger “new” cities of Fez, Essaouira, and Marrakech, wine and spirits were on most of the restaurant menus and inside the walls of our riads, beer and wine were served to us freely (I can’t speak to all riads but ours did).
Enjoying a glass of cold white during a break in cooking school in Essaouria
All in all, we had a most wonderful and educational trip and didn’t suffer in the least by the lack of cocktails in some locations. And, as our Moroccan adventure came to an end, I came to the conclusion that while it might be haram – or sinful – to drink in Morocco, the worst offense might be to show it. In general, Moroccans favor discretion and dignity: They hide the wealth and beauty of their riads, or homes, behind plain and crumbling medina facades. The women who meticulously primp and exfoliate at the hammams – or spas – are quick to cover their bodies under baggy djellabas. Some restaurants and grocery stores peddle wine, yet aren’t supposed to sell to Muslims which occupy the largest percent of the population. When it comes to describing Morocco’s relationship with alcohol, I guess I can only conclude that “It’s just complicated”.