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Two worlds that can never understand each other


When I was a child, my father often mentioned Denmark and Sweden as examples of civilized countries, real democracies where citizens had rights and duties. I remember him sighing, as if to make us understand that our own country was a long way from this situation. With his modest income, he was never able to travel to these countries, but he was fascinated by the equality among citizens, and between men and women, that prevailed there. He was especially intrigued by the monarchy in Nordic countries, which people respected as a symbolic system without having to put up with its escapades and extravagances. He also recalled Denmark’s attitude toward the Jews at the time of the gas chambers. In short, he loved these countries and their culture.

My father was a good Muslim. He said his prayers discreetly and did not require anyone else in the household to follow him. We never talked about religion at the table, but he liked to recall that, in any case, “in Islam, we are all responsible before God for our own acts.” He would cite two verses from the Qur’an: “There is no compulsion in religion” and “You have your religion and I have mine.”1 That was all that had to be said. At the time Islam stayed within the confines of the mosque and the house. The Morocco we lived in was quiet, and its Islam was calm and calming.

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About the Author

Tahar Ben Jelloun
Tahar Ben Jelloun is one of the most prominent voices from the Arab world in France. His novel La nuit sacrée was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1987. Born in Morocco, he lives in Paris.


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