Muslim-Majority Morocco Expels 5 Christian Missionaries

The overwhelmingly Muslim, North African country of Morocco expelled five Christian missionaries for "illegally" trying to convert Muslims, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.

All five missionaries were sent to Spain by boat after they were caught in a meeting with Moroccan Muslims on Saturday in Casablanca, The Associated Press reported based on a statement carried by the official MAP news agency.

Four of the missionaries are Spaniards and the fifth is German. All five are female.

"Numerous pieces of evangelical propaganda material were also seized," including video cassettes in Arabic that encourage conversion to Christianity, the statement said.

It is illegal in Morocco to proselytize to convert Muslims.

Recently, its government has even cracked down on a Shiite Muslim school accused of trying to convert pupils. It also cut off diplomatic relations with Iran earlier in March, accusing the Iranian embassy of trying to convert Moroccans to Shiite Muslims.

Morocco is almost entirely Sunni Muslim.

But in general, the North African country is known to be religiously tolerant. Christians, who make up about 1.1 percent of the population, are allowed to freely worship in churches. The small population of Jews is also allowed to practice their faith in synagogues throughout Morocco.

Morocco is considered one of the most religious countries in the world, according to a 2007 survey conducted by German think tank Bertelsmann Foundation. More than 96 percent of the population in Morocco described themselves as religious in the extensive study that questioned 21,000 adults in 21 countries.