CASABLANCA – Saturday September 1st was a sunny day, the afternoon sky was blue and the summer holidays not quite over. A young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ajouhi wanted to bring their six and three-year-old children to the Tahiti Beach Club on the Corniche Boulevard in Casablanca, Morocco. Established in 1940 and currently owned by the company Blue Invest, the club is a favorite destination of those in Casablanca and visitors who can afford it.
But once there, the Ajouhi's outing was quickly cut short when the security staff denied access to Mrs. Ajouhi because she was wearing the hijab (Muslim veil).
The security staff was unable to answer Mr. Ajouhi's questions, and he requested to see the manager of the club. But again, he got the same insufficient answers. "I met the manager in her office. She claimed that the hijab had been banned in her club for years," Ajouhi explains. "When I asked why it was banned, she said: it just is!"
Meanwhile, his wife had remained at the door with her children. "When my husband went inside to talk with the managers, the security guard told me I could enter if I took off my hijab," recalled Mrs. Ajouhi. "I said no!"
On vacation in Casablanca for two weeks, Adil Ajouhi, a young Moroccan-Canadian whose life is split between Canada, Burkina Faso and Morocco naively believed that he only needed to pay the 400 dirhams (around $47) entrance fee to get into the Tahiti Beach Club.
Of course, he could have just turned around and gone somewhere else without asking further questions, but instead, he decided to call his lawyer – to press charges. For this father of two, the objective was not to make a religious point but simply to claim what he believed was his constitutional right.
"How is it possible? How can this happen in my own country? The country of my ancestors?" he asks. "I travel a lot with my wife and children. Sadly, my country was the only country where we were treated that way … how sad!"
Mrs. Ajouhi considers the hijab ban “a total a lack of respect” toward her, but also “toward every woman who choses to wear the Muslim veil...” “I understand the fact that the hijab is not suitable for swimming and I wasn’t planning on taking a swim. I even told the security guard – I was there for my children, that's all," she says.
At the Tahiti Beach Club, the manager says that the rules have been the same for years and that there has never been any problem before.
However, this is unconstitutional – making the club is liable for a fine and even a jail sentence according to the Moroccan criminal code.
An attorney not involved in the case explained that discrimination, as it is referred to in article 431-1, is punishable by a jail sentence ranging from one month to two years and a fine of between 1,200 to 50,000 dirhams (from $160 to $6,000). "It covers anyone who refuses to provide goods or services; impedes the normal exercise of any economic activity; refuses to employ, sanction or dismiss a person," explained the attorney.
That said, beyond the legal points, the hijab seems to have become a real hot-button issue in Morocco, amid an evolving social and geopolitical context. Morocco is mostly a Muslim country, with a Constitution and rules that nobody is supposed to ignore.
Today, Mrs. And Mr. Ajouhi want some clear explanations in order to answer the questions of their six-year-old daughter who has not yet understood why her mother could not enter the club because of her hijab. It is now in the hands of the country's judicial system. To be continued ...