Elham Asaad Buaras
The Angolan Government has denied it has become the first country in the world to outlaw Islam, despite growing evidence of a crackdown on the practice of the religion in the country.
Religious organisations are required to apply for accreditation in Angola, which currently recognises 83, all of them Christian.
In October the Justice Ministry rejected the applications of 194 organisations, including one from an umbrella Muslim group. Instead they are branded as ‘sects’ and banned in the nation, where more than half the population is Christian.
There are unconfirmed reports that mosques across the African country are being destroyed, according to the International Business Times.
President Jose Edurado dos Santos reportedly told the Osun Defence daily: “This is the final end of Islamic influence in our country.”
“There is no war in Angola against Islam or any other religion,” said Director of the National Institute for Religious Affairs, Manuel Fernando, part of the ministry of culture, on November 27.
“There is no official position that targets the destruction or closure of places of worship, whichever they are.” said Fernando
However, the Islamic Community of Angola (ICA) representing 1 per cent of the population claims that eight mosques have been destroyed in the past two years and anyone who practises Islam risks being found guilty of disobeying Angola’s penal code.
President of the ICA, David Já, said, “We can say that Islam has been banned in Angola. You need 100,000 to be recognised as a religion or officially you cannot pray.”
According to the ICA, there are 78 mosques in the country and all have been closed except those in the capital, Luanda, because they are technically unlicensed. “The mosques in Luanda were supposed to be closed yesterday [Nov 27] but because of an international furore about reports that Angola had banned Islam, the Government decided not to,” Já said.
Já said the Government began shutting mosques in 2010, including one that was burned down in Huambo province, “a day after authorities had warned us that we should have not built the mosque where we had and that it had to be built somewhere else. The Government justified by saying that it was an invasion of Angolan culture and a threat to Christian values.”
Another mosque was destroyed in Luanda earlier this month, Já said, and 120 copies of the Qur’an burned.
Muslims have been instructed to dismantle mosques themselves, he added. “Failure to do so results in government authorities doing it themselves.”
Women who wear the hijab are also being targeted, Já said. “Most Muslim women are afraid to wear the hijab. A woman was assaulted in hospital in Luanda for wearing a hijab, and on another occasion, a young Muslim lady was beaten up and told to leave the country because she was wearing a hijab.
“Most recently, young girls were prohibited from wearing the hijab in Catholic schools and, when we went there to confront the nuns, they simply said they couldn’t allow it. Although there is not an explicit written law prohibiting the use of headscarf in Angola, the Government has prohibited the practice of the faith and women are afraid to express their faith in that sense.”
Human rights activists have condemned the wide-ranging crackdown. “From what I have heard, Angola is the first country in the world that has decided to ban Islam,” said Elias
Isaac, Country Director of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (Osisa). “This is a crazy madness. The Government is intolerant of any difference.”
Ja also challenged the Government’s account and said that a number of mosques had already been closed.
But according to the Ministry of Culture, those closures were related to a lack of necessary official documents.
Reports that Angola, a traditionally devout Catholic nation, would crack down on Muslims had drawn condemnation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others.
In Egypt, Mufti Shawqi Allam said such a move would be “a provocation not only to Angolan Muslims but to more than 1.5 billion Muslims all over the world.”
The issue has attracted huge media coverage worldwide and generated strong reactions on social media.