By Eric Owens
November 25, 2013
No, Angola has not ‘banned Islam’. It’s a little more complicated than that
By Khadija Patel
Reality behind Banning Islam in Angola
By Abdelrahman Rashdan
Angola Bans Islam, Will Demolish All Mosques
A number of newspapers in the region are reporting that the Republic of Angola has outlawed Islam, apparently in an effort to thwart the spread of Muslim radicalism in the country.
Among them was La Nouvelle Tribune, a French-language newspaper out of Morocco, reports the International Business Times.
La Nouvelle Tribune observed that a minaret on an Angolan mosque had been removed previously. Also, in the small city of Zango, not far from the capital of Luanda, government officials reportedly destroyed a mosque.
The Moroccan paper quoted Angola’s minister of culture, Rosa Cruz e Silva, for details.
“The process of legalization of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights,” Cruz e Silva said. “Their mosques would be closed until further notice.”
The ban, which includes an order to destroy all mosques in the country, isn’t specific to Islam, according to India Today. Other faiths which don’t meet government approval will face the same restrictions.
“All sects on the list published by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights in the Angolan newspaper ‘Jornal de Angola’ are prohibited to conduct worship, so they should keep their doors closed,” Cruz e Silva was quoted by as saying by the Cameroon Voice.
It’s not clear which other religions are included.
Other government officials firmly agreed with the culture minister.
Bento Francisco Bento, governor of the country’s Luanda province, has declared that radical Muslims are “not welcome in Angola.”
“This is the final end of Islamic influence in our country,” added Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos.
According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the people of Angola are mostly a mix of local tribes. There’s a very small minority of Europeans. There’s also a healthy 22 percent representation from ethnic groups called “other.”
About 50 percent of the people in Angola practice indigenous religious beliefs. Roman Catholics make up 38 percent of the population. Protestants make up 15 percent.
To whatever extent adherents of Islam are living among the 18 million or so inhabitants in Angola, then, the population is by all accounts very small.
Portuguese is the official language of Angola. The country is slightly less than twice the size of Texas.
No, Angola Has Not ‘Banned Islam’. It’s A Little More Complicated Than That
By Khadija Patel
26 NOV 2013
On Monday, the International Business Times, a New York-based digital publication, reported that several news outlets had reported that Angola had banned Islam and ordered the destruction of mosques in the southern African country. The paper noted that while reports of such a ban had picked up over the last few days, actual evidence of such a ban remained slim. The story was also picked up in the Indian press. And the Daily Mail. And others who seemed to wish the ban inspires a global trend.
Our initial attempts to fact check the story were at first stymied by the rate that the report had spread. Even human rights agencies working in Angola were confused, indicating at first that it may well be true – the political space in Angola has closed significantly in recent weeks and now, it appears the religious space too.
Still, actual proof of the ban was hard to come by.
The International Business Times has traced the story back to the Beninese newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune.
The French-language paper published an article on Friday quoting "several" Angolan officials, including the Angolan minister of culture, Rosa Cruz, who reportedly said: “The process of legalisation of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Their mosques would be closed until further notice.”
This article appears to have been the stimulus of all the subsequent reports of Islam being outlawed in Angola.
And as the report continued to spread, going viral by Monday and inviting shock, outrage and condemnation, a photograph emerged, purporting to depict the destruction of a mosque in Angola.
The photograph however was soon debunked - It was actually taken in Nigeria. Others say that the photo was taken somewhere in the Middle East. But wherever the photo was actually taken, it certainly was not Angola.
And then just as curiosity about the story had peaked, the Angolan embassy in the US stated categorically that the Angolan government had not banned Islam, or Muslims from practicing their religion.
“The Republic of Angola...it's a country that does not interfere in religion. We have a lot of religions there. It is freedom of religion. We have Catholic, Protestants, Baptists, Muslims and evangelical people,” the statement said.
In addition to this, Mufti Ismail Menk, a Zimbabwean Muslim scholar, issued a statement saying he had consulted with Angolan scholars who said the story was “completely fabricated”.
As it turns out, the Angolan government had ordered the demolition of structures that had been erected without the requisite building permissions – among them a mosque.
It remains true, however, that Islam, as the Angolan Culture Minister is quoted as saying in the Beninese press, has not been legalised in the country.
Late on Tuesday, AFP reported that the Culture Minister refuted reports of the so-called ban on Islam in Angola.
"There is no war in Angola against Islam or any other religion," Manuel Fernando, director of the National Institute for Religious Affairs, part of the ministry of culture was quoted as saying.
"There is no official position that targets the destruction or closure of places of worship, whichever they are," Fernando told AFP.
Significantly however, the AFP report quotes Muslim leaders in Angola complaining of "political persecution" and "religious intolerance".
And while the space available for the practice of Islam in Angola has come under focus this week, a number of churches have also reportedly been demolished for being "unlicensed".
According to a US State department 2012 report on religious freedom in Angola, the Angolan constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and the state recognises and respects different religious groups, which are free to organise and carry out their activities if they abide by the constitution and laws.
To gain this right, religious groups must first petition for legal status with the justice and culture ministries. Legal status secures religious groups the right to construct schools and places of worship. In Angolan law, a religious group must have over 100,000 members and be present in 12 of the 18 provinces to gain legal status.
And with Muslims in Angola by all accounts numbering less than 100,000 in a population of about 20-million, Islam has not then been officially “legalised” in the country.
According to the State Department’s 2012 report: “Muslim group leaders reported, Muslims could not practice Islam freely because the government did not recognize Islam and selectively intervened to close mosques, schools, and community centres. Although government officials asserted the government protected religious groups without legal status and did not have a policy to close mosques or other Islamic facilities, there were several reports of local authorities closing mosques or preventing their construction.”
Islam seems to have been singled out for special attention in Angola in the last two years.
In April 2012, a participant at a government-sponsored workshop on the growth of non-traditional (i.e., not mainstream Christian) religions is said to have declared Islam unwelcome in Angola. And sentiment among Angolans appears to reflect this. In June 2012, an online newspaper posted an opinion piece titled “In Defence of Christianity in Angola: Islam is the Seed of Ruin.”
According to the State Department report, “Dozens of reader comments supported the view.”
According to the report, in January 2012, local police in Dundo, Lunda Norte Province, reportedly twice prevented a Muslim group from building a mosque, even though the group had a license to build one. “Police allegedly destroyed the mosque’s foundation at one location, directing the group to build elsewhere. When construction began at the new site, however, police again reportedly demolished the work and told the group that it could not build a mosque at all.”
The report also cites an incident in Kuito, Bie Province, in May last year where the National Criminal Investigation Police (DNIC) reportedly chained the doors on a large residential/commercial building used as a mosque by local Muslims.
“The DNIC representative allegedly said he had orders to close the building and told the Muslim community it could not continue to pray there. Muslim leaders from Kuito and Luanda wrote repeated letters to DNIC authorities, but received no response.”
By the end of last year the issue was not resolved. And it’s unclear if the issue has been resolved this year at all.
The timing of the emergence of this week’s news reports on the subject however is curious.
The AFP report quotes a Chatham House researcher who says the reports of the ban on Islam came after the Culture Minister last week vowed that government would crack down on "sects".
“In a way [the report of the ban on Islam] is a distraction from what is happening in Angola right now,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy director for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
“Angola is in a political crisis.”
And in this case at least, “crisis” is not hyperbole.
A confidential Interior Ministry report leaked to the Angolan media earlier this month revealed the role of police and the domestic intelligence service, SINSE, in the abduction, torture, and killing of two protest organisers earlier this year.
And as opposition parties organised protests last weekend, Angolan security forces shot and killed an opposition activist on Saturday, hours ahead of the planned protests.
In all, police detained 292 people in Angola on Saturday.
All this however is not a sudden aberration. Opposition parties and international human rights groups have long accused President Dos Santos of suppressing human rights and using violence to block dissent. And in this instance, it could be argued, that the legalities surrounding the practice of Islam in Angola, point to a culture of repression in the southern African country. DM
Update: A previous version of this article quoted the International Business Times who sourced the original story to La Nouvelle Tribune, a Moroccan weekly. We've since ascertained that the article in question was actually published in a paper by the same name in Benin.
Reality behind Banning Islam in Angola
By Abdelrahman Rashdan
27 November 2013
The Angolan 2010 Constitution states:
Freedom of conscience, religion and worship shall be inviolable. No-one shall be deprived of their rights, persecuted or exempted from obligations due to their religious beliefs or philosophical or political convictions.[...] No authority shall question anyone with regard to their convictions or religious practices, except in order to gather statistical data that cannot be individually identified.
However, the Angolan government chose to take a different path through placing restrictions on the recognition of religious groups that ended up by having Islam, the world second largest religion, as an illegal religion whose mosques can be demolished at government’s will.
Such legal complications harm Angola’s global image, yet political and economic repercussions might by far exceed such harm. Angola might be creating hatred with about 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, which might impact its foreign relations and investments.
The Republic of Angola is located in Southern Africa with a long coast on the Atlantic Ocean. Despite that the last official census was conducted in 1970, the official estimates put the current population count at about 20 million, 55 to 70 percent of which are Catholics, 25 percent combining Christianity with traditional beliefs, 10 percent Protestants, 5 percent belonging to Brazilian evangelical churches, in addition to other small minorities such as Muslims and Jews.
Angola suffered from a 27-years civil war that tore the country apart since its independence from Portugal in 1975. The two main parties at conflict, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the rebel group Unita, forged strong foreign alliances. The MPLA was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba, while the Unita was backed by the US and South Africa.
With the death of the Unita leader Jonas Savimbi, and after several failing attempts to reach peace, a ceasefire was signed in 2002 and the MPLA got to rule the country and transform the Unita into the largest opposition group among about other 14 parities. Ever since, there have been complains of lack of electoral transparency and intimidation directed towards the Unita.
The year-long conflict claimed the lives of about one million Angolan, displaced more than four millions, and forced half a million into refuge.
The current President José Eduardo dos Santos has been in power for the last 30 years. In 2010, the MPLA-dominated parliament approved the current constitution that changed the selection criteria for the president from direct popular elections to allowing the largest party in the parliament to select the republic’s president from itself. Hence, the parliamentary elections became the critical point where the population theoretically gets in control of their rulers.
Two years after, the ruling MPLA managed to secure 72 percent in the August 2012 parliamentary elections — down from 82 percent in 2008 — and according to Freedom House’s 2013 Freedom in the World Report, the “polls suffered from serious flaws, including outdated and inaccurate voter rolls.”
Neither opposition delegates nor domestic observers were allowed to monitor the vote or the ballot count, in addition to biases in official media coverage in favor of the ruling MPLA, according to the same report. Voter turnout, consequently, dropped from 80 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2012.
The 2012 parliamentary election was preceded by arbitrary arrests and “enforced disappearance,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The organization’s report published in July 2012 added that, “over the past year, Angolan uniformed police and plainclothes agents have reacted to the youth protests with increasingly violent crackdowns, despite their small scale, and have arrested many youth leaders, journalists, and opposition leaders.”
In fact, HRW alone has several reports about human rights infringements committed at the hands of the authorities, especially since 2008.
Questions about the political legitimacy of the aging ruling regime in Angola meld well with the nature of the economy of the country.
Angola is very rich in oil and diamonds. Oil was first extracted in Angola in 1955, and the country joined the OPEC in 2006 after its oil production started to boost with the end of the civil war in 2002. The boost is most obvious when considering the average daily crude oil production, which increased by 2.5 folds between 2000 and 2012, according to an OPEC 2013 report. The country’s crude oil production is the second highest in Africa andaccounting for 83 percent of GDP in 2008.
However, based on the World Bank Enterprise Survey (WBES), 75 percent of firms identify corruption as a major constraint in Angola; in addition, the country is ranked 187th out of 189 comparator economies in terms of the ease of enforcing contracts, based on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2014 report.
The boom in oil revenues does not seem to reflect financially on the population. Angola ranked 148 among 187 countries in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI) — an index created by the UN to measure three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living.
Did Islam Get “Banned” in Angola?
In light of the mentioned political and economic environment, the contended discussion of banning Islam in Angola can be discussed.
The short answer to this question is that Islam did not get “banned” in Angola, simply because it was not officially approved in the first place. Until this day, Angolan Muslims are not able to get government approval for their religion to be able to build mosques, secure their standing as an officially registered religious group, and gain legal religious rights, among others.
Angola is a home for hundreds of religious groups, including fiction-based ones and traditional African beliefs. More than 900 religious groups and organizations have applied for legal registration since 1991 and got rejected; and currently there are over 2,000 religious organizations that are reportedly operating without legal status. The last time the government registered a religious group was back in 2004, to push up the number to 83 registered religious groups, according to US State Department 2012 International Religious Freedom Report.
The central law regulating the registration process is the Law no. 2/04, where it places the criteria and requirements for official recognition. According to the law, a religious group must have at least 100,000 adult resident adherents present in at least 12 out of the 18 Angolan provinces. Groups must petition to the Minister of Justice for legal status and then the request is passed by the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Culture to carry out the relevant inquiries, as explained by the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, in her 2008 addendum entitled “Mission to Angola.”
Official numbers place the Muslim population in Angola at 80,000 to 90,000 Muslims, while other estimates place it at a higher number.
The Muslim community submitted at least two requests, in 2004 and 2006, and got no approval from the government. However, for the unregistered religious groups, the International Religious Freedom 2012 Report stated that “the government generally permitted these organizations to exist, function, and grow without legal recognition.”
What is alarming is that the government, based on the mentioned laws, can take legal actions against the Muslim community at will, including the demolition of its places of worship and banning the practicing of the religion altogether.
Old comments help in feeding in the fear among Muslims from government biased measures against the community. According to the above mentioned UN Human Rights Council addendum, “high ranking Government officials have reportedly stigmatized followers of Islam in the private press. The former National Director for Religious Affairs is reported to have referred to the growth of churches and sects in the country as a sickness and that ‘one form of this sickness is Islam.’”
Another report — published in 2010 by the Washington-based Institution on Religion and Public Policy — mentioned fears sounded by Minister of Culture Rosa Cruz e Silva of “the expansion of Islamic community within Angola, which the government believes will damage the ‘…organization and structure of Angolan society.’”
Such fears materialized this year. Based on official news, published in November 19, 2013 by the government’s Angola Press News Agency (ANGOP), the Minister of Culture Rosa Cruz e Silva said “that regarding the Islam whose process was not approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, there are many other religions in the same situation, and their temples will be closed until the new pronunciation in the case.”
Announcing the closure of all mosques might be a new escalation step taken by the government, yet mosques have been closed down and demolished starting years ago.
Four mosques have been forced to close in the capital of Luanda in January 2006, yet allowed to reopen by the end of the year.
November 16, 2011 is when heavily armed guards arrived in Cacuaco, Luanda Province, and “forcibly tore down a large tent being used as a mosque” with no written order and no compensations, according to the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report. In December of the same year Muslims applied to build a small and temporary mosque in a land they purchased, yet received no reply after several months. Muslims then began construction after repeatedly asking the local authorities for any reply, then shortly after the construction the local authorities arrived and demolished the construction.
This time with a building license, Muslims started to build their mosque in Dundo, Luanda in January 2012, yet the police forces came in to destroy the mosque forcing Muslims to reconstruct it at a new place. Upon the beginning of construction at the new site, the police again demolished the work and denied the group their right to build a mosque at all.
The National Criminal Investigation Police (DNIC) chained the doors of a large building used as a mosque by local Muslims for no clear reason in May 2012 in Jutio, Bie Province, according to the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report. Muslims wrote several letters to the DNIC and got no response.
Reactions and Choice
Such policies limiting the freedom of religion in Angola, acting against the principles instilled in the Angolan Constitution, drew international uproar, especially among Muslims and their organizations worldwide.
Islam most established organization, Al-Azhar, condemned the Angolan policies and demanded immediate investigation and that the Angolan government clarifies its position. Along the same lines, another statement was issued by the influential International Union for Muslim Scholar (IUMS) demanding the interference of the UN and the OIC as well as clear measures to be taken by the Muslim leaders in Africa and the Muslim World at large.
Finally, the question remains: will Angola act on reshaping its laws to abide by its constitutional principles and the internationally-agreed right for religious freedom? Or risk more criticism and possible isolation by walking away from liberal and democratic principles?