No, Angola Has Not ‘Banned Islam’. It’s a Little More Complicated Than That.

Religion • Views: 42,823
Political map of Africa (2012) courtesy of UT Perry-Castañeda Library

Yes, Angola again. I know you might be tired of hearing about it by now, but I despise yellow journalism, so I tend to be like a dog with a bone when ridiculous fake stories make the rounds on the internet. This is especially true when they involve Muslims as victims or perpetrators—there are plenty of true stories about acts both good & evil, so there’s no need to make things up.

Although I posted a link in the comments of CriticalDragon’s (updated) Page yesterday about The Atlanta Journal-Constitution having largely debunked the story, today’s definitive debunking comes from an article I just discovered which appeared yesterday in South Africa’s Daily Maverick.

Being unfamiliar with the Daily Maverick I thought it best to at least do a cursory check on who they are. Based on their Wikipedia page—which lists several awards and no controversies—and on the tone & subjects of their articles, I feel confident that they’re a reliable news source. The situation in Angola truly is more complicated than most headlines would have you believe.

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 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. […]

More: No, Angola Has Not ‘Banned Islam’. It’s a Little More Complicated Than That.

Religion & Religious Freedom in Angola

Islam in Africa (1987) map courtesy of UT Perry-Castañeda Library
According to the article and the State Department report it cites (PDF), Angolan law requires that “a religious group must have over 100,000 members and be present in 12 of the 18 provinces to gain legal status.”

It strikes me as extremely odd to use demographics as the main legitimizing factor for a religion’s legal status, but maybe it’s just my American viewpoint that makes it seem that way—tyranny of the majority and all that. The report also says there are only 450-500 Jews living in Angola. Does that mean that with such small numbers Judaism has no legal status there despite having been around for thousands of years? I would assume so, but I couldn’t find anything in the report to confirm or disprove my assumption.

Anyway, if you read the entire source article as well as the linked report above, you’ll see that while the State Department says there were “no reports of abuses of religious freedom” in Angola, there are indeed problems and I assume Muslims are not the only ones experiencing such. For example (added emphasis mine):

Government Practices

There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom; however, the government imposed restrictions that affected members of minority religious groups. […]

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 centers. 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.

In January local police in Dundo, Lunda Norte Province, reportedly twice prevented a Muslim group from building a mosque, although 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.

In May in Kuito, Bie Province, 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. At year’s end there was no resolution. […]

As I mentioned, it’s not just Muslims experiencing problems:

Government agencies, religious groups, and civil society organizations continued campaigns against indigenous religious practices involving shamans, animal sacrifices, or “witchcraft.” The stated goal of these campaigns was to discourage abusive practices that included willful neglect or physical abuse, particularly of women, children, and the elderly. According to the National Institute for Religious Affairs (INAR), cases of abusive practices diminished significantly due to the campaigns and government directives.

In October local authorities closed 19 unregistered churches in Namibe Province. The government claimed the unlicensed churches were operating out of people’s homes, often as a means to make money. […]

I have no problem with a government intervening to stop criminally abusive religious practices or to prevent people from committing fraud, but the whole demographics-based legal status—which seems to be the only thing that affords legal protections that might protect religious minorities from abuse—makes me very uneasy and will remind me to be extra thankful tomorrow (and every day) for having been born in the USA.

The only good thing about this fake story was that it caused the masks to slip off of many who claim to be freedom- and Constitution-loving patriots whose only opposition is to violent extremism, exposing them for the hateful anti-Muslim bigots they really are. Thanks again to CriticalDragon for collecting all the tweets, and to Charles for creating a media library where everything will be saved, despite any possible future efforts to delete them from their respective timelines.

For other debunked stories…

Also See

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