The African nation of Angola has reportedly become the first country to ban Islam and Muslims, reports On Islam.
Angola has not officially banned Islam, but the religion is not legally recognized in the country.
The report that Angola became the first country to ban Islam can be traced back to a French newspaper report from 2013. A (roughly) translated version of La Nouvelle Tribune’s story reads:
The Minister of Culture, Rosa Cruz went in the same direction by stating that: “Islam legalization process has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, their mosques would be closed until further notice “. We must remember that the country is made up to 95% Christian and has a rather Christian culture. The government has therefore decided to destroy the long-term, the mosques of countries deemed illegal, Islam is not considered a full-fledged religion in the country. Last October, the minaret of a mosque attended primarily by Guinean was dismantled. In the urban district of Zango, the municipality would have gone further by destroying the only mosque in the city.
That report was picked up by a number of English-language publications. Many of these stories continue to be forwarded and read as “breaking news” two years later.
After the reports went viral back in 2013, the Angolan Embassy in Washington, D.C., issued a statement denying the claim that Angola had banned Islam:
“The Republic of Angola … is 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.”
But the idea that Angola “does not interfere in religion” is false.
Religious groups there are required to register with the government, and they must have at least 100,000 members to be recognized and licensed, according to the Angolan Embassy:
The Government requires religious groups to petition for legal status with the Ministries of Justice and Culture. Legal status gives religious groups the right to act as juridical persons in the court system, secures their standing as officially registered religious groups, and allows them to construct schools and churches. Groups must provide general background information and have at least 100,000 adult adherents to qualify for registration. This high membership threshold poses a barrier to registration and the accompanying benefits of legal status.
The Ministries of Justice and Culture recognize 85 denominations but did not register any religious groups during the reporting period. More than 800 other religious organizations, many of which are Congolese or Brazilian-based Christian evangelical groups, had registration applications pending with INAR, which did not process them, as the groups failed to demonstrate that they had at least 100,000 members. Nonetheless, the Government did not bar the activities of these groups.
The Guardian reports that that because there are only 90,000 Muslims in Angola, Islam did not meet the threshold for “legal status” as a religious organization, and therefore could not operate mosques or schools under the law:
David Já, president of the Islamic Community of Angola (ICA), said on Thursday: “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.”
There are 78 mosques in the country, according to the ICA, 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 but because of an international furore about reports that Angola had banned Islam, the government decided not to,” Já said.
“So, at the moment, mosques in Luanda are open and people are going for prayers.”
In a report on religious freedom in Angola, the U.S. State Department found that the Angolan government had closed and destroyed a number of “unlicensed” mosques in 2013:
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, leaders of the Muslim community reported greater levels of government harassment than in past years, mostly in the form of police closing or demolishing “illegal” mosques. In September the leader of CISA stated that the government had closed or destroyed at least nine mosques throughout the country during the year. He said that when members of the Muslim community asked for an explanation the authorities cited “superior orders” and sometimes simply flashed a piece of paper. He stated the authorities never allowed community leaders to keep a copy of the orders or, in most cases, even read them. Luanda police destroyed a mosque in the Zango neighborhood of Luanda in October. According to official government statements, the local Islamic community had illegally acquired the land on which they had built the mosque. According to CISA, the Islamic community legally acquired the land in 2008, began construction in 2010, and finished the mosque during the year. Police first informed the mosque leaders of the illegality of the mosque on September 26 and arrived to destroy it on October 3.
So, Islam has not been officially banned in Angola, but Muslims are not allowed to build or operate mosques and schools there because Islam is not an legally recognized religious group.