|Locked: Mosque in Angola|
Now it is official that Angola has closed down all mosques and declared practice of Islam as “illegal” in the country. The African country recently refused recognition of the religion adhered by 90 thousand people of the country, but says, “it is not persecution of Muslims”. The locals have decided to challenge the act in Constitutional Court as Angolan Constitution guarantees “Freedom of Religion.”
Reutter reported from Luanda, “Angola said on Friday it had refused registration to Islamic religious groups and closed “illegal” mosques.” A senior Minister said, “Muslims cannot practice their religion in Angola.”
In a briefing to diplomats on Friday, Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti, defended his Government action but said there had been "misunderstandings." There is no persecution of Islam.
Chikoti stressed that Angola's constitution defends the right to religious freedom, but said, “The law requires religious groups to meet legal criteria to be recognized.”
The law, he referred requires a religious group at least 100 000 adult adherents and have presence in over two thirds of the country's territory to be considered for recognition as legal entity. A 2008 report from the Department of State states that Angola’s Muslim population only amounts to some 90,000 adherents, or about half of one percent of the population.
This is strange argument which makes a law above the Constitutional guarantee and makes the fundamental right of a citizen a mockery.
The Minister said, "There are eight Islamic denominations here, all of which requested registration. But none fulfilled legal requisites, so they can't practice their faith until concluding the process."
It was earlier reported that Ministry of Justice had notified last month a list of 194 "religious confessions" including Islamic Organizations, whose applications for registration were rejected. Among 194 included some evangelical churches and other fringe Groups also.
“All of Angola's 60 mosques are closed at present, eight mosques have been razed in the past two years and Muslim women are not allowed to wear a veil in public” said David Ja, the President of the Muslim Council of Angola, in an interview from Luanda, published in “Mail & Guardian” on Thursday, 28th Nov. Mr. Ja was interviewed last week.
Digital Journal last Wednesday reported, “The African nation of Angola has declared Islam illegal, and has ordered mosques throughout the country be closed and dismantled.”
Similar reports appeared in Daily Mail UK, Fars News, and News24 after Minister of Culture, Rosa Cruz e Silva stated before National Assembly, "the legalization of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights..."
A Nigerian news paper, Osun Defender reported that Angola's President José Eduardo dos Santos has said that the action is "the end of Islamic influence in Angola."
After the reports appeared in media last week, Angolan diplomats in America had said they have no such information and said that Angolan adhere the “Principle of Religious Freedom”. Contrary the spirit of the constitutional law, Angolan Government enacted a law derecognizing smaller religious groups, Including Islam.
|Ruins of a mosque in Viana, a suburb of Luanda, the Capital City|
Closure and dismantling of mosques is being justified on the ground that Mosques failed to procure mandatory license from Municipal authorities and Municipal authorities are refusing issuance of license citing legal limitation.
Mr. David Ja, President of Muslim Council of Angola said in an interview, "It is true that we do not have the numbers to meet the legal requirements.” He pointed out that Angolan constitution establishes separation between the state and religion. Government's decision to legislate on matters of faith, therefore contradicts the constitution.” Mr. Ja declared, "We intend to challenge the government in the Constitutional Court."
Angola has a strict Presidential form of the Government. President can dismiss any functionary of the State barring his Vice President.
Mr. Ja believes that reports of President Dos Santos's statement of “eradication of Islam” may not be true. He said, “Dos Santos rarely speaks to the media and he has been in Barcelona, Spain, for the past three weeks.” However the Nigerian paper, Osun Defender, stressed that its report of President Dos Santos's statement against Islam is true and is based on an interview with the paper.
Muhammad da Costa, a member of the Muslim Council of Angola pointed that an Angolan daily, “Jornal de Angola”, is regularly defaming Islam and spreading ill will against Muslims on behalf of the Government. He complained that Chief of Army Staff, General Geraldo Nunda and certain leaders of Catholic Church are regularly abusing the faith. He blamed the Government’s hand in this bashing of Islam. A Catholic Leader on national TV denounced Islam as a “threat to Angolan society” he said. He claimed the Muslims of Angola are peace loving and law abiding like other communities. No communal clashes are reported anywhere in the country.”
Most of Angola’s Muslim population is not native to the area, but migrated from West Africa or Lebanon. This bias reportedly leads many Angolans to negatively link Islam and illegal immigration. However the Muslim Population is on the rise. In a nation that is overwhelmingly Christian, formerly ruled by Portuguese, and society heavily influenced bu Communists, the Muslim community faces frequent discrimination on the political and social levels and experiencing much political subjugation.
Mr. Da Costa revealed that after the ban on Islam and instigation Muslims feels unsafe. He cited the incident of his 16-year-old daughter who was harassed and physically attached by come some goons in the streets of Luanda, only because she was wearing Scarf. Incidences of threatening Muslims to leave the country are also reported.
A Moroccan news paper, La Nouvelle Tribune, which quoted Minister of Culture Rosa Cruz e Silva statement as saying "the process of legalization of Islam has not been approved by the ministry of justice and human rights" reported Rosa saying, that mosques would be closed until further notice.
India Today reported that Silva made the statement at the sixth commission of the Angolan National Assembly. The minister is reported saying that the ban was necessary because “Islam is contradictory to the customs of Angolan culture".
Recently some blogs published unconfirmed reports of murderous clashes between Muslims and Christians. A blog reported “beheading of Christian be Muslim Extremists” in the central Angolan town of Andulu but it could not be confirmed by any other source. Mr. Ja also contradicted the reports of violent clashes and stressed, there had never been any communal incidence between Muslims and Christians in the country.
Angolan officials have strongly denied the reports of an official crackdown on Islam. "There is no war in Angola against Islam or any other religion," Manuel Fernando, director of the National Institute for Religious Affairs, a Department of the Ministry of Culture, said on Wednesday 26 Nov, "there is no official position that targets the destruction or closure of places of worship, whichever they are." However imposition of the Law, denying practice of religious on the pretext of their numbers, is not denied.
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Such a law clearly violates the fundamental right of a citizen. Any restriction on practicing religion of their choice, even if it is miniscule minority, is against the basic principles of U.N. Charter of Human Rights and ethics of civilized society.
If Angolan Government succeeded in imposing ban on Islam, and demolishing all 60 Mosques would make Angola the first infamous country in the world to ban Islam, the religion of peace and harmony. Earlier In 19th Century, Communist Regime of USSR has also closed down many Mosques and Madarsas in Muslims dominated territories. For the brutal act they did not cite any law. But now Islam is emerging as second largest religion in erstwhile USSR and Russia.
Writer is a Civil Rights Activist