While the constitution in Angola guarantees freedom of religion to all of its citizens, this right no longer seems to apply to the followers of the now-banned religion of Islam. According to numerous newspapers in Angola, the African nation has banned the Islamic religion. It has become the first country in the world to take such a harsh stance against Muslims.
On November 22, the Angolan Minister of Culture Rosa Cruz e Silva said that “[t]he process of legalization of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights [and so] their mosques would be closed until further notice.” Why religion needs to be legalized has not been definitively stated by Cruz e Silva.
Cruz e Silva has also said that the closing of mosques is the most recent move in Angola’s effort to put a stop to so-called illegal religious sects. Under new laws in Angola, many religious sects have suddenly become criminals.
On November 24, Angola President José Eduardo dos Santos said that the country is working toward putting an end to Islamic influence in Angola once and for all. Again, there is no word of what or who has been influenced and why it needs to stop.
The Governor of Luanda, Bento Bento, has said that “radical” Muslims are not welcome in the country and that the Angolan government will not be legalizing mosques or other places of worship for Muslims.
The African country of Angola’s citizens primarily practices indigenous religions. Recent surveys show that 47 percent adhere to traditional indigenous beliefs while another 38 percent of the population practice Roman Catholicism and 15 percent practice Protestantism.
The now-banned religion of Islam is practiced by a very small percentage of the 18.5 million inhabitants of Angola. Only about 80,000-90,000 Angolans practice Islam. These Muslims are primary migrants from West Africa and Lebanon.
While the means of becoming a “legal religion” in Angola is not clear at this point, the government is very harshly cracking down on the illegal sects. Minister of Culture Rosa Cruz e Silva has made it known that there are nearly 200 different illegal religious sects in Angola so it is not just Islam that has been banned in Angola.
Rosa Cruz e Silva has also said that there are more than 1000 applications that have been submitted by religious groups to legalize their sects. Islamic groups have made up some percentage of these many applications but it is not clear when or if they will ever be approved. Rosa Cruz e Silva said that the legalization process of Islam has simply not been approved and, therefore, mosques must remain closed “until further notice.”
While some mosques could theoretically reopen again in the future, some are gone forever. After Angola banned Islam, one of the country’s few mosques had its minaret taken down in October. The city of Zango had its only mosque destroyed after the ban as well.
By Nicci Mende
U.S. Dept. of State