Angola and the ban on islam

Church in Andolu, Angola
Church in Andolu, Angola

Among critics of Muhammad’s teachings, occasional references pop up to Angola’s peculiar approach to those teachings. There was a worldwide outcry about this in late 2013. The African country was said to have not only banned Islamism but had already begun dismantling mosques.

From both the Islamophile and Islamocritical camps (before 2016) I only found superficial texts about these events. Irreverently summarised: whining and cheering stories, respectively. In 2015 I dug a little deeper.

No history

Almost all the pieces of information I found about the events of 2013 had one thing in common: they barely reported anything about Angola’s history.
No outline of the country’s history in broad terms, nor any mention of the 2008 events in Andulo, which laid a solid foundation for a great and healthy distrust of anything Islamic.

Like Europe and like Ivory Coast *), Angola also has to deal with  Muslim immigrants, but much fewer: their numbers are under 1%. Exactly how many there are, by the way, is of rather considerable practical importance, but more on that later.

Of the approximately 20 million inhabitants {Over 37 million in 2024!} **), according to the CIA factbook, 47% adhere to “indigenous beliefs,” and the rest are Christian: RC 38% and Protestant 15%. Indeed: together exactly 100%. 

These are old figures, but not so old as to explain the very large discrepancies with the figures I found in the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, another U.S. government report. That one reported, “55 percent of the population is Catholic, while the government estimates 70 percent; neither figure could be verified independently.”
Animism or “indigenous religious beliefs” would only be held by a small percentage of the rural population, according to this report.
So another part of the explanation for the disparities can probably be explained by those mixtures of Christian and “local religious practices”.

The dominant Catholicism is a legacy of the Portuguese, who ruled there for exactly four centuries (with a small, Dutch interruption in the 16th century). 

From 1961 to 1974, three groups in Angola (MPLA, FNLA and UNITA) fought against Portuguese rule and each other.  Tens of thousands of people were killed in the process

Portuguese colonial rule – despite Russian, Chinese and Cuban interference – was not shaken off by the uprisings in the colonies (besides Angola: also Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde) but thanks to rebellion in its own army: on April 25, 1975, “The Captains” committed their nonviolent Carnation Revolution in Portugal itself. 

After the Portuguese left, internal fighting continued in Angola for decades. In the process, hundreds of thousands died. ***) 

The MPLA won. In 1975, that party was still so Marxist-Leninist that it was also aggressively atheistic, but later its hatred of Catholicism diminished. Reminds one of Russia which, after more than 70 years of rabid communist atheism, nevertheless became Orthodox Christian again. President Dos Santos married in the Catholic Church…

Hirsi Ali beheaded

The image above is a “still” taken from this YouTube video. Although the commentary is in Portuguese and the thing is also not subtitled, it still provides very useful information.

It’s about a church and associated institutions in the town of Andulo, roughly in the middle of the country, which was built starting in 1956.
Under the leadership of a Dutch priest, no less.

It all became very large and beautiful: according to the makers of the video, it became “perhaps” the largest mission post in all of Africa.
During the civil war, however, the buildings were used by the warring parties. Local fighters, Cubans, Namibians and South Africans alike left their mark, and so when the war was finally over in 2002, the complex was “in wretched condition.”
Today, the Catholic Church is playing a serious, positive role in much-needed reconciliation. And in Andulo, work was underway after 2002 to restore the building complex. By March 2008, it was back on track to become “one of the largest, if not the largest, of the Catholic missions in Angola, even in Africa.”

And in this very city, mere months later, hordes of mohammedans attacked three churches and a young girl was beheaded: the daughter of one of the deacons (sort of lay priest). Translated to Dutch proportions: more shocking than the murder of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh put together.

Many wish to present jihadist killings as actions of ‘lone wolves’.
Those attacks like in Andulo definitely do not support that type of worldview…

Also In 2013 in Amsterdam another mob went wild.
In October, an Allahu-Akbar screamer had tried to kill random officers with a knife; in the police station. He was eliminated.
At the turn of the year a gang of Moroccans came to the same police station to seek revenge. This was deliberately not dealt with by Amsterdam authorities.
For these events to have had the same effect as those in Andulo, instead of one police station, the party offices of the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats would have been targeted and, as a bonus, Hirsi Ali would have been beheaded (or decapitated…) In other words, by the end of 2013, the people of Angola really had not forgotten those events of 2008.

African sources

I had, of course, started my search on a Wikipedia page about ‘Islam in Angola’. As always on such topics: not very reliable, but quite useful as a stepping stone. This particular page proved more superficial than many others. This little line is both illustrative (for that) and funny: “Muslim Angolans are represented by the Supreme Council (sic) of Angolan Muslims of Luanda.”
Eventually I ended up at two interesting African sources. Interesting in the sense that in combination they seem quite reliable on this topic. One could be called conservative and the other progressive, but they have in common that they are negative about the West and cannot be suspected of being critical of Muhammad’s teachings. The conservative one is even more critical of the West and the progressive one is even more Islamophile. I’ll start with the latter. The source is the website Maka Angola. Which also provides interesting, not to say hilarious information on that ‘supreme council’ mentioned in the Wikipedia lemma.

Maka Angola

The man behind this website is named Rafael Marques de Morais.
He is not just your average Angolan blogger. He ended up in jail in 1999 after writing an article – The Lipstick of Dictatorship – about José Eduardo Dos Santos, who has been president of the country for 38 years (he was finally succeeded in 2017 and died in 2022).

Marques was released thanks in part to international outcry. The UN Human Rights Committee played a positive role in this.
So yes, that was possible in those days, although of course it is difficult to determine if his defense of Muslims in his country still played a role.

In 2015 De Morais received the so-called Allard Prize for International Integrity.

In April 2014, he wrote a rather long article titled Why Islam is Illegal in Angola.

The answer he gave to his own question was: those poor sheep are being used as scapegoats. No, not literally.
After emphasizing that Muslim immigrants are people “who have no impact on the economic interests of powerful individuals, and their countries have not the slightest influence over the Angolan government” he concluded by claiming that this “mischievous strategy of blaming Islam merely displays the political ignorance of many people in government. They have not considered what the consequences might be.”

So there is very little difference between the man’s approach to Islam and that of the average hippie in Western politics or journalism. His story is remarkable for several reasons, not to mention the existence of that similarity.

After the worldwide uproar at the end of 2013, the Angolans took an opportunistic route and they announced that Islam had not been banned and no mosques had been demolished.

They dutifully referred to the letter of the 1992 Constitution (pdf) and of a law from 2004 on Freedom of Conscience, Worship and Religion (Link to latter is dead now).

Via the linked article, Al Jazeera passes on a threat from Egypt: “Mufti Shawqi Allam said such a move would be ‘a provocation not only to Angolan Muslims but to more than 1.5 billion Muslims all over the world’.”, but also insited that mosques had already been destroyed!

In his story, De Morais makes it absolutely plausible that people in Angola have been alert for a long time to ensure that the teachings of Mohammed do not gain traction. He locates the first efforts to impose a ban or restrictions in a ministerial circular from 1998, and so years before 9/11!

This circular informed all provincial governments that they must prohibit the practice of religious activity by non-recognized churches.

The crux is – of course – in the words I have bolded.

The 2004 law with that pious title also said something about this recognition: religious societies are recognized after an application that must be supported by at least 100,000 adults who must also come from at least 12 of 18 provinces!

Context: in 1999 there was a confidential memorandumin which the minister [of justice] reiterated that Islam was a religion that tended to fundamentalism and which was not recognized by the government.

That law from 2004 was nicely worded in principle, but: “Legislators did not address the question of what happens to religious groups whose requests for recognition are refused by the state. This situation of legal limbo has created a framework of arguments and ambiguities that allow the government to act in an arbitrary manner…“.

In 2009 – a year after the Andulo killings the winner of the integrity prize did not mention in his chronology – President Dos Santos established an interministerial committee for the Study and Treatment of the Phenomenon of Religion.

De Morais’ adds this truly hilarious comment:

Despite his enthusiastic empathy with Mohammedan victimhood, De Morais’ story about that supreme council mercilessly puts the spotlight on the self-evident alignment of the Mohammedan vanguard against those in power in this country.
Like in every country.
In the final analysis, Mohammed’s teachings are primarily – or at least also – a political vehicle everywhere.

African Globe

One look at the headlines of the African Globe ‘editorials’ is enough to realize that this is a distinctly Western-critical source. A piece about homosexuality is entitled: “Africa Does Not Need The Great America Garbage”. Obama is being severely critisized because of statements he made on that subject in his father’s native country.

African Globe does mention Andulo – the site put me on the track of it – but in other respects there is great agreement with Maka Angola. Particularly on the crucial point of the Angolan government’s attitude towards Mohammedanism. The difference is in the judgment about it. Their report, African State Of Angola Bans Islam All Mosques To Be Destroyed, begins thus:

The story reports on the dismantling of a number of mosques and reports on the initial statements of the minister of culture:

What does Angola teach us?

Many Africans have a less obsequious attitude towards the mohammedans than the average Western politician and journalist. However, the African Globe story also contains a quote from a Tunisian that would not be out of place on the Dutch Public Broadcaster:

“Islamism and Islamophobia feed each other. Worse, long-term Islamism as an ideology destroy Islam as religion.”

Supporters of the Islamic State in Great Britain, led by the well-known Anjem Choudary, responded in 2013 with a demonstration in front of the Angola embassy: women in niqab and men and women with printed slogans against democracy and in favor of sharia and a caliphate in Angola. 

The ‘exemplary’ attitude showed, gave cultural Muslims with decency and balls plenty of leverage to prove that they are against this Sharia stuff and in favor of the separation of mosque and state…

For people in the Netherlands (and the rest of the world) who see little hope from that perspective, there are lessons to be learned from ‘Angola 2013’. 

On the international stage, the Angolan government has restrained itself and speaks the required hippie language, while taking a rather pragmatic approach to combating Islamization.
Their approach seems to be a mirror image of how people in the Mohammedan world treat Christians and deviating Mohammedan movements: think of Sunnis versus Shiites versus Ahmadiyya. People do not grant a building permit and/or deliberately create uncertainty about this. Furthermore, they very explicitly link Islam to (illegal) immigration: obvious and effective. All unspectacular at first glance. But I still see an important source of inspiration in the Angolan debate. Gods and religions are not defined in Dutch law. This makes provisions for those ideological organisations in the law and constitution absurd and potentially an ideal vehicle to completely destroy our civilization. Organized Mohammedanism wishes to make use of all the space that legally guaranteed ‘freedom of religion’ offers.
Discussion about what makes a body of thought ‘religious’ or not or what makes an organization ‘religious’ is completely taboo here. Not in Angola.

*) I restrain myself not to elaborate on Ivory Coast. I only provide Coast/ this link about the successful Mohammedan takeover in that country (thanks to the French… ) and a comment from Pierre Gaho Oulata, head of the National Assembly’s Security and Defense Commission a few months before – under Mohammedan President Ouattara! – about “youth”: “ Ivory Coast needs to keep a close eye on its young former fighters to ensure they don’t join Islamist militant groups.”

**) Angola has a population structure that is frighteningly explosive: even the term pyramid is a euphemism for it.

***) In the civil war, even more so than during the uprising against Portuguese rule, the US played the well-known dubious role of the perfect opposite of ‘communism’ in the ‘Cold’ War.

I published this article in Dutch on the website VerenofLood, in October 2015

Little reliable, new information about the subject can be found more recent than 2013.

I was quite pleased to find this Indian site, thanks to my search! In 2023 it published: Islam is not banned, and there is no destruction of Mosques in Angola.

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