Angola to 'ban' Islam

Angola, a former Portuguese colony in South Western Africa, has announced that it plans to "ban" Islam from within its borders. Muslims, who make up less than 1% of the 19 million strong population, will find their places of worship closed and, according to some unconfirmed reports, potentially destroyed, as in the case of the city of Zango. Angolan President Jose Edurado dos Santos has described this as the "final end of Islamic influence in our country".

Angola has gone through substantial change in the last four decades, moving from a one party Marxist-Leninist state in 1975, to a multiparty democracy in 1992 with its constitution fully formalised in 2010. Although this constitution does guarantee freedom of religion, the Minister of culture Rosa Cruz e Silva has been describing a situation where religions need to register with the government in order to be able to practise freely. Until such a time as a religion has been "legalised" it is not permitted to operate. "The legalisation of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights," said Ms Cruz e Silva. "Their mosques will be closed until further notice." Islam is not the only group to be targeted by this law. Nearly 200 other "sects" have been effectively outlawed. "Besides these [Islam and the other 194-, there is a long list of more than 1,000 applications to be authorised," said Ms Cruz e Silva.

Angola is a mostly Christian country, with a 1998 estimate referenced in the CIA World Factbook putting Angola as having a 53% Christian population, although other estimates put it as high as 80%. Most of these are Catholic, with smaller communities of Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses. The majority of the non-Christians hold beliefs linked to traditional native spirituality systems, while Muslims are mostly Sunni immigrants from other West African countries and Lebanon.

Although relations between the Christian majority and the Islamic minority have often been fractious, this is an unprecedented move, both for Angola and the wider world. No other country is taking such a starkly adversarial stance against Islam as a whole. Although one regional official, the Governor of the province of Luanda, Bento Bento, has said that "radical" Muslims are not welcome in the country, there is no evidence to suggest that more radical groups have been specifically targeted. Instead, this appears to be a blanket effort to remove Islam and all Muslims from the country as a whole. Exactly how this will be accomplished, and what punishments are to be brought in for violators of this ruling are, at this stage, unclear.