Is Angola banning Islam and destroying mosques?
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In early November, an old rumour about Angola resurfaced on social media. “Angola is the first country in the world to ban Islam,” reads the caption on a series of photos showing destroyed mosques, posted on the Facebook page “Islam My Religion.” But these rumours are unfounded and none of these photos were taken in Angola.
“The Angolan government has decided to ban the Muslim religion, which it considers to be a barbarian sect and incompatible with Angolan society […] the Angolan government also promised to make the destruction of all mosques one of its priorities,” reads the Facebook post, which was published on November 1, 2019. The post names several religious buildings that were allegedly destroyed, including the “Zango mosque” in Viana and a “destroyed mosque in Luanda".
Photos from Other Countries
As explained by AFP Fact Check, the photos were taken out of context and none were taken in Angola. A reverse image search (click here to find out how to perform a reverse image search) can help reveal the true origins of the photos. For example, the first photo in the series was published by the NGO Amnesty International and shows a mosque that was destroyed during the 2014 bombing of the Syrian city of Raqqa.
The FRANCE 24 Observers were unable to verify the exact origins of the second photo in the series. Since 2012, it has been reposted on various websites and blogs that claim the mosque was located in Syria, Iraq and the Gaza Strip.
Using the same reverse image search method, this third photo of a mosque dome leads to the website Wikimedia Commons, which identifies the mosque as having been destroyed in 2009 in Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip. The Getty Images library includes a photo of the same mosque taken from a different angle, with the following description. “The rubble of the al-Fadilah mosque after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Jan. 11, 2009.”
This next photo includes the watermark “Koaci.com,” the name of an Ivorian news site. However, this mosque was actually located in Bahrain and was destroyed by a bulldozer during the Arab Spring in 2011. A BBC article explains that the mosque was more than 400 years old and that its government-mandated destruction during the period of popular uprisings deeply shocked the island’s majority Shia community.
Finally, the last photo of the series shows a mosque in Gaza destroyed by bombardments during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. A photo showing a different angle of the same mosque was published on the website Jerusalem Post in 2014.
The rumours surrounding Angola’s alleged intentions to ban Islam dates back to numerous articles published in 2013, which claimed the government was planning to destroy mosques and persecute Muslims. The articles cited members of Angola’s Muslim community who alleged that Islam had been banned from the southwestern African country.
Following the publication of these allegations, the American news site International Business Times confirmed that the media coverage around this issue was based on an unfounded rumour that originated in a Beninese newspaper. According to the now-deleted piece, which is still accessible through an Internet archive search, “the governor of the city of Luanda summed up the act by saying that radical Muslims were not welcome in Angola and that the government was not ready to legalise the presence of mosques in the country.” The article also reported that the Angolan Culture Minister said: "The process of legalisation of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, their mosques will be closed until further notice.”
As explained by the South African newspaper the Daily Maverick, multiple political leaders in Angola denied any persecution of Muslims in their country, although they conceded that a number of buildings, including one mosque, had been destroyed because they had been built without permission.
Islam in Angola Today
In January 2019, Mohammed Saleh Jabu, head of Islamic Religious Guidance and Cooperation in Angola, told Turkey’s state-run press agency Anadolu that Muslims have been freely practising their religion for many decades and that there are now 60 mosques in the country.
Despite this, Islam has not yet been officially recognised by the state of Angola. The country’s law on recognising official religions requires that the religion be practised by more than 100,000 people and must be present in at least two-thirds of the country. However, authorities say people are free to follow any cult they choose, even if it’s a non-official religion.
David Alberto Ja, head of the Islamic Community of Angola, told the Anadolu Agency that he is optimistic: “I have to say that as a result of the current political reforms in Angola, Muslims are witnessing better relations with the state and society […] We are free to exercise our religion, but the government has yet to recognise Islam as one of the official religions of the state, and that should change. We are in the process of legalising our religion.”