Has Angola banned Islam? Not yet, at least

LAST week, some international media organisations reported that the southern African country of Angola has banned Islam. Condemnation ensued as the world poured criticism on this seemingly incredible decision by the government of Angola. How could a country ban an established religion, the second biggest in the world, in these modern times?

Turns out the report is inaccurate. Angola has not banned Islam. Not yet, at least. Not an outright ban.

But Islam is not recognised by the State in Angola. In Angola, to be allowed to carry out religious practices and activities, a religious organisation must first apply for recognition by the State. This status would also allow the religious group to construct schools and places of worship.

The problem for Muslims in Angola is that according to Angolan laws, a religious group must have 100,000 members and must be present in 12 out of the 18 provinces. There are only about 90,000 Muslims in Angola out of a population of 18 million people, according to a report. As they failed to meet this requirement, Muslim religious groups are not recognised by Angola laws.

According to reports, Angola Muslims cannot practice their faith freely. Mosques, schools and community centres have been closed down or prevented from being constructed. The Islamic Community of Angola (ICA) reported that there are 78 mosques in Angola, and all of them except those in the capital, Luanda, has been closed down. The ones in Luanda remained opened simply because of the worldwide attention following the inaccurate report on the banning of Islam.

It has also been reported that the majority of Angolans, of Roman Catholic and other Christian denominations, view Islam negatively. Islam has been declared as ‘unwelcome’ in Angola, with others saying that Islam is not ‘common to the values of Angola’. The ICA said that it has documented instances of Muslim women beaten up for wearing the veil so much so that a lot of Muslim women in the country are afraid of doing so.

Clearly from these reports, the religious freedoms of Muslims in Angola are being violated. They are unable to practice their faith free from State intervention. There are constant violations of their human rights.

Yes, ‘human rights’. This much maligned phrase, constantly being equated with being ‘liberal’ (whatever that means), with apostasy, with ‘deviant’ lifestyles and communities (LGBT, Shiites, take your pick) by so-called ethno-religious organisations in Malaysia is now used to uphold the rights of these Angolan Muslims.

How else can we argue against the persecution and discrimination against them, when by the laws of Angola they do not qualify to be recognised? How else can we argue against the closing of schools, community centres and mosque because by law, they are illegal? Even the constitution of the country does not seem to protect their religious rights.

In 2011, France imposed a ban prohibiting garments that conceal the face in public, effectively banning the burqa or niqab in public. A Muslim women has recently filed a case the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) claiming that the ban violated her right to privacy, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The ECHR will hear the case and decide whether indeed her human rights have been violated by the ban.

Similarly, a ban on the building of new minarets in Switzerland is also said to be infringing upon the human rights of Muslims in Switzerland. Legally, the ban was supported by a referendum for a constitutional amendment to ban new minarets. The majority of those who voted in the referendum supported the amendment.

Human rights is for all. Muslims in Angola, France and Switzerland have as much entitlement to human rights as Christians, Hindus and Shiites in Malaysia. It would be hypocritical for us to decry the violations of religious freedoms in Angola, France and Switzerland but at the same time claim that ‘human rights is incompatible with Islam’ or that religious freedoms of minorities must be subjected to ‘sensitivities’ of the majority. Human rights must be protected, regardless of what the majority feels.

Nor can we argue that the laws of this country must be followed regardless of whether it violates human rights of religious minorities. Remember, what happened in Angola, France and Switzerland are all entirely legal, yet that does not justify the human rights violations.

 > The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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