ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
Despite being one of the world's largest religions, Islam remains officially unrecognized in Angola.
The southern African nation has a population of nearly 30 million people, 75 percent of whom are Christians – most of them Catholics.
The country’s Muslim population totals roughly 800,000, said David Alberto Ja, head of the Islamic Community of Angola.
“Although Islam has ancient roots in Angola, the spread of Islam began in the 1990s as massive immigration took place from the West African countries of Mali, Senegal, and Guinea, among others,” Alberto Ja told Anadolu Agency.
He said religion in Angola had been affected by the particular reality of the nation – its political history marked by socialist ideology and years of civil war.
“Political and legal reforms were slow,” he said.
“The former regime was not so open with Islam in particular and freedoms in general. Consequently, Muslims faced many challenges. One of the most controversial issues regarding religion is the Law on Religion.”
Since 2004, the law has determined that for a religion to be recognized by the state, it must have more than 100,000 members and a presence in over two-thirds of the nation’s territory.
In addition, a religious group must submit a minimum of 60,000 signatures to the government to have its congregation legalized.
“Islam is now a reality which cannot be denied,” Alberto Ja said, adding that Muslims in Angola are in the process of collecting the 60,000 signatures.
He said this edict was passed just recently by Angola’s National Assembly, reducing the minimum number from 100,000.
Optimistic on official legal status
In spite of the legal restrictions imposed by the government, Alberto Ja said he is optimistic about the future.
“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.”
However, many lawyers view the legal requirements as a government tactic to limit freedom of religion and say it goes against the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
Despite the lack of legal recognition, Muslims have been freely exercising their religion for many decades, and there are now 60 mosques in Angola, Mohammed Saleh Jabu, head of Islamic Religious Guidance/Irshad and Cooperation in Angola, told Anadolu Agency.
There are around 1,000 religious communities in Angola, of which only 84 have been legalized.
“We are free to exercise our religion, but the government has yet to recognize Islam as one of the official religions of the state, and that should change,” said Jabu. “We are in the process of legalizing our religion.”
Jabu said the Justice Ministry has recognized the Supreme Council of Angolan Muslims of Luanda and that other institutions would follow.
Call for cooperation
Jabu also called on Islamic countries to support the council.
"There is also a problem with the number of Islamic books in circulation because of the challenges of printing and distribution,” he said.
Alberto Ja echoed Juba’s call.
“We shall be grateful if in Islamic conferences held by Turkey, we could be informed too, considering the role the Turkish Republic plays in Islamic matters.