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Angola orders closure of mosques but denies persecution of Muslims
Tuesday December 3, 2013 10:28 PM, IINA

Despite some initial reports denying Islam ban, Angolan authorities have confirmed that they have refused the registration of a number of Islamic religious groups and closed 'illegal' mosques, denying any persecution of the Muslim minority.

"There are eight Islamic denominations here, all of which requested registration. But none fulfilled legal requisites so they can't practice their faith until concluding the process," Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Chikoti was speaking in a briefing to diplomats on Friday following the eruption of a storm of criticism accusing the southwest African nation of banning Islam and destroying mosques.

The anger of Muslims worldwide followed reports about Angolan minister of culture, Rosa Cruz, saying "the process of legalization of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, their mosques would be closed until further notice."

The news was confirmed later by David Já, the president of the Islamic Community of Angola (ICA).

There are 78 mosques in the country, according to the ICA, and all have been closed except those in the capital, Luanda, because they are technically unlicensed.

Facing criticism, Chikoti said there had been "misunderstandings" about the government action, asserting that the news caused embarrassment for the No.2 oil producer in Africa, a member of the OPEC oil cartel dominated by Muslim states.

Chikoti confirmed that the registration of the Islamic Community of Angola (COIA) with turned down along with requests from a number of evangelical Christian and other non-Muslim groups were also turned down.

Religious organizations are required to apply for legal recognition in Angola, which currently sanctions 83, all of them Christian. Under Angolan law, a religious group needs more than 100,000 members and to be present in 12 of the 18 provinces to gain legal status, giving them the right to construct schools and places of worship.

Official estimate put the number of Muslims at 90,000, despite confirmations from Muslims of exceeding this number.

Despite mosque closures and ban of Islamic organizations, the Angolan foreign minister denied any persecution for Muslims. "There has been no Muslim persecuted," Chikoti said.

"There is no government policy to persecute one church or religion, that was an interpretation made by the Islamic community in Angola," he said. Chikoti said Angola faced a big influx of illegal immigrants and many of these were Muslims.

He added many Muslims obtained licenses to build commercial warehouses and then used the sites to build mosques, without obtaining legal permission or building licenses specifically for such places of religious worship.

"None of the mosques were built in accordance with the law ... In Angola there is a big number of Muslims who enter the country illegally and then practice their faith in their places of commerce," he said.

The authorities' denial, however, was not accepted by the Muslim groups. Ja, the president of ICA, said that around 900,000 Muslims in the country were feeling persecuted and called the government's argument over legal requirements "a subterfuge to ban Islam".

He said his organization had enough members and covered enough territory to quality for registration. "It is a way to ban a religion they think threatens Angolan culture," he added.

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