Africa

The persistent myth that Islam was banned in Angola

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Image caption Some believe the photograph of a mosque being destroyed was actually from Nigeria

False reports that Angola has become the first country in the world to ban Islam have re-emerged. The BBC's Clare Spencer asks if this is linked to the US presidential election.

"Muslims are super mad right now," writes Frank Lea in Freedom Daily.

"Angolan authorities to ban Islam, which they consider a cult, NOT a religion," continues the website Liberty Is Viral.

The story gives details of a mosque being knocked down in the Zango neighbourhood of Angola's capital, Luanda.

"They see what Muslims are doing to non-Muslims, particularly in Africa, and are taking steps to prevent it from happening in Angola," the story published by ReaganCoalition.com says.

"Maybe the USA could learn a thing or two from Angola," adds the site America First Patriots, which says 80 mosques have been bulldozed.

But the original story isn't true.

A contact in Luanda took this photograph last month of a mosque that was still functioning:

One Angolan Muslim, Adam Campos, told the BBC that in fact the Muslim community is "growing every day".

But Mr Campos says his own mosque was closed by the government a few years ago and, in the same period, some were destroyed.

This is where the misunderstanding that Islam had been banned appears to have come from.

He explains that mosques were destroyed because the government said they did not have permission to be built.

He adds that not all of them were closed, and he went to other ones to pray, although sometimes people chose to worship outside his closed mosque.

Then, after a few months, and lawyers had got involved, his three-floor mosque in the Hoji-ya-Henda area of Luanda was re-opened.

"Islam is not banned in Angola, we face some difficulty like other minority religious groups, because we are not recognised by the government."

Now "things are calm, and I hope they continue this way" he says.

But back in 2013 news of a supposed ban spread from French-language Beninese newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune to the UK's Daily Mail and as far as India Today.

A group in London was so outraged that they held a protest outside the Angolan embassy, which photographer Peter Marshall documented.

Image copyright Peter Marshall

The South Africa newspaper the Daily Maverick busted the myth shortly after it first emerged.

"No" it said "Angola has not 'banned Islam'. It's a little more complicated than that".

Many, including the Daily Mail, quoted Angola's Culture Minister Rosa Cruz e Silva as saying that mosques would be closed until further notice.

One detail, which gave the story more credence, was that the government had denied a Muslim group's applications for legal recognition.

This does appear to be correct.

It is what Mr Campos was referring to when he said that Islam was not recognised by the government.

However, it does not appear to be specifically anti-Muslim as a lot of other religious groups are also not recognised.

More about Angola

  • The country came out of a 27-year civil war in 2002 which saw intervention from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, the US and apartheid South Africa
  • 98% of bridges (more than 300), 80% of factories and schools, 60% of hospitals and most of roads destroyed in the war
  • Angola was the world's fastest growing economy from 2000-10 mainly on the back of its prodigious oil wealth
  • Isabel dos Santos, President Jose Eduardo's daughter, is the richest woman in Africa
  • Luanda has been classed the most expensive city in the world for expatriates with some supermarkets charging up to $100 for a watermelon and $200 for a chicken
  • Despite its oil wealth most people survive on less than $2 a day and child mortality rates are one of the highest in the world

Angola country profile

Elite hoard Angola's new-found wealth

Sources: Ernst and Young; UN's Human Development Index; Unicef, Mercer Cost of Living Survey, 2014; Economist Intelligence Unit; Forbes.

The US State Department's 2013 report into global religious freedom counted 194 different religious groups that were denied legal recognition, the large majority of which were Christian organisations.

Last year's US report on religious freedom updates the situation, saying that despite a lack of official recognition, the Angolan government generally permitted these organisations to exist, function, and grow.

The US report does say a mosque was destroyed - including one in Luanda's Zango neighbourhood.

Again, this doesn't seem to be an act targeted at Muslims - while it says two mosques were shut down, 52 churches were closed in the same year.

But the Daily Maverick says the mosques in question were not the ones in the photographs. They were not even in Angola, it says.

Yet, the same photographs are being used three years later.

It is clear that one publication at least, US site Conservative Daily Post, is reporting on it now because of the November's US presidential election.

"You may not have ever heard about this because Obama refuses to admit that Radical Islam is seeking to destroy America and he wants everyone to believe that Islam is welcome in the United States. Hillary Clinton believes that, too," it says.

Just in case you aren't clear which side of the US presidential election these sites come from, they also invite you to like Donald Trump fan pages on Facebook.

Mr Trump has millions of mainstream supporters who embrace his candidacy because he's anti-establishment or appears to care about working-class Americans who have suffered through hard economic times, explains the BBC's North America reporter Anthony Zurcher.

There is also, however, a segment of his base that can be characterised as white nationalist or white supremacist.

They're backing Mr Trump largely because of his hardline immigration stance and anti-Muslim rhetoric, our reporter explains.

The websites that have been perpetuating the myth of the Angolan Muslim ban are ones within this movement, and they're probably doing it because it re-enforces their belief that Islam itself is a threat that Christian nations should confront and defeat.

In their view, what Angola is supposedly doing is a natural extension of Mr Trump's policy proposals - a next step for the US that would come after Mr Trump is elected, our reporter says.

Back in 2013 Daily Maverick's conclusion as to why this false story spread was because it picked up by those "who seemed to wish the ban inspires a global trend".

This appears to still be the case today.

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