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The Kabyle Christians’ persecution still continues

Av Dr Dahmane At Ali

The Kabyle Christians’ persecution still continues

Religious freedom and religion facts in Kabylia

Kabylia is populated by Berbers, a millenary indigenous people of North Africa. It is well known
that from the spiritual faith point of view, the traditional monotheist religion of Kabyles has long
been Christianity, including Donatism and Aryanism heritage up to the XII° century. With the
irruption of Islamism in North Africa, there had been only a low penetration process in Kabylia,
leading to the smooth formation of large nominal Sunni Muslim communities. In fact, among
Kabyle Muslims, the main tradition is rather Maraboutism, a version of heterogeneous Islam mixing Sunni tradition along with many Kabyle cultural elements. Indeed, the Islamic faith found its way
through peaceful means only, namely the Marabout movement, which many argue is the reason of
the Kabyles’ indifference towards the more orthodox dogmatic Islam. Recently however, there has also been a rapidly growing Protestant (chiefly evangelical) community among the Kabyles.
Because the Kabyle society is known for its strong secular tradition, religious differences play minor roles in Kabyle political and social life.

Thus, due to its traditional secularism, it is well known that there is a well established religion
tolerance in Kabylia, deeply rooted within the Kabyle society and this is therefore fundamentally
claimed as a chief identity value by the Kabyle people. Indeed, we shall recall that through many
centuries along, to strengthen the eloquence of their speech within their ancient village assemblies,
the Kabyles often used the rhetoric of the traditional oath “Jmiɛ liman” (which means literally : On
behalf of all faiths) to support their argument, and also to emphasize their fair respect for all
religions without any bias. Meanwhile, other Algerian societies in general, tolerated only foreigners
to practice religions other than Islam. The generally amicable relationship among religious groups
in Kabyle society contributed to anchor deeply religious freedom; however, differences within the
country’s Muslim majority about the interpretation and practice of Islam caused a great discord.
Although in past years some local converts to Christianity kept a low profile out of concern for their
personal safety and potential legal and social problems, but in Kabylia more and more Kabyles
openly practiced their new religion without any trouble up to about six years ago. Meanwhile, in
other country’s regions, Islamist terrorists continued to justify their killing of security force
members and civilians by referring to interpretations of religious texts. And this is the basic reason
which had likely triggered the decision of Algerian central authorities to edict the unfair Anti-
Christian law Ordinance 06-03, which was established in March 2006. This persecution act is firmly
rejected in Kabylia.

The failure of the Arabization policy prompted the ongoing re-Islamisation of Kabylia

Nowadays, Kabylia extends over a total area of about 25 000 – 35 000 square kilometres, where
live presently a population of about 6 millions. Meanwhile, about 2 millions Kabyles spread out
over the remaining Algerian territories and about 2 millions living abroad.

According to Christian community leaders, the Christian believers’ number is rapidly growing
during the last decade. It can be estimated approximately to about 3 to 7 % of total Kabyle
population. Methodists and members of other Protestant denominations are believed to account for
the largest numbers of Christians, followed by Roman Catholics and Seventh-day Adventists.

During the last decade, evangelical proselytizing has led to increases in the size of the Christian
community in the region of Kabylia. The number of “house churches”, where members meet
secretly in the homes of fellow members, for fear of exposure or because they cannot finance the
construction of a church, has reportedly increased in the region. Reporting suggests that Kabyle
citizens themselves, not foreigners, make up the majority of those actively proselytizing in Kabylia.

On the other hand, from History point of view, what do all the Algerian authorities’ policies of re-
Islamisation of the Kabylia region prove? Since the Kabyle population was markedly secular and
knowing the sociological fact that the linguistic Arabization of other Algerian Berber peoples was
chiefly the result of the adhesion of those indigenous Berbers to Islam, so forced Islamisation of
Kabyles will lead to facilitate greatly their Arabization process achievement. This is because there
would never been ethnic or cultural Arabization prior to Islamisation of the society. Indeed, it is
worth recalling that the linguistic Arabization was still marginal at the last decades of the Ottoman
rule and, moreover, that was paradoxically far “preferable” to the inhuman, cruel and criminal
French colonialism who had attacked and occupied the Kabylia at 1857 and thereafter, at 1871, had
abolished and dismantled the ancient socio-cultural and political organization of Kabylia before to
start-up a large scale of toponymy and civil status patronyms Arabization policies. It is mainly to
prevent from alteration of their authentic cultural identity that the Movement for Autonomy of
Kabylia (MAK)’s activists have long been protesting vehemently against these criminal policies of
the Algiers’ central authorities.

The persecution of the Kabyle Christians minority

It is worth recalling that the Algerian central government constitution declares Islam to be the one
and only state religion and, therefore, it prohibits institutions from engaging in behaviour
incompatible with Islamic principles, teachings and morality. Moreover, the constitution does not
provide explicitly for religious freedom; however, it provides only formally that “the people set up
institutions whose aims include the protection of fundamental liberties of the citizen”. While in the
people’s daily life the regime limits severely the regular practice of Christian faith or any faiths
other than Islam, including prohibiting public assembly for the purpose of their practice.

In fact, the status of respect for religious freedom declined drastically during the last five (05) years,
i.e., from the beginning of 2006 (namely, February), much more explicitly in Kabylia. The
Government increased requirements for the legal registration of religious organizations; increased
punishments for who attempts to proselytize Muslims; and made regulations on the importation of
Christian religious texts more stringent. On March 20th, 2006, Algerian Parliament adopted into law
Ordinance 06-03 dealing with the conditions and regulations of religions other than Islam. The
ordinance confines Christians (and named in a more general way as “non-Muslim”) worship to
specific buildings approved by the state, imposes penalties for proselytizing, and treats these as
criminal rather than civil offences. A group of persons founded a website called “Grouping for
Algeria) devoted to the defence of believers of a faith other than Islam in Algeria [1]. President
Bouteflika requested both the High Islamic Council and the Ministry of Religious Affairs to assist
in refining the details of the ordinance; however, the law was passed without prior consultation with
affected Christian religious groups and without any meaningful debate in Parliament.

Kabylia is an important central Region of Algeria where the country’s Protestant church has grown
with relative freedom in recent years. There are around 64 Protestant churches in the Kabylia region,
where most Kabyle and Algerian Christians live together, as well as numerous house groups,
according to church leaders. The Algerian Authorities have begun clamping down on Kabyle
Christian communities, from nearly 2005. In February 2008, the central government applied much
more restrictive and unfair measures to control Christian groups through this edict, especially in
Kabylia. Indeed, as can be read in the 2010 HRW Report [2], “Ordinance 06-03, a 2006 law,
prescribes prison terms for proselytizing by non- Muslims and forbids them from gathering to
worship except in state-approved locations. Authorities refuse applications by protestant Christian
groups to use buildings for worship, putting their members at risk of prosecution for worship in
unauthorized places.”

Indeed, Central Authorities have ordered the closure of 26 churches all of it located in the Kabylia
region, both buildings and house churches, maintaining that they were not registered under the
ordinance. Though none of the Kabylia churches have closed up to 2009, their status continues

however to remain questionable and only valid through registration with the Algerian Protestant
Church (EPA). The EPA itself, however, is also trying to gain its official recognition. “Actually, this
law of 2006 has come to light: people are condemned in Algeria as criminals for the simple act of
thinking and believing different” said the Pastor Mustapha Krim, the Kabyle president of the EPA,
and underlined that: “If we accept this verdict, it means we are condemned to close our churches
one after the other”. Pastor Mustapha Krim confirmed also that based on Ordinance 06-03, none of
the churches have actual authorization to operate, nor can Christians speak about their faith to other
Algerians. “If they condemn anyone among our brothers, they need to condemn the remaining
others”, he said. In a sign of solidarity towards the men and to demand the abolition of Ordinance
06-03, hundreds of Kabyle demonstrators, mainly from MAK movement, gathered many times
outside courthouses of Kabylia during last year. Demonstrators carried banners that read: “Places of
worship for everyone”, “Freedom of religion = freedom of conscience” and “Abolition of the Law of
06-03-2006”. Nevertheless, the Kabyle Christians’ persecution still continues right now.

In January 2010, Muslim neighbours ransacked and set on fire a church in Tizi Wezzu (Tizi Ouzou).
In September 2010 a court in Tizi Wezzu ordered a local church to stop construction on an
extension to its building and to tear it down. In October a court in the region acquitted two Christian
men of eating during Ramadan in spite of a prosecutor’s demand that they be punished for
“insulting Islam”.

And very recently, according to the Kabyle News Agency, SIWEL (http://fr.siwel.info/ ), police has
ordered the pastor of the Makuda’s (Makouda) church to sign provision documents relating to the
closure of places of worship within 48 hours [3]. According to one of the believers, on Saturday,
April 23rd, 2011, around 13:30, just after the end of worship, three policemen, wearing civil cloths,
came to the Makuda’s (Makouda) church to ask the pastor Nourredine B. to sign the receipt of the
order to close the premises (church) within 48 hours. The young Christian added that “this was after
having convocating twice A.L., the owner of the ground site, where is built the church in question.
The first notice was sent April 11th , 2011, the second, three days later, on April 14th ,” said the
believer.The landowner was subjected to intimidation by the police commissioner of the region,
said Makuda’s Christians. Moreover, the pastor Nourredine has been invited (verbally) to get the
police to justify authorizing the opening of the Church. Eventhough, documents showing a formal
affiliation of the Church to the Algerian Protestant Church (EPA) were presented, but were
recognized as illegal by the commissary of Police, complains another believer. Members of the
Christian community have stressed that Makuda’s Church is open for 10 years without having such
tedious problems with the authorities in the past. Finally, they add that the risk is real, the church
may be closed.

On must conclude by alerting the international communauty that the Algerian authorities always
remain insensitive to several warnings statements issued by freedom and human rights international
organizations [4] and are still pursuing their persecution campaign of the Algerian Christian
communities, especially in Kabylia. Moreover, these unfair measures are executed more explicitly,
more and more stringently, under the cover of the 06-03 Ordinance law, ruling the so-called
“conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim”.

Dahmen At Ali.

Pisa, 27th April 2011.

Quoted references:

[1] see url : http://collectifalgerie.free.fr/english/
[2] available from : http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2010 , see page 482
[3] see url : http://fr.siwel.info/Kabylie-une-eglise-menacee-de-fermeture-par-la-police_a1160.html
[4] see for instance the successive annual reports on international religious freedom of the US State
of Department, available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/rpt/index.htm

One comment on “The Kabyle Christians’ persecution still continues

  1. Sofiane

    I’m kabyle and I’m a mormon I would like to help my country,I’m living here in America Florida so I’m member of church of (the churchof Jesus Christ of latter day saints)
    Contact me please

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This entry was posted on 28/04/2011 by in Freedom of speech, Historie, Kolonialism, Kultur, Religion and tagged , , , .
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