Updated: Feb 1
False reports that Angola has become the first country in the world to ban Islam have re-emerged.
"Angolan authorities to ban Islam, which they consider a cult, NOT a religion," writes the website Liberty Is Viral. The story gives details of a mosque being knocked down in the Zango neighborhood of Angola's capital, Luanda.
But the original story isn't true.
In November 25, 2013, the International Business Times, a New York-based digital publication, reported that several news outlets had reported that Angola had banned Islam and ordered the destruction of mosques in the southern African country.
The paper noted that while reports of such a ban had picked up over the last few days, actual evidence of such a ban remained slim. The story was also picked up in the Indian press. And the Daily Mail. And others who seemed to wish the ban inspires a global trend.
Initial attempts to fact check the story were at first stymied by the rate that the report had spread. Even human rights agencies working in Angola were confused, indicating at first that it may well be true – the political space in Angola has closed significantly in recent weeks and now, it appears, the religious space too.
Still, actual proof of the ban was hard to come by.
The International Business Times has traced the story back to the Beninese newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune. The French-language paper published an article on November 22, 2013 quoting "several" Angolan officials, including the Angolan minister of culture, Rosa Cruz, who reportedly said: “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.”
This article appears to have been the stimulus of all the subsequent reports of Islam being outlawed in Angola.
And as the report continued to spread, going viral by November 25, 2013 and inviting shock, outrage and condemnation, a photograph emerged, purporting to depict the destruction of a mosque in Angola.
The photograph however was soon debunked - It was actually taken in Nigeria. Others say that the photo was taken somewhere in the Middle East. But wherever the photo was actually taken, it certainly was not Angola.
And then just as curiosity about the story had peaked, the Angolan embassy in the US stated categorically that the Angolan government had not banned Islam, or Muslims from practicing their religion.
“The Republic of Angola...it's a country that does not interfere in religion. We have a lot of religions there. It is freedom of religion. We have Catholic, Protestants, Baptists, Muslims and evangelical people,” the statement said.
In addition to this, Mufti Ismail Menk, a Zimbabwean Muslim scholar, issued a statement saying he had consulted with Angolan scholars who said the story was “completely fabricated”.
As it turns out, the Angolan government had ordered the demolition of structures that had been erected without the requisite building permissions – among them a mosque.
On November 26, 2013 AFP reported that the Culture Minister refuted reports of the so-called ban on Islam in Angola.
"There is no war in Angola against Islam or any other religion," Manuel Fernando, director of the National Institute for Religious Affairs, part of the ministry of culture was quoted as saying.
"There is no official position that targets the destruction or closure of places of worship, whichever they are," Fernando told AFP.