Everything about Kabylia

The Kabyle Christians’ persecution still continues

By 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

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This entry was posted on 13/03/2015 by in Kolonialism, Religion and tagged , , , .
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