A New Minority in North Africa
The Maghrebi Christians under the Rule of Islamists
By Jacob Thomas
Another subject that came up at the Zurich Conference was the status of Maghrebi* Christians, a topic that is seldom mentioned, or discussed in Arab publications. The title of the paper was: “Masihiyyou al-Maghreb fi Hukm al-Islamiyyin.” (The Maghrebi Christians under the Rule of Islamists.) It was posted on the online daily, Elaph, on
“The region known nowadays as the Arab Maghreb (
First, we deal with the New Christians’ phenomenon throughout the Arab
- The Rise of this Phenomenon
“In a sense, this phenomenon is not restricted to the Arab Maghreb, as there are indications that a number of Muslims are embracing Christianity throughout all the continents, especially in sub-Saharan
“Jeune Afrique estimates the number of people who have embraced Christianity in
“The report in the French daily Le Monde claimed that during 1992, between 4,000 and 6,000 Algerians embraced Christianity in the Kabyle region. By now, their numbers may be in the tens of thousands. However, the authorities are mum about this subject; as an Algerian government official put it, the number of those who have embraced Christianity is a state secret.
- The Most Important Factors for Conversions to Christianity
“First factor: The violence of the fundamentalist Islamist movements.
“In a statement by a former member of the Algerian Nahda Movement ** made to Jeune Afrique: ‘I observed that during my imprisonment, there was no difference between the police’s treatment and that of the Nahda.’ This factor played a greater role in
“Second Factor: The failure of the political regimes.
“According to Sebastian Fateh, of the National Center for Scientific Research in
“Third Factor: The religious training within the family.
“The report of “Al-Majalla” mentioned above, included the testimony of a young Moroccan woman who embraced Christianity: ‘Our father used to order us to pray and read the Qur’an; when we disobeyed that command, he punished us with beatings. He told us that if we refused to wear the hijab, we would suffer in hell.’
“According to her testimony, this young woman’s relation with Allah was devoid of love. A Christian Moroccan aged 30, involved in spreading his faith declared: ‘Many of us regard Islam as a social fetter, a shackle, or a handicap.’
“Undoubtedly, the religious education offered in Muslim countries depicts a sadistic and fearful view of Allah, whose punishments are severe. He must not be questioned about what He does; only his followers are questioned about their acts. No doubt that the horrific massacres perpetrated by the Islamists in
“Fourth Factor: The geographical and linguistic factors have played an important role in the conversion of Maghrebi people to Christianity.
“This is especially the case with
“Quite often, the “New Christians” testify to the fact that what they discovered in their new faith is love; it was the major factor in their conversion. These are some of their words:
‘We found out that in Christianity, God is love,’ ‘God loves all people;’ ‘What attracted us to Christianity is the teaching that God is love.’
“Second, what is of concern for us at the Zurich ‘Conference for the Defense of Minorities’ in our part of the world, is the danger surrounding these New Christians, a danger that will increase should the Islamists assume power in North Africa.
3. The Present Danger:
“Even though the various constitutions of the Maghrebi states guarantee religious freedom and the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Section 18) supports freedom of belief; New Christians do face serious dangers due to the fatwas prescribing severe punishments for the sin of “radda” (apostasy). Actually such fatwas are being issued by the Islamists. Here we may refer to the Algerian Front Islamique du Salut FIS, and the Moroccan Justice and Development Party, as well as the Justice and Benevolence Movement, all clamoring for the application of the Medieval Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) with respect to the sin of apostasy. Their pronouncements may lead some crazy person to take it upon himself to punish apostates with the ultimate penalty, namely the shedding of their blood. In this respect, we should not forget the law passed by the Algerian Parliament on 20 March 2006 requiring the punishment of any person ‘who makes, holds, or distributes any pamphlets, audio or video cassettes, or any other method that aims at shaking people’s faith in Islam.’
4. The Future Danger when Islamists assume power in
“The greatest danger will be faced should the Islamists take over governments. This danger already exists in
“Taking the above into consideration, I believe that it is of utmost importance that the ‘Organization for the Defense of Minorities’ that would come out of the Zurich Conference, should adopt the cause of our brothers in humanity. It is necessary that we invite representatives from these groups in
(Islamic Salvation Front) filled the streets, valleys, and mountains of
The purpose of the paper was to draw the attention of the conferees to the existence of a new minority in
This paper about Maghrebi converts to Christianity is of great significance. Muslims never cease to boast about converts to Islam from other world faiths, but they are loathe to acknowledge that some of their own faith do leave it, either to embrace a no-faith worldview, or to become members of another religion. The tradition that began immediately after Muhammad’s death in 632, and which forced Arab tribes who had gone back on Islam to return to Islam, is still in force fourteen centuries later.
The deep reason for forbidding radda is to maintain the very raison d’etre of Islam. Muhammad declared himself to be the last prophet of Allah. Therefore, there could be no new prophet to supersede him; nor could the previous revelations given to the prophets that preceded him be considered as authentic; since as Muslims contend, they have all been corrupted. Islam remains the only true religion, and Muslims must never consider leaving their faith, for the sin of apostasy is just as serious as the sin of shirk (belief in many gods.)
However strict the laws of apostasy may be, the fact is that some Muslims are converting to Christianity. This is not propaganda emanating from the Christian side. The paper I quoted above made it clear that these conversions are taking place, and gave anecdotal accounts about the reality of these conversions, based on Arab and non-Christian sources.
Most of the testimonies of the converts pointed to the fact that what attracted them to the Christian faith was something that was totally lacking in their own tradition. Allah seemed to be unconcerned about his creatures; all he demanded was blind obedience. They craved for love, and they discovered that message in the Christian faith. That’s the summary reason for their conversion.
In reflecting on the report given at the Zurich Conference, I could not help noticing this total lack of quid pro quo that exists between Islam and the rest of the world. Muslims living within traditionally non-Muslim lands, enjoy total freedoms of worship and proselytizing. They build mosques everywhere, and engage in aggressive da’wa (calling people to Islamize.) And when non-Muslims embrace al-Sirat al-Mustaqeem (the Right Path=Islam), they broadcast that on all types of media. On the other hand, dhimmis in the lands of their ancestors, are not allowed to build new churches, and are forbidden to propagate their faith outside their own people! And woe unto any Muslim who considers embracing a religion other than Islam. After all, the Holy Book declares: “Inna’l Deena ‘inda’l Allahi al-Islam.” “Certainly the only acceptable religion with Allah is Islam.” [
The relation between Islam and the rest of the world is marked by asymmetry. Muslims may and do enjoy all kinds of freedoms and privileges in the lands of the Kuffar; however non-Muslims are not granted the same rights and privileges when they live in Daru’l Islam. Western politicians don’t seem to notice this anomaly; while most Western academicians don’t appear concerned about this lack of quid pro quo in the Islamic world. In our globalized world, this state of affairs should not continue. The existence of these New Christians of
** Nahda: Arabic for Awakening; in
***Huroub al-Radda: This is a reference to the wars against those Arab tribes who defected from Islam, after the death of Muhammad in 632 A.D. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr launched several campaigns against them, and forced them to return to Islam. Huroub is the plural of Harb (war); Radda is the Arabic term for going back (on Islam) i.e. committing the sin of apostasy. The word for apostate is murtad.