Last year, an Algerian Christian convert from Islam was sentenced to three years in prison and fined for “offending the Prophet [Muhammad]” and “denigrating the creed and precepts of Islam”. He had posted on Facebook that “Jesus overcomes the lies of Islam”. Although Algeria’s constitution provides for freedom of religion and it is not illegal for Muslims to convert, Islam is the official state religion and Christians from Muslim backgrounds face persecution and harassment.
Christians are prohibited from worshipping anywhere except in a registered building as a result of legislation introduced in 2006, and church leaders report that applications to register are repeatedly rejected. The government also regulates religious literature and all imported Christian literature must be approved by the authorities. Witnessing to Muslims is illegal and anyone deemed to be evangelising can face a fine and up to five years in prison.
Despite the limitations placed on Christians, the church in Algeria has witnessed remarkable growth in recent decades, particularly among indigenous Berbers. There are now thought to be perhaps as many as 80,000 Christians in a country that is 99% Muslim. Before the Arab Islamic conquest of north Africa in the 7th to 8th centuries, Algeria had a significant Christian population, which included the famous Christian theologian Augustine, but despite a dedicated effort by missionaries in the 19th century, there were very few new believers until the 1970s.
Islamist militants from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group which is now affiliated with Al-Qaeda but which originated in the Algerian civil war (1991–2000), have stated that they aim to fully establish sharia law in Algeria. The presence of the group is a concern for the longer-term safety of Christians.
Pray that Algerian believers will boldly share their faith with their Muslim neighbours, despite the possibility of imprisonment. Pray that the provisions already existing in the Algerian constitution that assert religious freedom will be observed and that Algerians will be free to choose their own faith without experiencing harassment or persecution from their neighbours. Ask that the government will allow Christians to meet together freely for worship anywhere without the need to register.